How much sleep do you get each night? It is important to remember that the amount of time you spend in bed is not equal to the number of hours you actually sleep. It takes time to fall asleep, so you need to take that into account.
Sleep is essential for the basic repair of systems in the body including neurological, endocrine, immune, musculoskeletal, and digestive systems. Without adequate sleep, you cannot be healthy. Unfortunately, it isn’t always a priority in our society.
Adults generally require 7-9 hours of sleep each night, but American adults only average 6.8 hours (this is over an hour less than it was in 1942). One-third of adults don’t even get 6 hours of sleep.
To make matters worse, more than a third of Americans have trouble sleeping every night while over half report sleep problems at least a few nights a week. It is no surprise that the use of sleep aids has dramatically increased in recent years.
Let’s look at the importance of sleep and what you can do to improve yours.
Sleep is Crucial
Have you ever realized that you get sick a lot more when you aren’t sleeping well? It is no coincidence. Sleep directly impacts your immune system, but that is not all it impacts. Sleep is also important for:
- Enhancing memory and mental clarity
- Musculoskeletal growth and repair
- Boosting mood and energy
- Increasing stress tolerance
What happens when you don't get enough sleep?
Melatonin (one of the main hormones controlling your circadian rhythms) increases immune system function to protect you from infections. If you are not getting enough sleep it can not do its job.
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!
Natural tips for a better night’s sleep
- Reduce your exposure to artificial light. Our ancestors tended to sleep when the sun went down and wake up when it came up. Now we are constantly exposed to artificial light through televisions, computers, phones, etc. This blue light can disrupt the circadian rhythm and decreases melatonin levels. To combat this:
- Don’t use a computer, phone, or watch TV two 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.
- Turn off any digital devices that give off light (cover your alarm clock).
- Use a sleep mask.
- Get some sun exposure during the day. Sun exposure can help to reset the circadian rhythms and has been linked to improved sleep.
- Be aware of your eating schedule. Don’t go to bed too full or too hungry. Eating a lighter dinner is 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 in the middle of the night.
- Go to bed earlier. Between the hours of 11:00-3:00, REM and non-REM sleep patterns tend to be more restorative and regenerative than between the earlier morning hours of 3:00-7:00.
- 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. If these hormone shifts get reversed or disrupted, it can lead to energy at night and difficulty waking in the morning.
- Limit your caffeine even 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. This can perpetuate the vicious cycle.
- Find ways to handle your stress throughout 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 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 light that mimics the sunrise along with nature sounds.
- Keep your bedroom cool. Sixty degrees has been found ideal for most people. Anything above 65 degrees can potentially decrease sleep quality.
- Make a bedtime and stick to it. If you know that you need to be up at a certain time, be sure to set a bedtime 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.
- Try to avoid sleep medications. They can lead to dependence, rebound insomnia, drowsiness, memory loss, sleepwalking, 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.
- How many hours of sleep are you getting?
- Do you have a hard time falling asleep?
- Do you often wake up in the middle of the night?
- Do you feel rested in the morning?
- Do you depend on stimulants like caffeine to get you going?
Let me know if you are trying some of these tips and how they are going with you. I love to hear about the strides you are making for your health.