How to Improve Your Sleep.
I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.
Exit Light, Enter Night.
We need sleep every night. Good solid sleep. Sleep that rests our bodies and our minds. Sleep assists our memory. It curbs our appetite. It helps us live longer and decreases risk of certain diseases.
There are several scientific theories that hope to explain why we sleep and why we need sleep.
There is the Inactivity Theory – suggesting that “inactivity at night is an adaptation that served a survival function by keeping organisms out of harm’s way at times when they would be particularly vulnerable.” So, don’t move, stay away from the dark so you don’t get eaten.
Next up is the Energy Conservation Theory, suggesting “the primary function of sleep is to reduce an individual’s energy demand and expenditure during part of the day or night, especially at times when it is least efficient to search for food.” Our body temperature and caloric demand are reduced when we sleep, which supports the notion that we need sleep to conserve our energy resources.
The Restorative Theory maintains that “sleep provides an opportunity for the body to repair and rejuvenate itself.” There are studies which prove that necessary body functions like muscle growth, tissue repair, and protein synthesis occur mostly during sleep.
A recent study has to do with changes in the structure and organization of the brain – this is known as Brain Plasticity Theory. While not entirely understood, it is becoming more clear that sleep plays a critical role in brain development of infants and young children.
Read more about these theories at http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/why-do-we-sleep
With all this science backing up the importance of sleep….why do so many people deprive themselves?
There are many, many reasons.
We think that we don’t have enough hours in the day to get things done. Because we are overworked anyway and can’t embrace better work/life balance, we force ourselves to stay up late or get up very early in order to get things done. Some of us completely waste time with social media, television and video games. We choose socializing, chores, eating, working on our day job, and time-wasters over a good night’s rest.
I once knit an entire scarf in one night while watching two Billy Wilder movies. On a work night. Why I did this I’ll never understand. I guess I really, REALLY wanted to finish that scarf. And it was only the 20th time I’d seen “Witness for the Prosecution” over the past three months (I freakin’ love that movie).
We may even be so stressed, sick, and overly medicated that our 8 hours of sleep are not quality hours. And this defeats the purpose of sleep.
There are a plethora of resources out there for how to improve your sleep, and my favorite one is the book Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson. I will go on to quote him several times in this section. This book is useful, funny, contemporary, uses science to make points, and pop culture to drive those points home. I chose to purchase the Audible version of this book, which was read by Shawn himself. Beyond what you’ll learn here in this section, I highly recommend getting your hand on this book. You will absolutely not be sorry.
Through all my research I learned that there are several easy things we can do to take back our nights and get better sleep. Even just instituting one or two of these recommendations can move you closer to fulfilling the first Full 8: Fall Back In Love with Sleep!
Caffeine is a stimulant and can prevent you from getting a good night’s rest. It is found in coffee, tea, soda, some candies, and some weirder places like we well (yogurt, candy bars, protein bars). I’d been taught as a younger adult that eating Plain M&M’s can also provide a good shot of caffeine if you are traveling on the road. I’d also been told that Mountain Dew has the most caffeine than any other provider of caffeine. All I know is, when I have more than one cup of coffee in the morning, I’m jittery for a while; and if I have too much Diet Coke with dinner, I have a hard time getting to sleep.
According to Sleep Education, the average daily consumption of caffeine by adults in the U.S. is about 300 mg per person. This is about three times higher than the world average. No wonder we have issues sleeping! Between coffee shops, soda, and energy drinks, the stimulant is everywhere.
Sleep Education’s website goes on to say, “caffeine begins to affect your body very quickly. It reaches a peak level in your blood within 30 to 60 minutes. It has a half-life of 3 to 5 hours. The half-life is the time it takes for your body to eliminate half of the drug. The remaining caffeine can stay in your body for a long time.” Yikes. Now I know to lay off the Diet Coke at dinner. To keep caffeine from disrupting your sleep, don’t have any caffeinated beverages after 2 or 3pm.
Consider Effects of Other Beverages.
While some people do pass out after consuming too much to drink or partying hard, alcohol is generally not something that can help you sleep. A 2013 article in Psychology Today states, “Alcohol consumption, in excess or too close to bedtime, diminishes the quality of sleep, often leads to more waking throughout the night, and lessens time spent in REM sleep and slow wave sleep in the later part of the night, the deepest and most restorative phase of sleep.”
Alcohol is considered a depressant, but the immediate effects of alcohol can act like a stimulant – this is called biphasic effects. To engage in a better night’s rest, cease your alcohol consumption at dinner and don’t drink too much before bed.
Be careful with excess water before bed as well. Too much water before bed can cause some disruption in the way of bathroom breaks. Limit your intake of high water foods, like fruit, before bed.
Reduce your Evening Entertainment.
I used to be one of those people who “absolutely needed” the TV on to go to sleep. What this wound up doing for me was waking me up in the middle of the night, noticing that I didn’t like what was on the tube, and changing channels. And that usually meant investing 30 or so minutes into whatever I chose. But even if you have no television in your bedroom, even checking out that new episode of “Scandal” before bed can keep you awake.
