Shift your perspective about sleep.
Sleep has been overlooked for years when it comes to health but that is finally starting to change. Many conversations are happening about the benefits of sleep and many books have been published in the past few years. A real shift in perspective has developed.
The main reason why we as a society have not paid attention to sleep is because we thought that we are not doing anything when we sleep. We all know the benefits of diet and exercise and how they affect your health. When we exercise whether it is just walking, doing cardio or resistance training, we actually actually doing something. The same goes for healthy eating, we actually have to make some effort.
There have also been negative connotations when it comes to sleep. If you sleep too much you are considered lazy. If you oversleep, it is bad.
There are consequences to not sleeping well.
The research tells us that sleep is not a time when our bodies do nothing. In fact, when we are sleeping, our bodies are eliminating metabolic waste products, removing toxins from the brain, tagging and eliminating cancer cells, repairing damaged tissues, creating new memories and forming new synaptic brain connections.
Being sleep deprived lowers your immune system, impairs your problem-solving abilities and decreases your attention to detail. Sleep deprivation can even lead to depression. It turns out that Sleep deprivation is similar to being drunk. Sleep deprivation also affects your metabolism and can cause weight gain and diabetes.
We want to have a good night of sleep so we can enjoy the benefits of sleep and not face the consequences of sleep deprivation.
A good night’s sleep consists of 4 to 5 sleep cycles. A sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes and during that time we move through a period of light sleep, deep sleep also called delta sleep when the brain waves slow down and then rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is the time when we dream. As the night goes on, the time of REM sleep in each sleep cycle increases and is the most just before waking up. During REM sleep, our brain is almost as active as if we are awake. This is the part of sleep when memories are formed, new skills are synthesized and emotions are processed.
We have more deep sleep in sleep cycles during the earlier part of the night. During deep sleep, our immune system is strengthened, cells repair and grow in tissues and organs throughout the body, toxins are removed and energy stores are replenished.
Individual needs may vary but on average an adults needs about 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. The quality of sleep matters just as much as the quantity to attain the maximum restorative benefits of sleep.
Bottomline: the quality your of sleep matters
Creating a sleep routine or wind down routine lets you create a set of practices that will profoundly impact the quality of your sleep. Sleep is extremely crucial and everybody needs to sleep but everyone does it well. Having a routine will help you improve your sleep quality so you can enjoy the benefits of sleep be more awake, alert and well-rested during the day.
Create your sleep routine
-Put away your electronic devices 90 minutes before you sleep
If you take away only one thing from this talk, it would be this. You want to do is to put away your electronic devices 90 minutes before you sleep. How many of you have heard not to look at your phone right before you sleep? Well, many studies have proven this statement is true. The blue light emitted from these devices suppresses melatonin.
Melatonin is an extremely important hormone. We used to think that it is the sleep hormone but it does so much much. Melatonin also helps regulate blood sugars and helps form memories. When your melatonin is suppressed you are not fully benefiting from the restorative and regenerative nature of sleep.
Not looking at your screens 90 minutes before sleeping is ideal. But the ideal is not always practical. Two hacks you can do you if you really need to check something on your phone or computer is to wear sunglasses that block UVA and UVB light. There is also an app you can use on your electronic devices called f.lux. It is available for iPhones, Androids, Macs, Windows, and Kindles. It filters the blue light emitted by your phone or tablet after sunset. The filter intensity is adjusted to the sun cycle based on your local sunset and sunrise times.
-Avoid chemical stimulants like caffeine in the later part of the day
Caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours so the cup of coffee you had at breakfast may still be in your system in the afternoon. Studies have shown that caffeine keeps you out of REM and deep sleep so even though you are sleeping the quality of your sleep is affected. Caffeine has its benefits in moderation where it can prevent cognitive decline as we age but if we are drinking a caffeinated beverage we want to have it earlier in the day, preferably before noon.
Another stimulant is nicotine. We all know that smoking is not good for you. This is another reason not to smoke. Smoking can affect sleep quality.
-Get some sun during the day
We have photoreceptors on our skin that pick up light. When these receptors detect light, they signal to the body to be more alert and to produce cortisol. Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone. Cortisol helps to keep down inflammation and regulates your blood pressure and blood sugar. Cortisol should be lowest around midnight and peaks around noon time. You can say that it goes up and down with the sun and sunlight. Cortisol’s peak and trough are opposite of melatonin which is the sleep hormone. Cortisol and melatonin have been shown to have an inverse relationship. In other words, when one is up, the other is down.
