Slumber. Shuteye. Forty winks. A visit from the sandman. Whatever you call it, we can’t live without sleep. And yet many of are attempting to do just that: get by on far less sleep than is optimal for wellness. While well-publicized sources encourage us to get 8-9 hours per night, the average person gets closer to 4-5. What are some of the consequences?
Poor sleep contributes to:
- Weight gain
- Lowered Metabolism
- Insulin resistance and diabetes
- Poor memory and limited ability to concentrate
- Increased inflammation
- Reduced liver function and detoxification
- Increased cravings for sweets the following day
- Depression and anxiety
Are sleeping pills the answer? Most who have experimented with prescription drugs have found that in the long term, they only worsen the problem, and greatly diminish short term memory and attentiveness the day after their ingestion. Besides, logic would dictate that it is not possible to have a deficiency of a drug, which is not part of natural body chemistry.
Sleep is a multi-system effort in the body, and a number of aspects of body chemistry and lifestyle habits need to be optimized to get our best, most uninterrupted rest. This section will deal with some of the lifestyle aspects to be aware of, and later articles will delve into the chemistry of sleep.
Sleep can be improved through:
- Keeping a regular schedule: Set a regular bedtime, and stick with the schedule, even on weekends. If you are used to going to bed in the wee hours of the morning, start by moving your bedtime 15 minutes earlier every couple of days until you are getting to bed early enough to reach a 7-9 hour goal.
- Get some sunlight on your face early in the day. Take your work breaks outside, walk the dog in the morning instead of after dark, keep the blinds open at home or work.
- Reduce artificial light exposures in the evening. Change out your light bulbs to lower wattages. Reduce tv and computer time in the evening–the light from these back-lit devices is especially stimulating to the nervous system and diminishes the chances of getting into restful sleep quickly. If your favorite programs come on later in the evening, they can be recorded and played at a time that they will not influence your rest.
- Regulate the temperature: cooler temps lead to more restful sleep. Around 65F/18C seems optimal.
- Reduce noise: in urban environments, it can be difficult to eliminate noise entirely. Some find that a fan or white noise machine helps tune out barking dogs and traffic noises effectively.
- Don’t eat a heavy meal right before bed: Allowing a minimum of two hours between the end of a meal and bedtime makes a difference for many, as does reducing the spicy and fatty foods, which can contribute to heartburn.
- Alcohol: while it may appear to relax us, alcohol always interferes with sleep quality and frequently causes wakefulness from about 2 am onward. Minimizing alcohol use can be a great sleep aid.
- Caffeine: Caffeine from coffee and chocolate, and its cousin Theophylline, found in tea, can take up to 12 hours to be eliminated from the body, and should best be used early in the day, if at all, by people with insomnia.
Our next article will deal with some of the biochemical aspects of good sleep, including the link between Serotonin and body-made Melatonin.