From birth, we spend nearly 1/3 of our lives asleep. Why? Because sleeping is restorative. Instead of thinking of this time as ‘missing out’ on life, or ‘wasted time’ let’s take a minute to look at why we NEED sleep and why getting enough good sleep is so important for our health and our lives.
Some benefits of good sleep:
- Enhanced memory, learning, and problem-solving skills
- Ability to pay attention and make decisions more effectively
- Better control of emotions and behavior
- Lower risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and obesity
- A stronger immune system
- Better control of appetite (sleep deprived people have higher levels of ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, and reduced levels of leptin, which suppresses appetite)
- Better athletic performance
- Less inflammation, especially in the digestive tract
- A better attitude
Now that you’ve been reminded how important sleep is, are you getting enough? As a society we are over-caffeinated, over-stimulated, over-stressed, and under-nourished; a recipe for sleep disturbances. Unfortunately, 50-70 million Americans suffer from insomnia and even more live with other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome (RLS). I have RLS, so you’ll see some extra recommendations in here based on my experiences.
How much sleep is enough? It changes throughout life, and varies by person, but in general teenagers should be getting between 8-10 hours a night, and most adults need about 7-8 hours. That said; if you’re an adult who likes to sleep a bit longer, go for it! Or if you only sleep 6 hours a night and wake up feeling refreshed and full of energy, don’t worry about having to add in additional hours. The important questions are: “do you feel rested?” and “do you feel like you have sufficient energy throughout the day?” If not, you may not be getting enough sleep. Let’s look at some things we can do to help give our bodies the sleep it deserves.
Healthy practices for a better night’s sleep:
- Stick to a schedule – this helps your body know when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up. In time you’ll be waking up 5 or 10 minutes before your alarm clock goes off. If you nap, be consistent in your napping habits and aim for less than one hour – 30 minutes is ideal.
- Avoid stimulants – especially in the evening. If you like coffee, tea, or soda in the afternoon, try decaffeinated or caffeine-free.
- Quit smoking – smoking is a stimulant that can cause sleep disruption. If you’re a heavy smoker, your body may also experience ‘nightly withdraw’
- Limit alcohol intake – while alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, too much can result in disrupted sleep (also triggers RLS)
- Exercise – exercise daily, just not vigorously within 3 hours of bedtime (regular exercise is particularly important for people who experience RLS).
- Manage stress – practice relaxation techniques and learn how to let go of the day and all the stress that came with it.
- Unwind before bed – read a book, take a bath, listen to relaxing music. If you watch TV, make sure it’s in another room. Watching TV in bed can interfere with restfulness, especially if you fall asleep with it on due to the bright strobe light like effect of the changing picture.
- White noise – machines that produce white noise are often used for babies, but can be very beneficial for adults who are ‘light sleepers’ or have noisy neighbors
- Unplug – fear of missing out on a text, tweet, or post can cause anxiety and restlessness. Remember, it’ll be there in the morning. It can wait! When you can, put your phone on do not disturb, and use the ‘night shift’ setting on your phone at night – it’s more gentle on your eyes and helps your mind relax
- Stay cool – keep your room comfortably cool and dark. Specific temperature will vary widely. Many sites recommend 70’, but our thermostat only goes down to 77’ in the summer. With a ceiling fan on low, it’s perfect for us. You may also want to consider using lighter bedding in the summer than in the winter.
- Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillow – not only will you sleep more soundly, you’ll wake up feeling less achy too. I know buying a new mattress can seem daunting, so if you’re looking for some good online mattress options and reviews, check out Reviews.com. And remember, your dominant sleeping position will determine what kind of pillow you need. For example, side sleepers need thicker pillows, while stomach sleepers need thinner ones. Since I’m a side/stomach sleeper, I use a down pillow that I can scrunch and flatten as needed. I’ve heard memory foam is great for back sleepers!
- If you can’t sleep, get up – go to another room and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy. If you have RLS symptoms, get up, walk around and stretch your legs before returning to bed.
- Teach yourself to relax – let your mind slow down, remind yourself that it does you no good to worry, and let go. Practice meditation/mindfulness, write in a journal; whatever helps.
Herbs, oils, and supplements that can help:
- Calcium-Magnesium blend – has a calming effect, helps relax your muscles
- Magnesium Oil – can be rubbed directly on legs for RLS
- Melatonin – a natural hormone that promotes deep sleep. For occasional use only, and not for children
- Zinc – aids in recovery of bodily tissues while sleeping
- Passionflower, Valerian Root, and Kava Kava – natural sedatives
- Lemon balm and Skullcap – help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation
- Chamomile and Catnip – help calm the nervous system
- Lavender Essential Oil – in a diffuser, room spray, or roll-on…lavender is very relaxing and calming
- Sweet Orange Essential Oil – mix with lavender if you’re feeling stressed or anxious to help calm the nerves
- Atlas Cedarwood Essential Oil – mix it with lavender and a carrier oil and rub it on your legs to help calm RLS
National Institutes of Health, Why is Sleep Important? https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why
Authority Nutrition, 10 reasons why good sleep is important https://authoritynutrition.com/10-reasons-why-good-sleep-is-important/
American Sleep Association, How to Fall Asleep https://www.sleepassociation.org/sleep/how-to-fall-asleep/
Phyllis Balch, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, fifth edition