This week I’ve had conversations with several people about the importance of sleep and tips and tricks on how to get restful sleep. This is an area that stomps all over my toes because I don’t always sleep well and am not typically good about following my own advice related to sleep. I’m going to work on it and thought you might want to know more so you can work on your sleep too.
Sleep Like A Baby
Any of us who’ve cared for a baby know that statement is not always very reliable. We had some rough nights as our three boys were growing up but sleep is an absolute necessity for a strong and healthy body.
Most of us need about 8 hours of sleep per night. However, know that some of us will need more and some less. When we are experiencing illness or stress, we likely require additional sleep. We move through a cycle of 5 different stages of sleep that last approximately 90 minutes. The cycle also changes the longer we sleep and longer stretches of sleep tend to be the most restorative. I can’t stress enough the importance of listening to our bodies and giving them what they need.
Why is Sleep so Important?
As we sleep, our bodies and minds are taking a break and resetting to prepare for the next day. There is important work that goes on that supports our daily activities and greatly affects our mental and physical health and well-being.
A simplified explanation of what occurs during sleep:
- Sleep is restorative to our mind and soul. Sleep impacts our emotional health and our ability to think clearly, make rational decisions, relate to others and learn new thoughts and ideas. How often have you gone to bed with something heavy on your heart and wake up feeling more positive about the situation or even with a solution to the problem?
- Our bodies also take time to rejuvenate and heal. Our bodies do important repair work while we sleep that supports every system of our body. Heart and blood vessels are being repaired as we sleep. Hormones related to metabolism, appetite and stress have a delicate balance that is affected by the quality of our sleep and can have an impact on weight and blood sugar levels as well as our ability to manage our natural stress response. It’s common to hear about human growth hormone (HGH) as the fountain of youth. Our bodies release this hormone during sleep which supports tissue building and repair. Although HGH production declines as we age, we can still see the benefits of it and our children are especially affected as they grow and develop.
- Our ability to perform work and remain safe can be impacted by sleep quantity and quality. Our physical reaction time can be delayed and we are more likely to make mistakes as we move through our day when we are sleep deprived.
According to the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute, microsleep is brief moments of sleep that occur when you’re normally awake. When we zone out and all the sudden realize we’ve missed the last few minutes, we were possibly microsleeping and missed out on important information or time. Yikes!
We should remain very cautious when we know that we are running on sleep deprivation. We (and others around us) are at increased risk for accidents to happen.
How to get good sleep
Now that we know how important sleep is, let’s dive into improving our sleep. It is estimated that at least 30% of adults have some type of sleep issue that prevents them from getting enough sleep or good quality restorative sleep.
Leading up to bedtime
- Minimize caffeine 4-6 hours prior to regular bedtime.
- Avoid smoking or other stimulants within 3-4 hours of bedtime
- Avoid alcohol and heavy meals close to bedtime.
- Give yourself time to unwind and relax prior to bedtime.
Preparing for Bed
- Minimize noise, light, & extreme temperatures both hot and cold. The Sleep Foundation suggests the room temperature be 60° – 67° for comfortable sleep.
- Make sure that you have a supportive and comfortable mattress and pillow.
- Remove electronic devices from your room. Yes, that includes tv, computer, cell phone…you know what I mean. These should be avoided 1-2 hours prior to bed.
- Use an essential oil diffuser with lavender or other favorite relaxing essential oil. Cedarwood and lavender mixed together and rubbed on the feet can be a relaxing combination.
- If you are having a difficult time getting to sleep, it is better to go to another room and relax and then try again shortly.
- Consider using meditation or prayer as you get into bed to encourage relaxation. Lay your burdens aside so you can get a good night’s sleep.
General Lifestyle Suggestions
- Make your bedroom a haven for calm and peace. Decorate in such a way that feels inviting. Keep your room tidy and uncluttered.
- Go to bed at approximately the same time every night. Routine is important to sleep.
- It is best to not try and catch up on sleep on the weekends. Although a cat nap during the day can be re-energizing, pay attention to the impact naps have on your overall sleep quality and quantity.
- Try to wake up without an alarm clock. Allowing your body to wake on its own ensures full sleep cycles.
- When you do use an alarm clock, it is better to get up when the alarm goes off and not hit the snooze button. Broken sleep cycles can make us more tired than going ahead and getting up and moving forward with our day.
- Get regular exercise. Notice if changing when you exercise affects your sleep. Some of us will do well with evening exercise, some will find that morning exercise is better for sleep quality.
- Get natural sunlight during the day which helps to regulate your circadian rhythms, your natural sleep/wake cycle.
Simple Supplements That Can Support Sleep
- Magnesium deficiency is extremely common. Our bodies, particularly our muscles, need magnesium for relaxation. Taking 400-600 mg magnesium (in the form of magnesium glysinate taurate) can be safe and helpful for insomnia. Also, add magnesium to your diet by eating nuts, leafy greens and beans.
- Valerian Root is an herb that is used for reducing stress and encouraging relaxation and sleep. Dr. Mark Hyman recommends taking 320-480 mg at bedtime.
- Melatonin is a hormone that our bodies produce and supports sleep. Please proceed with caution as it shouldn’t be taken long-term without medical supervision. Melatonin is often recommended for folks traveling overseas or who have atypical work schedules. It can be effective for regulating our natural sleep rhythms. There are time-release supplemental melatonin in dosages ranging 1-3mg that are effective for short-term use.
What if I try all this and still have sleep issues?
Sometimes we need help when we can’t unravel our sleep issues by changing our routines and behaviors. It’s great to ask for help from a health coach or your personal physician. Sleep is far too important to ignore disturbances that you’re having.
Keeping a sleep journal can be an excellent way to track your sleep and identify triggers that are affecting your sleep. It can indicate to your doctor or coach areas that might be explored to improve sleep quality. Make note about your surroundings, bedtime, times you awaken during the night, your ease of going to sleep and any other details that will assist in the process.
My Challenge to You
If you are currently experiencing sleep disturbances, I challenge you to use these suggestions to improve your sleep quantity and quality. I also challenge you to seek help if these suggestions don’t help. Our sleep is too important to our overall health to ignore. I also am going to work on my sleep habits and will keep you posted. I hope you will let me know how this challenge goes for you. Let’s hold each other accountable!
Resources Used While Writing This Post
Book: The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book by Shari Lieberman, PhD and Nancy Bruning, MPH