The Huffington Post cited an article that stated 68 percent of participants watched TV for more than 55 minutes in the two hours leading up to bedtime — precious minutes that could be spent sleeping. To minimize TV interference, DVR your must-see shows and tune in earlier in the evening or on weekends.
Reading vs. TV?
So reading is better than television before bed, right? Not necessarily. Engaging in novels or stories that are scary, overly emotional, or high energy can raise your blood pressure and heart rate, which makes it harder to sleep. Stick with lighter fare like Entertainment Weekly or People.
Uh, yeah, I’m totally going there. I really wanted to avoid this, too. Because I am one of the worst culprits. Mobile Phones are the world’s biggest blessing and curse. On the one hand, we are able to be so much more productive using our phones because of all the handy dandy apps and gadgets…but there are many scientists and medical folks who believe that phones do not belong in the bedroom.
An article in USA today stated, “To fall asleep, your body needs an increase in a hormone called melatonin. Problem is, a backlit phone or tablet decreases melatonin production.” This can lead to some tossing and turning in the bedroom. If you are an iPhone user, then you know that Apple introduced the Night Shift feature on their phones which reduces the back-lit blue lights to a warmer tone that can reduce the disruptions. There are also glasses you can purchase that will reduce the amount of blue light your eyeballs are taking in.
There is also a major concern with the radiation emitted by wireless phones and their antennas. The National Cancer Institute has an entire fact sheet dedicated to this. Some of the details include, “Cell phones emit radiofrequency energy (radio waves), a form of non-ionizing radiation, from their antennas. Tissues nearest to the antenna can absorb this energy.”
If you are concerned about this, read articles and look for other places to store your mobile phone at night. I was fortunate enough this year to attend a retreat where we were asked – expected, even – to turn our cell phones and tablets off during the sessions. It was quite liberating to know that I didn’t have to have my phone on and in my hands constantly.
And I also learned at this retreat about alarm clocks that simulate the sunrise according to your sleep and wake schedule. So I bought one. Total game changer. (Then do your quick review of this clock)
The National Sleep Foundation has some amazing resources on sleeping disorders and other sleep related topics. Their “Inside Your Bedroom” section of their website is quite useful.
For example – how many times have you awoken in the middle of the night and had night sweats or were otherwise uncomfortably warm? That’s because our body temperature rises and falls during the course of the day; the natural dip of our body temperature can be affected by warmer temperatures. NSF recommends a bedroom temperature of around 65 degrees for optimal sleep. But if you or your significant other find that temperature to be too cold, there are bed liners you can purchase that will keep your body temperature from getting out of control while you sleep.
Light and darkness affect our sleep. Too much light makes your body think that it’s still daytime and you should be up and mobile. Our body needs a dark room to relax into sleep. This is one of the reasons why shift-work is so awful for us – for night shift workers to get the best sleep possible, one literally has to blacken out the windows and doors to keep the room dark.
In Shawn Stevenson’s book he discusses that shift work has been classified by the American Cancer Association as a 2A type carcinogen, grouped with nitrates/nitrites, anabolic steroids, lead compounds, and consumption of red meat (and the longest list of chemicals I’ve seen in a long time. I couldn’t even pronounce most of them) . Artificial light at night can also trigger the brain’s production of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
I’ve started lighting candles in our house in the living room about two hours before bedtime so that we can still see to walk around the house, but we don’t have to have too much artificial light on in the house that could disturb our sleep later.
Changing your sheets is just as much about sleep quality as it is about hygiene. The smell of fresh sheets is pleasing and can aid in our sleep quality. The National Sleep Foundation recommends washing your sheets once a week, and baking soda on sheets and mattress covers, then vacuuming. Choose a laundry detergent with a pleasing scent and make sure you aren’t allergic to it.
In his book, “Sleep Smarter” author Shawn Stevenson dedicates an entire chapter to creating Your Sleep Sanctuary. He suggests things like black out curtains, house plants, and removing all devices from your bedroom. His suggestion is to only use the bedroom for sleep and sex. I think I can live with that.
“I’m not a morning person” is the reason I hear most often on why my friends don’t work out int the morning. Most of them are runners or gyms rats. With teh advent of 24 hour fitness facilities, we can stretch our days to the point where we are hitting up the elliptical at 2:30am. And this practice is not good for us.
First of all, if your adrenaline from a workout is up and charging, it’s going to be a while before your body is ready to rest. Secondly, remember that our bodies were not engineered to be up 24 hours a day.
So when it’s dark outside, we should be sleeping. Which is why the energy you get from either an early morning workout or noon-ish workout is the best for maintaining a solid, regular resting schedule. The energy and metabolism boosts get you through the day, and it allows your body temperature to get back where it’s supposed to be for sleep.
Only Use the Bedroom for Sleep and Sex 🙂