Sleep is essential for the ability of our amazing bodies to do much needed restoration and clearing. This keeps the brain, immune system, digestive track, bones and muscles all functioning optimally. Pre-pandemic, we already had a sleep deprivation epidemic. Add in the major life disruption, stress, added screen time and extra alcohol, I will take a guess that sleep problems will increase.
Generally speaking, experts agree that 95 percent of adults need to sleep 7 to 9 hours each night to function optimally. 95 percent of adults who get less than 7 hours of sleep on a routine basis will experience decreased mental and physical performance. According to Harvard Medical School, “The average length of time Americans spend sleeping has dropped from about nine hours a night in 1910 to about seven hours today.” And according to Dr. Lawrence Epstein at Harvard Medical School, 20 percent of Americans (1 in 5) get less than six hours of sleep per night.
Most adults should be aiming for eight hours per night. Children, teenagers, and older adults typically need even more.
Why is sleep so important?
There are two parts of the sleep-wake cycle.
- The slow wave or deep sleep is when the body does its repair and restore tasks. Tissue growth and muscle and the immune system repair happen during this phase.
- REM sleep or Rapid Eye Movement phase. REM sleep is for dreaming, re-organizing information, boosting your memory and facilitating learning and brain growth.
- Without both phases, your body literally starts to die. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, mental illness, increase infections and higher mortality.
20 percent of Americans (1 in 5) get less than six hours of sleep per night.
The Circadian Rhythm
Here are some key points in the typical 24-hour cycle:
- 6 A.M. Cortisol levels increase to wake your brain and body
- 7 A.M. Melatonin production stops
- 9 A.M. Sex hormone production peaks
- 10 A.M. Mental alertness levels peak
- 2:30 P.M. Best motor coordination
- 3:30 P.M. Fastest reaction time
- 5 P.M. Greatest cardiovascular efficiency and muscle strength
- 7 P.M. Highest blood pressure and body temperature
- 9 P.M. Melatonin production begins to prepare the body for sleep
- 10 P.M. Bowel movements suppressed as the body quiets down
- 2 A.M. Deepest sleep
- 4 A.M. Lowest body temperature
The Circadian rhythm is impacted by 3 main factors: light, time and melatonin or the sleep hormone.
How To Sleep Better
- Avoid caffeine: Some people metabolize caffeine slowly so even a morning cup of coffee can affect your sleep. A good rule if you really can’t cut caffeine is No coffee after noon.
- Limit alcohol: Yes, it helps some fall asleep but it interferes with your deep sleep and delays the REM cycle. It can also lead to blood sugar dip, which will wake you up.
- Expose yourself to morning sunlight. During the winter, consider buying a “sunlamp” to simulate morning sunlight. http://www.sunbox.com
- Use the bedroom for sleep and sex only. Eliminate all screens from the bedroom.
- Set a screen (TV, computer, phone) curfew for 2 hours before you want to go to sleep. Download free software https://justgetflux.com or an app called f.lux which reduces the blue light of your screen. Some people wear amber colored glasses while watching TV or using the computer. Cover any digital light from alarm clocks/etc.
- Stick to a regular schedule
- Unwind before you go to sleep. Write down whatever is on your mind whether it is a to do list or something bothering you. Better yet, write down 3 things you are grateful for. Studies have shown this improves sleep.
- Exercise during the day but not later than 2-3 hours before bedtime.
- Stretch, do yoga or just a total body relaxation before bed to rid the body of excess stress.
- Avoid liquids 2-3 hours before bedtime.
- Sleep in a quiet, completely dark, cool room (64-68 degrees). Use ear plugs or white noise machines and an eye mask if needed.
- Supplements: Melatonin is OK in low doses for short term use. It is a hormone and supplementing can throw your internal mechanism of production out of whack. Magnesium supplements are a good choice. Most people don’t get enough from their diet and it is non-toxic up to 800 mg. There is a product called Natural Calm mixed in warm water before bed. It can have a laxative effect. True Calm and Quietude are also supplements to consider. Please check with your health care provider when starting any new supplements.
- Have a tsp. of honey or a ½ banana before bed. If the liver runs out of glucose over night, you will wake up.
- Meditate by counting your breaths to 10 and then counting backwards to one.
Making sleep a priority now will boost your immunity, improve your mood, help you lose and maintain weight, boost your creativity and problem solving and prevent premature aging.
“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.”
An Irish Proverb