How many hours of sleep do you get each night?
The average adult requires 7-9 hours depending on their circumstances and genetics, but most Americans are not getting this.
Nearly 1/3 of adults get less than 6 hours of sleep per night. More than a third of Americans have trouble sleeping every night while over half report sleep problems at least a few nights a week. The use of medications to help with sleep have also dramatically increased in recent years.
The average number of hours American's sleep now is down to 6.8, which is over an hour less than it was in 1942.
Without adequate sleep, you cannot be healthy.
Sleep is essential for basic repair of systems in the body including neurological, endocrine, immune, musculoskeletal, and digestive. Have you ever noticed that you get a cold or flu after not sleeping well for a few nights? Melatonin (one of the main hormones controlling your circadian rhythms) increases immune system function to protect you from infections.
Sleep is crucial for
- Enhancing memory and mental clarity
- Musculoskeletal growth and repair
- Boosting mood and energy
- Improving immune function
- Increasing stress tolerance
What happens when you don't get enough sleep?
Sleeping for less than 6 hours a day is associated with low grade chronic inflammation, worsening insulin resistance, and an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. It is also associated with heart disease, hypertension, and psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety.
You can eat a perfect diet, but if you are not sleeping enough and managing your stress, you can still tend towards poor health!
Sleep medications are commonly used, but they can lead to dependence, rebound insomnia, drowsiness, memory loss, sleep walking, changes in brain chemistry, constipation and more. I am not saying that they should never be used, because there is a tipping point where the harmful effects of sleep deprivation outweigh the risks of the medication. I would recommend trying the following natural tips to improve your sleep before resorting to medication.
Top tips to get a better night’s sleep naturally
- Reduce your exposure to artificial light. As you all know, I like to take everything back to the way our ancestors lived. Their light exposure was VERY different from ours. Sunlight and fires were the main source of light in their lives. They tended to sleep when the sun went down and wake up when it came up. Now with televisions, computers, and phones, we are constantly exposed to artificial light. Increased doses of this blue light can disrupt the circadian rhythm and are associated with decreased melatonin levels. Try the following tips
- Don’t use a computer, phone, or watch TV 2 hours before bed (try reading a book, playing a game, or having a conversation with someone instead of using screens during the evening)
- If you do have to use electronic devices, use blue light blocking glasses
- Use blackout shades to ensure pure darkness in your bedroom
- Cover your alarm clock if it is lit
- Turn off any digital devices that give off light
- Use a sleep mask
- Get some sun exposure during the day. The same way too much artificial light can disrupt circadian rhythms, sun exposure can help to reset the circadian rhyhms and has been linked to improved sleep.
- Don’t be too full or too hungry. Eating a lighter dinner is especially helpful if you have digestive issues. On the other hand, if you tend toward low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), a snack before bed can help to keep you from waking up in the middle of the night.
- Go to bed earlier- I am not going to get deep into sleep patterns here, but between the hours of 11-3 sleep REM and non-REM sleep patterns tend to be more restorative and regenerative than between the eariler morning hours of 3-7.
- Change your night owl behavior. If you feel like you are a natural night owl, this is likely a sign of disrupted circadian rhythms. Cortisol levels should be high in the morning and taper throughout the day, while melatonin levels should do the opposite. This allows us to have energy upon waking in the morning, and wind down as night time approaches. If these hormone shifts get reversed or disrupted, it can lead to energy at night and difficulty waking in the morning. Caffeine intake is often used to help a person wake up in the morning, but this can contribute to increased energy and cortisol levels too late in the day which can perpetuate the vicious cycle.
- Decrease stress during the day. If the sympathetic (fight or flight) system is revved up from stress all day, it is unrealistic to immediately switch gears as soon as your head hits the pillow. Decreasing stress during the day can help to more easily switch from a stress response to a relaxation response.
- Stop using an alarm clock. Our ancestors never had an annoying beeping noise wake them up before their body was ready. The gradual changes in light naturally triggered their brains to spike cortisol leading to the cortisol awakening response. If you do need to make sure you get up at a certain time, try this gradual light alarm clock to wake you up with a gradual light that mimicks sunrise along with nature sounds.
- Keep your bedroom cool. 60 Degrees has been found ideal for most people, and anything above 65 degrees can potentially decrease sleep quality.
- Make a bed time and stick to it. If you know that you need to be up at a certain time, be sure to set a bed time at least 8 hours before this. The following link has a chart of how many hours of sleep are ideal for different age groups as well as some tips for personalizing this amount to fit your situation.
- Move your body. Even gentle movement such as 30 minutes of walking during the day has been shown to improve sleep.
My challenge to you this week is to take a deeper look at your sleep and ask yourself the following questions
1) How many hours of sleep are you getting?
2) Do you have a hard time falling asleep?
3) Do you often wake up in the middle of the night?
4) Do you feel rested in the morning?
5) Do you depend on stimulants like caffiene to get you going?
Use the tips above to try to improve your sleep behavior. If you need assistance with this, feel free to reach out to Dr. Jamie for help! Sleep is important and if you are struggling to get good a good quality and quantity of sleep, it could negatively impact your health.