Sleep deprivation is equivalent to drunk driving.
Sleep is one of the most fundamental acts of self-care. When we get overwhelmed or stressed, sleep is usually the first sacrifice. For adults 18 – 60, 7 hours sleep is recommended, but according to the CDC , more than one-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep. Lack of sleep is not only related to how well we think but also increases our risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, depression, and death. Sleep deprivation weakens our immune systems. One study has even shown that people with chronic insomnia have a three times greater risk of dying from any cause.
We all have a day-night cycle of about 24 hours called the circadian rhythm. It greatly influences when we sleep and the quantity and the quality of our sleep. The more stable and consistent our circadian rhythm is, the better our sleep.
What happens when we sleep?
Sleep activates a complicated process that helps you feel rested and healthy the next day. Scientists divide sleep into four stages — each full sleep cycle takes about 90 minutes to complete, meaning we cycle through roughly five rotations during 7.5 hours. The amount of time spent in each stage of sleep varies by cycle, with more deep sleep taking place earlier in the night and more dreaming sleep in the second half of the night.
Miraculous things happen during sleep to keep us healthy. A full night’s sleep is thought to help the body suppress ghrein, a hunger hormone, and stimulate leptin, which controls appetite. Sleeping also seems to be related to forming the pathways in the brain for memory and learning. A compelling mouse study published in 2013 showed that the brain’s waste-flushing system (called the glymphatic system) may be close to 10 times more active when we sleep compared to when we’re awake.
Tips For A Rest Sleep
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Make bedtime and wake up time a regular occurrence, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. Wind down and avoid bright lights and activities that cause stress or excitement.
- Take a hot bath, shower or sauna before bed. As your body temperature drops after bathing, it will facilitate sleep.
- Avoid electronics. I find that using my laptop in the last hour before bedtime can make it hard to fall asleep. The particular type of light emanating from the screens of electronic devices is activating to the brain. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.
- Since your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. Try reading inspiring or spiritual books; I find the Psalms a calming read before bed.
- Wear socks to bed. Cold feet is related to frequent night wake-ups.
- Listen to relaxation CD’s or mp3.
- If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short cat naps may help.
- Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but at least two hours before you sleep.
- Design your sleep environment. Your bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees, free from any noise that can disturb your sleep, free from harsh light, and free from laptops and work. Check your room for noises or other distractions, including a bed partner’s sleep disruptions such as snoring.
- Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans, and essential oil of lavender room and linen spray or lavender oil in a diffuser.
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is supportive. If the one you’re using has exceeded its life expectancy, (about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses) you may need to replace it. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep.
- Use bright light to manage your body rhythms. Avoid bright light at night, sleep in darkness, and open the curtains or go for a walk in the morning to expose yourself to sunlight. Use full spectrum fluorescent bulbs in the winter. See my post on SAD, seasonal affective disorder for more information on the winter blues.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening. Alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Eating big or spicy meals late in the evening can make it hard to sleep. Avoid eating large meals for 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. Have a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.
- If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment. Use your bed only for sleep to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. If you associate a particular activity with anxiety about sleeping, drop it from your bedtime routine.
- If your mind is racing, try journaling. You can write in any kind of journal, but I suggest you try a Gratitude Journal and think of things you’ve been given in life. See my post for more information and printable download.
- Research has indicated that natural GABA supplements can assist sleep. Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), an amino acid, is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in your central nervous system (CNS). That is, your body uses GABA to dampen nerve activity in your brain, which leads to feelings of calm and relaxation. Low levels of GABA are known to interfere with deep sleep, causing people to wake easily and often throughout the night. There are various supplements available, but be sure and choose the naturally derived supplement versus a synthetic variety produced from industrial solvent. The natural supplement is derived from fermentation with Lactobacillus hilgardi, a beneficial bacteria also used to make the traditional Korean vegetable dish kimchi.
Here’s to a good night’s sleep!
Resources On Sleeping
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