Sleep. Something we all do. Some of us do it better than others. Some of us do it more than others. Some of us haven’t had a good night’s sleep in years.
Sleep oftentimes does not fit in with our Western lifestyles. I mean, who has time to sleep? Our 24/7 lifestyle has left sleep as a non-priority. There is a certain degree of boastfulness out there about functioning on very little sleep. Work more hours to make more money to buy things you can’t afford and sign up for too many activities which leaves no time to relax and induces constant stress–all of which affects the quality and quantity of our sleep. Oh, yeah, also you have to get a workout in so you set your alarm for 4:30 am so you can hit that exercise class or go for that run. Then you rush around to make it to work by 7. By 10 am you are dragging and head to the closest Starbucks to keep yourself going. Too much to do at work so you skip lunch to try and finish on time so you can pick your kids up at school to get them to practice. After that practice, the other kid has practice! Maybe you grab a quick dinner. Maybe you just snack on some almonds or an apple. Next thing you know it is 9 pm and you are just arriving home and trying to get the kids wrangled down to bed. You are hungry because you skipped lunch and barely ate anything since then so you eat whatever is convenient at about 9:30 pm and try to get to bed by 10-10:30 but….. there are those unanswered emails you have to reply to. During this time you try and relax with a glass of wine. Ok, maybe two glasses. Now it’s about 11 and you are in bed but can’t fall asleep and toss and turn for an hour so you get up. Maybe you take a NyQuil or a Benadryl or some other over-counter-sleep aid. Maybe a prescription sleep aid. Maybe nothing. Whatever the case you don’t fall asleep until midnight or later and your alarm is set for 4:30 and the process repeats itself.
This may not exactly describe your life but I think we all can relate to a certain degree.
Sleep is undervalued in our society, but it’s INTEGRAL for good health and vitality.
There are 4 stages of sleep. I won’t go into fine details but basically, stage 1 is very light sleep, think “catnap”–you can be awakened easily. Stage 2 is a bit heavier but not deep sleep. Stages 3 and 4 are deep sleep where your muscles are essentially paralyzed and it is difficult to be awakened. The other stage of sleep is Rapid Eye Movement (REM). This is an important stage of sleep. Dreaming occurs here, information from the day is stored into your memory, heart rate and blood pressure rise. Most adults have several cycles of REM per night. Each stage of sleep serves a purpose to support a healthy body.
Ideally, an adult should get around 7-9 hours of QUALITY sleep, cycling through each stage naturally. When this occurs then it is possible to reap the rewards of sleep.
Benefits of quality sleep and risks of poor quality/quantity sleep:
- Adequate sleep helps retain information and form new memories, poor sleep does the opposite
- Poor sleep can cause issues with making decisions, solving problems, etc
- Poor sleep is linked with depression and anxiety
- Poor sleep is associated with increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, metabolic syndrome/type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease/dementia
- Good sleep helps regulate the hunger and appetite hormones (leptin and ghrelin) and poor sleep doesn’t which leaves you hungrier and more difficult to stay satiated
- Good sleep helps to optimize hormone levels, such as testosterone, in the body and helps the body recover from strenuous activity and to rebuild, repair and recover.
- Severe enough sleep deprivation is just as bad, and sometimes worse, than driving under the influence of alcohol. Sleep deprivation is linked to auto accidents and other accidents involving heavy machinery.
I, personally, undervalued sleep for many years. I put training and working out ahead of sleep. When I trained for ultramarathons I would wake up most mornings by 4:30 or 5 am and get 7-10 miles in before going to work. Over time, this caught up with me and wore me out–I was moody, irritable and was more prone to getting upper respiratory illnesses. I quit doing the extreme running but continued to get up 3-5 mornings/week before 5 am to work out (strength training) with my friend. It didn’t matter how well I slept or when I got to bed the night before I got up no matter what. (No pain, no gain! Right?….wrong!). I didn’t want to be a wimp and miss my workout. Over time and with researching more and more about sleep I realized I was sleep deprived and it was not good for neither my short or long-term health. Eating well and working out are good, but sleep deprivation was probably negating much of the positive effects I was trying to achieve. Over the few years I have tried prioritizing sleep and focusing more on “sleep hygiene”. I try and get to bed the same time every night and get up at the same time every day. I quit working out in the morning (during the week) and make sure I get as much sleep as possible. I work out now in the afternoons. During the week I shoot for 7-7.5 hours/sleep and on the weekends I try and get 7-8. Seven hours is my “magic” number where I feel great. Eight hours I feel great but if I sleep less than 7 I feel the negative effects. Seven hours works for me but it may be different for you. There are people out there who do ok on less than 7 hours but this is not usually the norm. Since I’ve been focusing more on sleep I feel much more recovered, I am less irritable and I rarely get sick. I definitely haven’t lost anything by working out less and sleeping more–I am arguably in overall better shape both physically and emotionally. I am far from perfection and still have nights I don’t sleep well. I am a coffee lover and used to habitually have coffee (caffeinated) every afternoon but, for the most part, have cut this out completely and this helps. I also follow some “sleep hygiene” tips that I’ll list below.
Sleep hygiene tips:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Ideally, wake up with the sunrise (not always possible depending on work schedules). Our ancestors, before electricity, went to bed usually soon after sunset and woke up with the sunrise.
- After sunset, avoid using electronic devices. Blue light emitted from TVs, tablets, etc can suppress melatonin production (the sleepy hormone made in the pineal gland) which interferes with the normal process of getting sleepy and circadian rhythm and can impair our ability to fall and stay asleep. If you must use electronic devices then consider wearing blue-blocker shades–you will look like a dork but it may help (I know first-hand).
- Make your bedroom as dark as possible. Artificial light, such as street lamps, night lights, alarm clocks, etc can affect quality of sleep. Some studies suggest even a small artificial light source touching the skin can affect sleep quality.
- Consider using white noise sound, ear plugs and/or a sleep mask to help with sleep
- Keep the bedroom cool–somewhere around 64-68 degrees F
- Avoid caffeine after noon or so. People metabolize caffeine differently and sometimes it can stick around in the system up to 12 hours after consumed
- Don’t workout within 2-3 hours before bed (some people this doesn’t bother)
- Don’t eat within an hour or two before bed so your body can work on the benefits of sleep and not having to digest and metabolize the food you just ate
- Avoid drinking alcohol, especially within 2-3 hours of bedtime as it can greatly affect sleep quality and quantity
- Consider natural sleep supplements such as melatonin, magnesium (not oxide, either citrate, glycinate/bisglycinate), lavender oil on the skin–some people find great benefits and some do not. Check out Doc Parsley’s sleep remedy http://www.docparsley.com/shop/
- Avoid over the counter and prescription sleep aids–these don’t help you have quality sleep. Instead, these more or less “sedate” you. This is why people feel hung over and drugged the morning after taking these. These interrupt a normal sleep cycle preventing quality rest, recovery and restoration.
- Don’t skimp on sleep to get up and work out–you might be doing more harm than good!
- If you are doing all of these sleep hygiene tips and still not sleeping well, not waking up rested and feeling tired during the day then talk to your medical provider about getting tested for sleep apnea as this often goes undiagnosed/underdiagnosed
That’s it for today. Sweet dreams!
In good health,