WHY IS SLEEP IMPORTANT?
Long-term health depends on the regeneration that occurs during deep sleep. The growth hormone, or the “anti-aging” hormone, is secreted during sleep, which stimulates tissue regeneration, liver cleansing, muscle building, the break down of fat storage and the normalization of blood sugar. During sleep, free radicals are scavenged in the brain, minimizing its aging. Many health problems are aggravated by inadequate sleep. Sleep gives us renewed vitality, a more positive outlook on life and energy with which we can become our full potential.
SYMPTOMS OF INADEQUATE SLEEP
Inadequate sleep can lead to drowsiness, fatigue, decreased concentration, impaired memory, reduced stress tolerance, mood changes, irritability, muscle tension, or increased health problems such as infections.
IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF YOUR SLEEP
- Maintain consistent sleep and wake times. Do not push yourself to stay up past the initial signs of sleepiness. This can create epinephrine production, causing more difficulty in falling asleep later. It is good to have a “getting ready for bed” routine to relax and prepare your body for sleep. Avoid taking naps if you have trouble sleeping at night.
- Reserve the bed for sleep and sex only. Do not read, watch TV, eat, or worry in bed. Solve daily dilemmas outside of the bedroom. If you find that you’ve been lying awake in bed for 15-20 minutes, get out of bed. Do something mundane until you feel sleepy, and then go back to bed. Repeat this as often as needed.
- Your sleeping environment should be quiet, cool and comfortable. The room should be clutter-free. Reduce the amount of ambient light as much as possible. Electronic devices such as clocks, stereos, TVs, cellphones and computers generate electromagnetic fields that can disturb sleep for some people. Do not place these items on the nightstand. Move these into another room if you are particularly sensitive to electronic devices.
- Exercise regularly. Exercising during the day decreases the time it takes to get to sleep and increases the amount of deep sleep obtained. Avoid exercise late in the evening, unless it is a relaxing and gentle stretching routine.
- Exposure to sunlight early in the morning and late in the afternoon encourages a strong circadian rhythm. The hormone melatonin, which helps create a sleep state in the body, is suppressed in light and secreted in darkness.
- If you have problems with waking up during the early hours of the morning, have a small protein snack just before bed to ensure consistent blood sugar levels throughout the night. Consistently get exposure to sunlight as late in the day as possible. Some nighttime snack options are 1/2 cup of cottage cheese w/ nut butter, 1 serving of yogurt and ¼ cup of mixed nuts.
THINGS THAT RELAX THE BODY AND PREPARE IT FOR SLEEP
- Warm baths, possibly adding Epsom salts or lavender oil
- Meditating for 5-30 minutes
- Breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation (various recordings are available) or any other means of inducing the “relaxation response.” Daily practice brings greater results.
- Special acoustic recordings that increase specific brain wave patterns for relaxation and sleep
THINGS THAT INTERFERE WITH SLEEP
- Although alcohol may make you fall asleep, the sleep obtained after drinking is fragmented and light.
- The stimulating effects of caffeine may last up to 10 hours in some people. Avoid it in the afternoon if getting to sleep is a problem. Caffeine is present in coffee, green tea, black tea, chocolate and some medications (pain relievers, decongestants, thermogenic weight loss products, energy supplements, etc.)
- The stimulating effects of nicotine (first- or second-hand smoke) can last several hours.
- Sleeping pills, aside from being highly addictive and full of side effects, decrease the amount of time spent in deep sleep and only increase light sleep.
- B-vitamin supplements can increase the energy that keeps some people awake if taken before bed. Take B-vitamins earlier in the day.
- Do not go to bed with a very full stomach. Large quantities of protein are stimulating to the body as digestion occurs. It’s best to finish eating at least three hours before going to bed.