The importance of getting quality sleep is a topic that has been getting a lot of news coverage lately. While it seems common sense that we all need adequate sleep, statistics show again and again that we just aren’t getting it. For some (including me) the idea of ever getting a solid night of uninterrupted sleep again may sound wonderful, but unrealistic. My excuse is the constant presence of a child under 18 months in my house but for many others it is insomnia, sleep disturbances, or simply not enough time.
When my husband and I met walking across America, we didn’t have much time to sleep. “We’ll sleep when we’re dead” we often thought. Turns out, not getting enough sleep can make that day come sooner that we expect! Lack of adequate sleep (6-8 hours per night) has been linked to:
- Impaired memory and higher incidence of accidents
- Weakened immune system
- Increased cancer risk and accelerated tumor growth
- Blood sugar problems and a pre-diabetic state
- Impaired cognitive and physical function
- Reduced nerve cell generation
- Increased incidence of depression
- Increased inflammation in the body
- Cardiovascular stress
- Brain shrinkage
- Impaired kidney function
- Increased risk of diabetes and obesity
- Increased instance of heart disease
- ADHD and Behavioral problems in children
Tired yet? If that wasn’t convincing enough… getting optimal sleep has been associated with:
- Enhanced memory
- More HGH production and release
- Increased energy (duh!)
- Highly functioning immune system
- Lowered risk of illness
- Slower aging process
- Higher cognitive function
- Less chance of accidents
- Lower instance of cancer, heart disease and diabetes
Of course, not all sleep is created equal. There are several stages of sleep that the body cycles through during the night:
- N1-This is the stage when you feel half asleep and still have some awareness of your surroundings. This is also the stage where you involuntarily jerk or kick.
- N2-Slightly deeper stage of sleep. You actually spend about half of your sleeping hours in this stage.
- N3- Deep slow sleep where your core temperature has dropped and your melatonin production is going strong. N3 cycles you into the most “productive” of the sleep cycles…
- REM- Rapid Eye Movement sleep is when most dreaming occurs. In REM, muscles completely relax and the mind and body regenerate at an amazing rate. Only about a quarter of your daily sleep is in REM but it is vitally important.
Research shows that the best sleep happens on a consistent schedule. This is because your circadian rhythm remains constant and your hormone production is optimal. The most beneficial hours of sleep are between 10pm and 2 am, though most adults miss about half of this. It seems that we are so good at holding our kids to a strict sleep schedule, but as often is the case, this is a “do what I say, not what I do” situation. Sleep is definitely something worth making time for, but that is easier said than done when the house needs to be cleaned, the kids won’t sleep, or we just can’t seem to doze off. Here are some tips for getting a solid night of ZZZs:
- Stay on a consistent routine and try to get to bed by 10 pm. This will ensure the highest amount of quality sleep. Your adrenals function best to recharge your body during these hours, and this is also when your gall bladder dumps bile (a backup of this can lead to gall bladder stones).
- Turn out the lights- No, really! It turns out that most people don’t sleep in complete darkness. Light seeping in from windows, night lights and even the light of the alarm clock can have a profound negative affect on your circadian rhythm. Many a hardened insomniac has been cured by blackout curtains and a sleep mask. This step is actually more important for kids! Get rid of the night light and your kids will actually sleep better. The reason this step is so vital is that even the smallest amount of light can interfere with production of the sleep hormones melatonin and serotonin, disrupting sleep and increasing risk of all the problems above.
- Snack the right way- If you have trouble dozing off, eat a handful of nuts an hour or more before bed. The tryptophan will help bring on sleep. Avoid high carbohydrate snacks, especially grains and sugars, which will raise blood sugar and prevent you from falling asleep.
- Keep your cool- Keep the bedroom at 65 F or below for best sleep. Bundle up or wear socks if you are cool natured, but keep the thermostat low. The body’s temperature naturally drops during the night, and studies show that a room temperature that mimics this is most conducive to quality sleep.
- Don’t watch TV or do stimulating activity right before bed- Watching TV or exercising right before bed can inhibit the hormone production necessary for good sleep.
- Exercise (just not right before bed!)- Besides the plethora of other benefits of daily exercise, exercising during the day can help the body function optimally so that sleep hormone production is optimal.
- Avoid the caffeine- Depending on how sensitive you are to caffeine, even small amounts early in the day can inhibit sleep. Most caffeine containing drinks and foods are bad for you anyway, so get rid of them. Especially avoid caffeine after noon.
- Try some herbal tea- Herbal Tea like Chamomile can help relax the body naturally and induce a sound sleep. The heat of a warm cup of tea will also temporarily raise body temperature slightly, and the resulting drop will help sleep.
- Avoid the alcohol- A glass of wine is a common way to wind down in the evening. While alcohol can cause drowsiness, the presence of alcohol in the body can keep it from entering the deeper and more regenerative sleep stages.
- Eat a healthy diet during the day! A healthy diet free of processed foods will help overall body function and sleep patterns. Getting adequate protein and fat is very important as these both directly affect sleep hormone production.
- Get Grounded- I now sleep on an Earthing Mat and will never go back. I sleep more soundly, dream more vividly and awake more refreshed.
Sleep is just not one of those things we can get by without (though I tried in college!). Try the suggestions above to help get your 6-8 hours of sleep, preferably starting at or before 10pm. Have any other things that work for you? Tell me about them below…