Getting enough sleep is important for our health and happiness. Our body and mind function better when they are well rested. When we don’t get enough rest, we are tired, irritable, sluggish, forgetful and foggy-brained. We aren’t happy. We don’t deal with the stress of life well. And our health suffers. If not fixed, sleep deprivation can eventually leave us at risk for serious health problems and mental illness.
Trouble Sleeping Is A Common Problem
I had a horrible sleep last night. In fact, I have been having trouble falling asleep for several days now. I suspect my problem is all the blog ideas I have rattling around in this brain of mine. It is likely also from the fact that I check my social media accounts and emails late into the evenings, because this is when I finally have time to sit down on my tablet. But this isn’t healthy. I know this. So today, I set out to make a promise to myself to do better.
I am not alone in my troubles. Consumer Reports estimate that up to 70% of people have trouble sleeping at least once per week. They predict that Americans will spend about $52 billion in sleep aids in 2020. There are over 96 different recognized sleep disorders with thousands of sleep treatment centers in the United States alone. There are a lot of people having difficulty sleeping.
Chronic Lack of Sleep
While my sleep disturbances are short term right now, I know that over time, it can lead to bigger problems. Lack of sleep can erode our physical health and lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, infections and even cancer. Sleep deprivation can increase risk for mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorders and bipolar disorder. Chronic sleep problems affect 50 – 80% of patients treated by psychiatrists.
How much sleep should we get?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that the average adult between 18 and 64 years of age get between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per day. That drops slightly to 7 to 8 hours for adults 65 years of age and older.
I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I am awake, you know– Ernest Hemingway –
What is Circadian Rhythm?
Yes, Circadian Rhythm is the name of a band that has absolutely nothing to do with sleep. But, it is also the term coined in 1959 for our body’s internal 24 hour clock. Circadian rhythm is the cycles of alertness and drowsiness we experience throughout the day and night.
Have you noticed that you tend to be sleepy during certain daytime hours? For me that is usually around 3:00 – 4:00 PM. This is the time of day that I am usually searching desperately for a coffee just to function somewhat normally.
Circadian Rhythm Is Controlled By Our Hypothalamus
This sluggish period of the day is due to the sleep segment of our sleep-wake cycle; another term for circadian rhythm. This cycle does not follow our man-made clocks. It is controlled by the part of our brain called a hypothalamus and is influenced by outside natural factors, such as sunlight, darkness and even moonlight.
Our circadian rhythm is responsible for our quality of sleep at night too. It is our internal clock that tells us to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up in the morning. It works best when we develop regular sleep habits, everyday and all week.
Circadian Rhythm Can Be Disturbed By Life’s Events
Our sleep-wake cycle can get messed up when we travel, work night shifts, stay up late or snooze late on weekends. Daylight savings time is another way we throw our circadian rhythm out of sync. Our hypothalamus does not like to be told what to do by a clock on the wall. However, there are some things we can do to train our brains and help preserve our circadian rhythm.
The tips below are not intended to correct sleep disorders; they are suggestions for general use. If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, consult your physician. They have access to diagnostic and treatment tools that can help you. They may also refer you to a medical sleep treatment center. Sleep disorders are a real medical problem and should be treated by a medical professional team.
Patients undergoing chemotherapy may experience sleep disorders, as many drugs can disrupt sleep. It is very important that you discuss this with your doctor. Usually these sleep problems are temporary, but your oncologist can help. You need sleep to heal and recover.
10 Tips For A Deep & Peaceful Sleep:
If you are going to do something tonight that you will be sorry for tomorrow, sleep late.– Henny Youngman –
1. Develop a Night Time Routine & Bedtime Schedule
We train our brains by forming habits, doing the same task, in the same manner, over and over again. Sleeping is no different. Going to bed the same time every night and waking up at the same time, even on weekends, can help put us in sync for healthy sleep.
2. Sleep In A Cool Room
Research studies tell us that we sleep best in a cool room (approximately 60 – 67 oF). Warmer temperatures can disrupt the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of restful sleep and may even wake us up in the middle of the night.
3. Avoid Blue Light Before Bedtime
Light, especially blue light, affects our ability to fall asleep. Blue light makes us alert, boosts our attention and lightens our mood. The main source of blue light is the sun, screens of our electronic devices and energy-saving (LED) light bulbs. Blue light can shift our circadian rhythms by as much as 3 hours. Red light has the least effect on this cycle.
