I have been struggling to get back into a good sleep routine so I wanted to share the importance of sleep, and some tips on how you could improve yours.
As always there are outliers who can live on little sleep but those people are major exceptions.. most of us really do need at least six hours of good sleep for optimum health (this varies depending upon your habits).
Here are a few excerpts from the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (NIH) on the role of sleep:
- Studies also show that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain. If you're sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.
- Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.
- Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When you don't get enough sleep, your level of ghrelin goes up and your level of leptin goes down. This makes you feel hungrier than when you're well-rested.
- Sleep also supports healthy growth and development. Deep sleep triggers the body to release the hormone that promotes normal growth in children and teens. This hormone also boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues in children, teens, and adults. Sleep also plays a role in puberty and fertility.
- Sleep also affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood glucose (sugar) level. Sleep deficiency results in a higher than normal blood sugar level, which may increase your risk for diabetes.
That about covers the reasons we need to sleep, better than I could.. So we'll move on to how.
You need to have a true wind-down period before bed if you want to increase your chances of getting quality sleep.
- Stop eating or drinking around two hours before bed
- No more screens (computer, tv, phone) around two hours before bed
- Stay away from tasks that alter your emotions too dramatically (this includes getting very excited, upset, anxious, angry, sad etc)
- Practice something that helps relax you (a warm or cold shower, reading, meditation, stretching/yoga)
2. Cut caffeine
Even if you do not feel caffeine effects you, if you are having trouble sleeping it is important to cut coffee or at least stop drinking very early in the day. Your last cup should be before 2pm.
- No coffee or tea after 2pm
- Cut out soda or soft drinks entirely
- No chocolate to late in the day (chocolate contains caffeine)
3. Foods that help
You still need to work on cutting out all foods or drinks around 2 hours before bed, but for your last snacks before bed chose something that helps promote better sleep. A good rule of thumb on finding foods that help you sleep is looking for foods with the major nutrients magnesium & calcium. Here are a few I like to focus on adding in later in the day to help me sleep.
- Avocados - loaded with more magnesium and potassium, avocados are a perfect pre-bedtime snack
- Sweet potato - add a half a sweet potato to your dinner to get a great dose of potassium in
- Bananas - there are plenty of options with higher nutrients, but these are on the list mainly because they seem to be the most common thing you probably already have in your house.
It's important to keep a routine for sleep. Some people are morning people, others are night people so I can't tell you what time is best for you. But it is important to chose the hours you want to sleep, add one half hour, and make sure you get in bed early enough to give yourself time for your adequate sleep.
Keep in mind some major indicators that you should adjust your sleep:
- Regular cravings for carbs and or sugar: This could be a sign you need more or better quality sleep. As stated above ghrelin increase with poor sleep, this makes you more hungry and more likely to crave carbs and sugar.
- If you feel you struggle with feelings of depression and you often stay up past 11pm, change your habit. Some have suggested a correlation between staying up late, and feeling depressed. I wish I had more scientific evidence on this but I don’t. Just an interesting trend, and a suggestion to get to bed well before 11pm if you feel this might be you.
- You consistently feel groggy and tired most of the day, feeling like you didn't sleep well.
Finally, my favorite two tricks for what to do if you are laying in bed and can’t fall asleep.
- Reverse psychology.. A study was done with two groups. One was asked to try and stay awake, and the other was asked to try to sleep. Of course, what happened? The participants in the group told to focus on trying to go to sleep were more likely to stay awake, while the group told to focus on staying awake, participants were more likely to fall asleep. So if you find yourself having trouble sleeping, don’t go watch tv, but just focus on trying to stay awake. Sit up in bed, or go sit on the couch, and try to stay awake without any tv, or screens, more than likely you will tire out quickly and fall asleep.
- Focus on your breath. This doesn’t have to be all crazy buddhist style meditation practice.. But just keep your eyes close, and practice breathing deeper, slower, quieter.. And just pay attention to your breath. Another breathing option is using the 4-7-8 breath if you are interested in trying different breathing techniques but it doesn’t even have to be that complicated. Just breathe, and pay attention to your breath. I usually pass out in no time when I do this.
Wind-down, cut caffeine, and use foods that contain the bodies major nutrients to help get to bed and sleep well consistently. Also, if you are having a hard time falling asleep, focus on breathing or.. Staying awake.. You should fall back asleep soon enough.
Learn more on this:
Article: Magnesium & potassium rich foods
Video: Natural cures for insomnia
Video: 4-7-8 breath