I once read an article about the importance of sleep and was shocked when I read 50% of Americans are not getting enough sleep. It made me wonder how we’ve reached this point. There are so many critical things that happen in our body and brain when we sleep. If we are sleep-deprived, it affects our immune and metabolic functioning. Also, during sleep, there are cells that cleanse the brain tissue of toxins and waste products.
One of the first things I had to understand was the body’s circadian rhythms. This is the cycle that tells our bodies when to sleep, rise, eat—regulating many physiological processes. Our bodies respond to light and darkness which corresponds to the body's production of serotonin and melatonin and its part in the sleep and wake cycle. Serotonin (the hormone that contributes to our feelings of well-being) is highest during the day when we are awake. Serotonin also creates melatonin, the hormone that is released during healthy sleep. There are also some other factors that actually influence our ability to fall and stay asleep and it has a lot to do with the way you feel, think and act during the time you are awake.
Here are some of the major factors that can cause sleep disturbance:
- The body produces less melatonin as we age. This translates to getting up more during night.
- Electronic devices have become a huge part of our daily lives and it is hard for people to put them down, even when it is time to power down and go to bed. The blue light emitted by the screens from our phones, computers, tablets and television suppresses the production of melatonin. Yes, remember how important melatonin is in getting deep, restful sleep.
- Stress and anxiety play a big role in our lack of sleep. When you are worried or stressed it keeps your mind engaged and stimulated and too aroused. This can lead to other worries and placing pressure on yourself to fall asleep which then becomes even harder to accomplish.
- Your sleep environment can definitely influence your sleep. If your bedroom is too hot or too cold, if you have noisy neighbors or roommates or you have too much light coming in from outside or inside your home this can affect the quality of your sleep.
- The foods and beverages we consume during the day that contain caffeine can keep us awake and eating heavy meals late in the evening can cause us to experience acid reflux.
- By now we are in full blown holiday mode, with all the last minute shopping, parties and frequent visits from friends and family which can keep us up past our bedtime. Also many people travel during the holidays and this can easily cause us to miss elements of our sleep routines and rhythm. As exciting as this time of year is, it can come at a price of interrupted sleep routines.
Below are some suggestions that may help you get a beautiful night’s sleep:
- Avoid stimulants such as tobacco and caffeine four to six hours before bedtime.
- Avoid eating heavy meals in the evenings. If you get hungry at night, eat a snack that is dairy or carbohydrate based.
- Make your bedroom a sanctuary. Use earplugs or a white noise machine to minimize noise and use heavy curtains or a sleep mask to block light. Consider the bedroom to be a tv and device-free area. Make sure your bedroom temperature is set for a comfy night’s sleep.
- Create a soothing transition into bedtime with a nice bath, reading a book, watching a little television or doing some stretching and relaxation exercises. If you had a stressful day or are worried about a problem, try journaling to get them off your mind and onto paper so you can set it aside for the night.
- It is best to try to keep a consistent sleep and wake schedule. This helps to set your internal clock and get your body adjusted to these sleep/wake times. Try sticking to the same routine on weekends so you don’t dislike Monday mornings.
- If you are a napper, do it before 5:00pm and try to keep it short.
- As always talk to your doctor before trying anything.
- Stick to it. If you stick to your plan or routine you have a better chance of reaching your goal of a restful night's sleep.
- By Susie Robinson