4. Sleep In A Dark Room
Light suppresses our bodies natural production of melatonin, the hormone of sleep. If there is a light source in the room, our natural circadian rhythm is disrupted and the quality of our slumber suffers. These light sources can include moonlight through a window, the glare from the numbers on our alarm clock, the glow of the TV screen, or the light from a cell phone.
Having room darkening shades on the windows and leaving electronic devices out of the bedroom are vital. You can also use a sleep mask to cover your eyes, but these can slip off in the night. It is better to darken the whole room, not just your eyes.
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5. Relax Before Bedtime
Set up a routine to help you fall asleep. Start the routine about 2 to 3 hours before bed. Dim the lights, turn off your screens, take a warm bath or shower, eat a light snack, meditate, write in a journal, or drink herbal tea. Do something that helps you relax and wind down from the day that doesn’t require bright light.
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6. Comfortable mattress and pillows
It is important to be comfortable and properly supported in bed. So make sure your mattress and pillow are cozy and have that perfect level of firmness that you need.
Depending on how often you wash them, pillows lose their supportive structure and properties. It is best to replace them every 1 to 4 years, depending on the type of pillow. Tuck Sleep has a good pillow lifespan chart.
7. Avoid Alcohol, Caffeine, Cigarettes or a Heavy meal before bedtime
These are all sleep disruptors. Avoid consuming these things at least 2 to 4 hours before bedtime.
8. Keep Your Bedroom A Sleep Sanctuary
You want your bedroom to be a place that is associated with sleep. Your bedroom isn’t your office, gym or living room. So, keep the computer, treadmill and (gasp!) TV out to avoid distracting you from the task at hand… sleep.
9. Keep A Notebook & Pen Beside Your Bed
I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark.– Henry David Thoreau –
If you are anything like me, and thoughts and ideas swim around inside your head at night, then keep a notebook and pen beside your bed. Many times, I wake up with what I think is a brilliant idea in my head. I can’t get back to sleep because I am thinking about that idea and telling myself not to forget it. But if I write that idea down, I relax and fall back into my slumber.
Now, I have used the Notes App on my phone to do this. Wrong! Using my phone or tablet for notes in the night just introduces blue light, which stimulates my brain. And, then, my sleep for the night is over. I toss and turn until the alarm goes off. Learn from my mistakes, don’t use your phone for notes at night. Put paper and pen beside your bed, just in case.
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Melatonin is a hormone naturally made by our brain’s pineal gland. We make melatonin at night when the sun starts to go down, which triggers sleep. We stop making melatonin when the sun starts to rise in the morning, which causes us to wake up. Light levels we are exposed to throughout our day influence how much melatonin we make at night. If we experience brighter lights during the day, we make more melatonin when it gets dark at night.
Help Boost Natural Melatonin Production With Foods
Some foods can help us make melatonin, either by providing the basic building materials or by stimulating production of the hormone. Foods high in vitamins and tryptophan that help with melatonin production are bananas, oats, pineapple, oranges, tomatoes, cherries, walnuts.
Should You Take a Supplement?
I can’t answer this question for you. If you are considering taking Melatonin, talk to your doctor or pharmacist first. Also ensure that it does not interfere with any medications your are taking.
Taking a melatonin supplement may be useful to help shift the body’s internal clock and reset circadian rhythm. However, people’s responses to melatonin are mixed. One study in 2005 found that melatonin only added 13 minutes of sleep time, but that it helped people fall asleep and sleep deeper.
Are Melatonin Supplements Safe?
While doctor-recommended doses of melatonin are considered safe, there are few safety standards in the nutraceutical industry. In Europe, it is sold as a prescription drug and, thus, regulated. In North America, it is sold as a supplement. As a supplement, concentrations and non-medicinal ingredients are not tested nor controlled. Products can vary from supplier to supplier and even by the same supplier in different batches. Melatonin is not FDA approved.
I am determined to implement these tips myself. Sleep is important to recover from illness, exercise and even just normal day-to-day stresses in our lives. I will no longer take sleeping for granted.
If you want to follow my bedtime routine, download the FREE printable checklist. There is also a blank one so that you can develop your own personalized routine. Cheers to a good nights sleep!
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