Sleep: why you need to get enough
Sleep is essential for health and vitality all year round but as I've mentioned winter is a great time to get more sleep, so why not use the cool winter nights to work on improving your sleep quality and quantity.
Sleep debt/deficit (the difference between the amount of sleep you should be getting and what you are actually getting) is fast becoming a major health problem. More and more people are getting less sleep than is recommended for well being, which is 8 hours per night for the average person. And often what they do get is not good quality restorative sleep.
When you sleep soundly there are many processes that occur such as tissue growth and repair, hormone release, the adrenals rest and rejuvenate, and learning and memories from the day are consolidated. If all of the stages of sleep are not completed these processes can be interrupted or are not able to occur. Over time this leads to a lack of health and wellness.
Some effects of sleep deprivation may be obvious such as drowsiness; fatigue; mental sluggishness; slower reaction and response times; difficulty learning and concentrating; and lowered productivity. However the long term effects are very serious and chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to:
* rises in blood pressure
* obesity and insulin resistance
* cognitive impairment, memory loss and mood disorders
* heart disease, heart attack and stroke
* attention and behavioural disorders
* accidents and injuries (eg workplace and motor vehicle)
* inability to cope with stress
* lowered immunity
* lowered libido
What can you do about it?
If you don't already have one it is time to start a bedtime routine. Here are 10 steps that you can take in the evening to prepare yourself for a great night sleep.
1. Eat a nutritious dinner a few hours before bed, and eat slowly. You need enough essential vitamins and minerals to create the hormones and neurotransmitters required for sleep. This will come from eating lots of veges, lean meats and wholegrains. By allowing at least a couple of hours between bed and dinner you will have digested your meal before you sleep your body can relax and regenerate, rather than expend energy digesting.
2. Start dimming the lights a couple of hours before bed. The hormone melatonin (released by the pineal gland) regulates your sleep and wake cycles and responds to the amount of light entering your eyes. Bright lights at night, including house lights, tv, computers and smart phones) are essentially telling the pineal gland that it is still day time, so there is no need to release melatonin for sleep. By dimming the lights and putting away electronic items at least 1 hour before bed the pineal gland can start to release melatonin to make you sleepy.
3. Reduce stimulants:
4. Take a warm shower or bath, preferably by candlelight. This can be very soothing and relaxing. Put a few drops of a relaxing essential oil like lavender, Roman chamomile, valerian, ylang ylang, marjoram, sandalwood or neroli in the bath or in an oil burner or vaporiser.
5. Make your bedroom inviting and suitable for sleep. Again this could include candles and relaxing oils, and no tv. Ideally your bedroom should be very dark, so use blackout curtains if necessary. Also eliminate any ambient light from clock radios, phones (keep as far away from you as possible!), and other power sources. Temperature is also important. Too cool and it can be difficult to sleep, too hot can be unhealthy and be related to dream disturbed and restless sleep.
6. Journaling before bed can help you process and let go of anything that has come up from the day. That may mean writing about any emotions or situations that triggered you, writing out your intentions for the following day (include a great night sleep) or just free-writing whatever comes up. By putting it on paper it can help stop the sudden rush of thoughts and ideas that can pop up when you turn off the lights.
7. Meditation and relaxation tracks are wonderful as part of a bed time routine. Again this allows your brain and whole nervous system slow down and shift to parasympathetic.
8. If you're tired go to bed. How often do you feel tired and are yawning but don't get into bed? By pushing past this often you'll have a second wind and then find it much harder to fall asleep when you do get into bed.
9. Lights off by 10. Depending on your daily commitments this may alter, but it is preferable to be in bed with lights off by 10pm to allow your adrenal glands to rest and repair.
10. Be consistent. A good bedtime routine needs to be exactly that - routine. Just like anything else your body will learn and adjust to the new signals that it is time for bed. As often as possible keep close to your routine. This includes the time you turn off the lights every night. It is suggested that this time shouldn't vary by more than one hour. So if you are usually switching the lights off at 10pm, then your time range is 9.30-10.30pm.
Other things you can do. A new routine can take a little time to adjust to but it most cases it will work well if you are consistent, however you may need some extra support. This can include:
Below is a very interesting and informative video, How to 10X Your Sleep, which merges Eastern and Western approaches to treating sleep disorders by Dr. Sara Gottfried & Dr. Pedram Shojai