If anything could rival the significance of eating real food, it would be sleep. In our current society, where you’re considered lazy if you aren’t busy every second of the day, sleep is viewed as a luxury that many people think they cannot afford. However, what we can’t afford are poor sleep habits because our health severely suffers as a result.
Sleep is your body’s opportunity to clean house, take inventory, restock, and repair. When we interfere with our sleep, we are interfering with the recovery process from the continual wear and tear of daily living. It is impossible to optimize your health if you fail to optimize sleep.
The consensus recommendations for sleep from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society is at least seven hours of sleep per night on a regular basis. They also mention sleeping more than nine hours a night if you are ill, in sleep debt, or are a young adult. It is recognized that there is increased risk for chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, impaired immunity, and mental health disorders with lack of sleep. There is also an increase risk of death associated with inadequate sleep.
I challenge anyone to name a disease or condition that would not benefit from improved sleep hygiene.
What steps can you take to improve sleep?
- Get sun exposure during the day. This is foundational for resetting the circadian rhythm, which is the 24 hour cycle that governs our sleep – wake patterns.
- Increase physical activity during the day. This helps you to expend energy and feel more tired in the evening, which can help improve sleep quality. Even walking for 15 minutes 2-3 x day can help.
- Lay off of the stimulants by early afternoon. This will give your body time to get it out of your system before bed. How many hours you will need may depend on how sensitive you are to the stimulant. Caffeinated beverages, such as sodas, coffee, energy drinks, and chocolate are common stimulants.
- Prioritize sleep. If you have to put it in your calendar, then do so. Most of us have an alarm to wake up but how about setting an alarm to go to bed. Try putting your phone in sleep mode so it doesn’t disturb your sleep. If this can be done on an automatic timer, it’s even better.
- Alcohol does not help you sleep!! No matter how “relaxed” you think you are after a drink, it will worsen sleep quality and leave you feeling exhausted the following day.
- Create a routine for winding down before bed. Don’t watch or read anything exciting or anger provoking that will make you energized before bed. Start turning off electronics one to two hours before bed. The blue light emitted from electronic devices will disrupt your sleep cycle. Playing on your phone before bed can interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
- Listen to your body. Some people sleep better going to bed hungry. For others, hunger keeps them awake. If you do need a snack before bed choose a whole food protein and carbohydrate combination. This will help reduce stress hormones and help with tissue and muscle repair.
- Go to bed at a reasonable time. If you have to get up early then go to bed early. I can’t state it any simpler than this. Plan ahead to give yourself the best chance of getting at least seven hours of sleep per night.
- Consider a sleep aid. This is a last resort. I recommend that you master all of the other suggestions before taking this route. Some simple sleep aids can include chamomile or other non-caffeinated herbal teas, warm milk, magnesium, or taking melatonin a few hours before bedtime. If these are ineffective then consider seeking further assistance from your PCP.
- Get evaluated for possible disease processes that may interfere with sleep. For instance, poorly controlled blood sugars can trigger a stress response overnight and wake you up. Prostate enlargement can result in multiple trips to the bathroom at night, disrupting sleep. If your mind has no intentions of slowing down at bedtime, this can be a sign of anxiety. If you suffer from addictions, this can contribute to poor sleep habits. Proper disease management can help improve sleep.
- Look at your medications. Some medications are energizing, try to avoid taking them close to bedtime. Conversely, some medications are sedating and can keep you drowsy all day. Then you feel awake towards bedtime. If your medication timing can be adjusted try changing the schedule so they won’t interfere with your sleep.
- Lastly, avoid night shift work. This recommendation may not be possible at this time for some people but you should try to change this as soon as you can. Night shift workers are at higher risk for death, cancer, and chronic diseases. No matter how much you try to sleep during the day, you are going against your natural sleep-wake cycle. While working night shift, you are always fighting an uphill battle when it comes to your health.