Sleep related issues affect up to 45% of the world’s population and only 1 in 3 adults get the right amount of sleep each night. Sleep is crucial to our health and affects almost every system in our body and vice versa. Our physical and mental health as well as our ability to think, learn and relate to other people are all affected by sleep.
WHY IS SLEEP SO CRITICAL TO OUR PHYSIOLOGICAL FUNCTIONS:
Our bodies are connected to our environment; much like the moon and tide cycles are connected to the earth’s rotation, we run on a similar 24 hour clock. The term for this cycle is the Circadian Rhythm. Our brain houses a collection of cells that make up the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or your master clock.
Your master clock controls your sleep/wake cycle and other biological clocks responsible for regulating appetites, hormones release, our metabolism and our behaviour. Sleep is also the time when toxic metabolic waste products are removed from our brain allowing us to think clearer and function better.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE ARE SLEEP DEPRIVED:
1. CELLULAR DYSFUNCTION: Research indicates that sleep deprivation leads to:
- Immune dysfunction
- Heart disease
- Neurodegenerative disorders (Alzheimer's)
- Cancer (breast and prostate specifically)
2. OVERWEIGHT and OBESITY:
Lack of sleep leads to decreased leptin (your fullness hormone) and increased ghrelin (your hunger hormone) levels. When we are sleep deprived we often eat more and make poorer food choices. Do this over and over and you can see how obesity can set it. Weight loss efforts can equally be thwarted by lack of sleep for the same reason.
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO WE NEED?
Most adults over the age of 18 need 7 - 9 hours a night CONSISTENTLY. In order obtain quality sleep, you can’t get 6 hours one night and 10 hours the next.
SO HOW CAN YOU OBTAIN MORE VITIMIN Z?
Sleep is affected by many things including; our physical environment, thoughts, nutrition, exercise and lifestyle choices and there are a multitude of strategies you can use to start improving your sleep right now.
- Turn your room into a cave: Cool. Dark. Quiet. The optimal temperature is 18C/65 F. If your feet get cold (sleep disruptor) wear socks. Your room should also be dark enough so that it’s hard to see your hand in front of you. Cover any light emitting devices and invest in black out blinds/curtains.
- Minimize any discomfort with the right support. If you suffer from back or joint pain, use pillows that provide you with proper support. If that doesn’t help, you may need to evaluate your mattress as well.
- Avoid caffeine after 10 am. If you are used to having coffee or caffeinated tea in the afternoon, try switching to herbal teas instead. Love your dark chocolate and cans of soda? Don’t forget there’s caffeine in that too, so eliminate it or enjoy your treat a little earlier in the day and only on occasion.
- Stop eating 2-3 hours before bedtime. This leaves enough time for your meal to be digested so you aren’t feeling full and uncomfortable while trying to fall asleep. In general, you want to avoid big, high fat meals right before bed as this can make any reflux symptoms worse.
- Avoid Alcohol before bed. Many people notice alcohol makes them feel drowsy, as is the case initially, but after a few hours it acts as a stimulant and can either prevent you from falling asleep or prevent you from getting into the deeper restorative stages of sleep. Eliminate alcohol from regular nighttime routine or do not drink it within 2 hours of bedtime.
- Establish a regular sleep/wake schedule...even on weekends! Over time your body’s internal clock will adjust to your schedule and it will help you to fall asleep and wake more easily. Eventually you will wake up naturally without an alarm.
- Wind down at 9:30 pm. Start your 'wind down' routine 1-2 hours before bedtime. This can be difficult if you have children and don’t generally feel like you can be productive around the house until they are in bed. Learn to be ok with not being able to accomplish everything. Remind yourself that your health depends on your ability to let go and properly wind down. Do you find yourself lying in bed anxious with your mind racing through your unfinished to do list? You are not alone. To change this it takes discipline and practice, much like how we go to the gym to build muscle.
- Have a pre-sleep routine. Set an alarm to remind yourself to start winding down, then consciously stop what you are doing and switch to something more calming like reading, journaling, or listening to a guided meditation. The moment you feel sleepy, switch off your light and allow your body to sleep.
- Minimize your exposure to blue light (screens) after 9 pm. Blue light is particularly good at suppressing our ability to secrete melatonin (a hormone we need to helps us sleep). Keep phones plugged in any room but your bedroom so you can't hear it buzz or see it light up with notifications. Turn off tablets, computers and TV's.
- Exercise at the right time. Moderate intensity activities have been proven to help people fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer. However high intensity activities lead to more cortisol being released, which is a natural stimulant and can keep you awake longer. Try and keep high intensity activity scheduled in the early hours of your day. It’s not always possible with busy schedules but an important consideration when planning your week.
NUTRIENTS FOR BETTER SLEEP:
- Tryptophan is an amino acid needed to make serotonin, a hormone important for regulating our sleep. Pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, tofu, turkey and fish are all good sources of tryptophan. Add in a small amount of complex carbohydrate like quinoa, millet or brown rice to help your body absorb the tryptophan better.
- Magnesium is also a great mineral to help with sleep and can be found naturally in dark green leafy vegetables, bananas and avocado.
- Melatonin is a sleep hormone our bodies naturally make, but you can get some extra doses by eating cherries.
- Herbs and Supplements. Visit your local health food store and ask to see the numerous herbs and supplements that can help you sleep better, but I prefer you try the above strategies first before adding any of these. Your doctor or naturopath will be able to offer you more in depth personal advice and look for any potential interactions with other medications. Self medicating either with natural, over the counter or prescription drugs can be dangerous and actually have the opposite effect on your sleep.
Everyone is different and some of these suggestions may work better than others. I suggest picking just a few easy ones to start with and see if you notice a difference in your thinking, appetite, mood and energy levels. This may provide the necessary motivation to tackle some of the more challenging changes later. If you have any questions or comments feel free to email me at email@example.com or find me in a well&tight class sometime.
Written by well&tight member and contributor: Dr. Angeline Yee
Bio: Dr. Angelina Yee is a medical doctor trained in both Family and Functional medicine. As a fitness and health enthusiast she enjoys all forms of activity and exploration into physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. Angelina is a certified yoga instructor and a national body-building champion. She is happily married and a mom to 6 year old twins and a golden doodle named Marvin. Follow her personal wellness journey on IG @dr_angelinayee.