Getting sunlight during daytime hours is extremely important. Even if it is overcast your are still getting some benefits of sun exposure because our skin has these photoreceptors. Sunlight is also crucial for adequate levels of serotonin, a natural antidepressant and Vitamin D.
There has been fear over getting over exposed to sunlight because of photoaging and cancer. While being in the sun for countless hours may not be great we still need to be getting some sunlight exposure even if for a few minutes each day.
-Limit your bright light exposure at night time
While it is important to be exposed to sunlight during the day, it is just as important to avoid bright light exposure in the later evening and night hours. Dimmer lights are fine, you just don’t have to have high lumen light exposure at night. Keep in mind that your skin has photoreceptors and until recently we did not have the “second day”. Your body is expecting it to be dark and is expecting a night cycle. Your body is designed to work with nature so it makes sense to have more darkness in the evening and nighttime hours.
-Do some type of light stretching, gentle yoga or yin yoga before sleeping
Stretching or light yoga such as such yin yoga is extremely relaxing. There are several videos available online and you can even do a practice on your bed. Yin yoga is not like hatha yoga. It is very passive. You really don’t exert much muscle strength at all. It works along your fascia and connective tissue which is where the meridians in chinese medicine reside.
When it comes to strenuous exercise however, you don’t want to do it later in the evening. It takes about 4 hours for your cortisol to come down after exercising. A good workout can definitely help you sleep better but you have to do it earlier in the day and give a chance for your cortisol levels to come down.
-Unwind your mind
It is important to unwind your mind and process any negative emotions like anger or fear. The adage “To go to bed angry” is quite true. Have you had a feeling of anger, resentment, fear or anxiety? It does not feel good. If you look at the work of Dr. Bradley Nelson these unprocessed emotions can lead to illness down the road. Keep in mind that you only eat a few times a day but your thoughts are with your 24 hours a day. Studies have shown that emotions like anger and fear can cause cellular inflammation. You can have the best diet and exercise routine in the world but if you are not addressing these negative emotions it may lead to illnesses down the road.
Good ways to process these emotions are by journaling. Have a notebook where you can write your feelings down by your bed. EFT which is a type of neurolinguistic programming is also an excellent technique. EFT involves tapping various acupuncture points and is useful to release emotions. Bioenergetics can be helpful as well. You may need to get the help of a professional counselor or therapist if you are not able to do this alone.
Another thing you can do it reflect on the day and think of 5 things you are grateful for everyday. It will help elevate your mood.
-Try herbal teas
If you are having a hard time sleeping, you can try different herbal teas. A few teas that have been used as sleep aids include chamomile, valerian and kava kava.
When it comes to alcohol, you don’t want to have alcohol right before you sleep. Alcohol will help you fall asleep faster but you end up not getting into normal sleep patterns. Even though you might feel sleepy and fall to sleep, the quality of your sleep will not be great and you can wake up feeling tired the next day.
Should you take a melatonin supplements?
Melatonin supplements over a long periods of time because may make your body less receptive to its own melatonin. It is okay to take it temporarily if needed. Tryptophan is an amino acid (a building block for protein). Food that contain high concentrations of tryptophan include pumpkin seeds, soy beans and cheese. These food actually contain more tryptophan than turkey. You also need folate, Vitamin b6, zinc and these vitamins and minerals or take a good quality multivitamin.
If you can go to sleep and wake up at the same time. This is not always possible especially if you do shift work or have small children. But if this option is available to you, take advantage of it.
-Get out in nature
The human body is very conductive and that is why we can measure various electrical signals like EKGs for the heart, EMGs for muscles, and EEGs for the brain. We need to have a balance of positive and negative ions. Positive ions are associated with inflammation . You need inflammation but when you have an imbalance of too many positive ions it can lead to cellular damage. The earth’s core is teaming with negative ions and they are in higher concentrations by the oceans, lakes, and forests. These negative ions have a rapid anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect. So it is important to get out in nature.
So to recap, here are the things that help promote better sleep.
- Avoid electronics 90 minutes before bedtime
- Avoid caffeine later in the day
- Get sunlight exposure during the day
- Avoid bright lights at night
- Stretch or do light yoga
- Unwind your mind and manage your emotions
- Herbal teas / foods with tryptophan/nutrition
- If possible, have a consistent sleep and rise time
- Get out in nature
Just by doing some of these you will improve your sleep quality. And it’s okay to take baby steps, you can start by picking 2 things on the list to and see how it goes.
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