Physical Strategies For Restful Sleep
There are many reasons why we don’t sleep well. Some reasons are psychological and some have to do with our physiology. In this article, we focus on the physical things we have control over that will help prepare us and carry us though the night with sound, peaceful sleep.
By Alaina Smith, Registered Nurse
Why it is Important for Our Health to Sleep Well Consistently
According to Matthew Walker, sleep expert, neuroscientist, and professor at the University of California at Berkley, sleep deprivation causes problems you may not have considered. Falling short of the recommended eight hours of sleep by the World Health Organization, may affect male and female infertility. Men who sleep less may also have similar levels of testosterone to those ten years older. People who are deprived of sleep also have an increased risk of heart failure, cancer, depression, memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity and early death.
Lack of Sleep has Been Shown to Cause Weight Gain
Sleeping well is not only a key to good health, but also to your weight. The better quality your sleep is, the more balanced your hormones are, causing you to be more active and eat less. In recent years there have been a number of studies suggesting that insufficient sleep increases the risk of gaining weight, developing diabetes and even getting some cancers. Research has shown that sleep deprivation can have a significant impact on your ability to lose weight. The reasons for this are two hormones, leptin and ghrelin. Lack of sleep results in lower levels of the appetite-suppressing leptin and higher levels of the appetite-boosting ghrelin.
Researchers from German Universities Tubingen, Lubeck and Uppsala University in Sweden found that when we are sleep deprived, we move around less and eat more. In fact, the shorter amount of time volunteers in the study slept, the hungrier they were! When we sleep less, we also have more opportunities to snack out of boredom. Also, when we're tired, we have less willpower to fight cravings and mindless eating.
Just as with eating well and getting exercise, getting enough sleep is a critical factor in preventing illness, strengthening our immune system and affecting how we feel. Unfortunately, for many of us, a complete night of rest seems impossible. Yet there are many things you can do to sleep better. The quality of your sleep depends on the choices you make throughout your day. You have the ability to improve your sleep patterns without taking medication!
One Dozen Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep
Taking care of yourself throughout the day is the best way to assure a better night’s sleep. The attention you pay to your physical body will determine how soundly you sleep. Read through these and test yourself on how well you prepare for better sleep:
1. Establish a sleep routine
Begin to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day. Even on the weekends, you can sleep in a little later, but going to bed hours later, will rob you of sleep and knock your body out of whack for your sleep cycles. The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology was awarded to Jeffery C Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm. We have an internal biological clock that affects our hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism. Our well-being is affected when our sleep is off and we fall out or rhythm with our internal clock, putting us at risk for various diseases. However, when we get into a regular sleep/wake cycle, we improve our health and sleep significantly.
2. Shut down the technology two hours before bedtime
Many of us are so dependent on our computers, smart phones and tablets, that we can’t image preparing for bed without them, however, we need to establish a quieting routine that prepares our body for sleep. As you get closer to bedtime, lower the lights, turn the volume and music, and do not watch scary or violent movies or television shows. Our bodies begin to prepare for sleep by releasing melatonin naturally when the sun goes down, but with all the lights and tech, we are fooled into thinking it is still daytime. By dimming the lights, and slowing down, your body will naturally begin to produce the “sleep” hormone, melatonin. When we focus on negative, frightening or upsetting things, like the nightly news, it agitates our nervous system and produces stressful hormones that keep us on edge preventing a calm, deep sleep.
3. If you cannot live without your technology, don’t look at your screen
The blue lights on your electronic devices emits a wavelength that tricks your brain into thinking it is daytime and keeps you awake. Amber tinted glasses offer the easiest way to avoid exposure to blue light at night. In one 2-week study, 20 people used blue light blocking glasses 3 hours before bedtime and experienced major improvements in sleep quality and mood over those who didn’t use them. You can also try installing a program called f.lux on your computer to automatically adjust the color and brightness of your screen based on your time zone. When it is dark outside, it blocks all blue light and provides a light orange hue on your screen. They also make these apps for smart phones.
4. Get plenty of sunshine during the day
Studies have shown that people who get fresh air and sunshine during the day sleep better because it helps establish better circadian rhythms in the body. Even artificial bright lights used during the day can improve sleep duration and quality.
5. Cut out caffeine at least 6-8 hours before bed
Caffeine is a known stimulant. One drink with caffeine can boost sports performance, enhance focus and pump up energy for hours. It makes sense that drinking or consuming it within a few hours of bedtime may keep you awake and affect the quality of your sleep. Try switching to decaf or herbal teas instead. Warm milk with turmeric and honey is a soothing drink that will help lower inflammation in the body and soothe you to sleep.
7. Use essential oil such as lavender
Lavender has been shown to relax people, produce a calming effect and improve sleep. Take a high-quality supplement with lavender or use a 100% pure lavender essential oil in a diffuser, or rub it in the palm of your hand and inhale deeply as part of your bedtime routine.
8. Your bedroom should be a haven for sleep
If possible, keep everything out of your bedroom except what is necessary for sleep. If you use your bedroom for your desk or office, try putting up a partition or screen so you don’t see your work. Keep your bedroom as clean as possible. Dust, vacuum and organize your things. Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Block all lights at night from clocks and electronic devices. Even one small beam can affect your sleep. Select the best quality mattress, pillows and linens you can afford. Studies have shown that a new mattress can reduce back pain, shoulder pain and stiffness while improving the quality of your sleep. It is suggested that you purchase a high-quality mattress and bedding every 5-8 years. Paint your room a soothing color such as pale blues, greens or greys. Your bedroom should be a place of peace and rest for you.
Try using a sleep mask and ear plugs if you are in a noisy environment.
9. Temperature is key
A room temperature of 62-68 degrees is recommended along with good ventilation, using a fan with air filter or opening a window.
10. Eat light at night
Good nutrition is important for our health all day long, but it is especially critical not to overeat, or indulge in rich foods at night. Poor digestion or indigestion can keep you up all night with heartburn, gas and bloating. Instead, eat a light, nutritious dinner, and a light snack before bedtime if you feel hungry.
11. Choose something sleep inducing as an evening snack or meal
Bananas, milk and turkey tryptophan, an amino acid that is also in meats such as chicken, pork and beef, and dairy products like yogurt, milk, eggs and cheese. Tryptophan is also in seeds and nuts, beans, tofu and fish. It helps you sleep because when your body digests tryptophan, it turns into a B vitamin called niacin. Niacin in turn helps your body create serotonin, the happy neurotransmitter that helps regulate your mood, appetite, memory and sleep. Avoid high sugar foods as these are stimulating.
12. Beware of drinking alcohol at night
Don’t be fooled into having a glass of wine or cocktail because you think it will help you sleep. It may make you drowsy or fall asleep, but watch out. Drinking alcohol is a sleep disrupter. Drinking alcoholic beverages causes sleep interruptions in the middle of the night. It blocks our REM sleep which is critical for mental health and mood.
Just remember, you have the power to sleep more soundly if you make better choices during the day and evening hours.