Sleep is really an under-appreciated art. Many people brag about how little sleep they can get away with and still function at high levels. Sleeping 5 hours and night is seen as a milestone and many people are jealous of those that can pull it off. This ‘achievement’ is only seen as a benefit because our work lives get more and more demanding every year. However, all the most recent research is starting to show the real importance of sleep and how much it plays a role in overall health and longevity. For instance, we now know that sleep is the only time that our brains gets to detoxify. Without proper deep sleep this process cannot occur efficiently and toxins can build up in the brain. And we do not want any toxins lingering in our brains for long.
Sleep is also the time when our hormones work to regenerate our bodies, recover from the day’s stressors, and repair any damage. Limiting the hours of ‘shut-eye’ reduces the time that your body can grow, heal, and restore. So, while it may seem counter-intuitive, the more you sleep, the more productive you may become. While sleeping excessive hours can reduce brain performance, sleeping too little can also do the same. However, I think that we can safely say that most people are not struggling from a problem of getting too much sleep. Those instances are few and typically because of a chronic disease process that is occurring. For the rest of us, sleeping more should only prove to improve health. And it is not just hours spent in bed, but the quality and quantity of time that you are actually sleeping. So, here are a few easy tips to help you try and achieve that goal.
Get Rid of the Blues
Blue light is part of the spectrum of light, but is specifically important because it can directly affect the body’s circadian rhythms, or biological clock. This is important because if too much blue light it detected by the eye at night then the body thinks that it is the day and time to fire on all cylinders. This obviously is a bad idea for someone trying to sleep. Problem is that most people are exposed to blue light just before bed as it is present in our phones, laptops, computers, TVs, etc. So, get rid of the electronics at least 1 hour prior to bed to avoid this ‘blue-light confusion’. Or, if you just can’t you’ll need to wear blue-light blocking glasses to avoid telling your body it is daytime.
Stay in Rhythm
Your body’s circadian rhythms are very important to regulating many functions within your body. Many hormones fluctuate based on these rhythms so allowing your body to maintain a ‘normal’ is important not only for getting the right amount of sleep, but also so that you don’t set up an environment for dysfunction hormones. We are naturally geared to use light and dark as our body’s signals. However, given our current lifestyles we can stay in bright environments whenever we want. For best health try and keep the same sleep/wake cycle every night. This means having a set bedtime and a set wake time. While this may vary slightly, trying to stay on a normal rhythm will help you get better sleep.
Research shows that sleeping in a cool environment is more conducive to quality sleep. Our body is wired to cool internally close to bedtime so that it is easier for us to sleep and achieve deep sleep. Too much heat and it disturbs our ‘shut-off’ process. This doesn’t mean that you have to feel cold, but the room should be a cool. A temperature of 65 degrees in the room is shown to have best results, but having it as low at 60 degrees can also be beneficial is you sleep with excessive amounts of sheets.
Come to the Dark Side
This means the darker the better. Even ambient amounts of light can be enough to rouse our brains and prevent full, deep REM sleep. While this sounds obvious most people’s bedrooms are littered with light from their clocks, TVs, DVD players, fans, phones, etc. These lights can be sensed by our bodies and can disrupt sleep. So try to eliminate all artificial light in the bedroom and get blackout curtains if you live an area that has lots of neighborhood light. This ensures that your brain and body know it is bedtime and can get the appropriate rest.
Keep Caffeine as a Morning Treat
Caffeine consumption does have an affect on sleep. Whether or not you can fall asleep it can disrupt your ability to get quality, deep sleep. Remember it’s not all about how many hours your eyes are shut, but the quality of sleep that you get. Caffeine stays in your body longer than you’d think. Avoiding caffeine after lunch can help your sleep quality improve and maybe just get rid of some of your fatigue that is causing you to drink so much caffeine in the first place!
If you are not doing any of these already, give them a try and see if you can improve your quality of sleep. Remember that the quality of your sleep is really important. ‘Sleeping’ for 8 hours is not going to do very much good if the sleep is disturbed and broken. Using these 5 tips does not take anymore time. It is simply trying to improve the quality of sleep while you are actually sleeping.
If your sleep hygiene is already dialed in and you are still having difficulty sleeping, then it may be time to take a closer look at what may be causing this. Long term lack of sleep can cause many downstream health conditions. So, take the time to find someone who can help solve this riddle for you. It will not only improve your health, but will most likely improve your productivity and mental function.
For any further questions about improving your sleep, feel free to contact my office. We would be happy to start helping you sleep and live better!