Sleep and Health

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The amazing and somewhat sad reality is that the sleep industry is a $32 billion market, and we still aren’t sleeping. As a culture, we have become quite crazed with purchasing almost anything to help us sleep.

We buy Smartwatches, Oura rings and Fitbits to track our sleep patterns. We invest large sums to find the perfect mattress, seek out sleep clinics; take herbal remedies, over-the-counter medications and prescription medications, try CBD oil, sound machines, cuddle sleep robots, purring pillows and try social media apps with slow music and stories all to lull us to sleep. We try sleep divorces and separate bedrooms, hoping silence and single sleeping will allow us to sleep. Some of these work for a while, some never work, some do help. However, almost two-thirds of all adults in developed nations are not getting enough sleep.

Our bodies were designed not to waste time. Sleep is central to our health and performance, and during sleep, our brain is firing many signals to help itself actively repair and get ready for the next day. While we all know someone who says they do not need more than three hours sleep, the adult body requires at least six to eight hours of sleep a night to restore all bodily functions.

Restorative sleep helps keep the autonomic nervous, hormone and immune systems balanced. Your health relies upon this downtime. During sleep, immune function and disease resistance are enhanced, energy and strength are increased, weight loss and blood glucose is regulated, coordination and flexibility are upgraded, and hormone levels are balanced. Within your brain, there is increased focus and creativity, memory is retained along with the ability to learn complex skills and emotional regulation is enhanced. 

We all know the overtired result of losing our cool too quickly, feeling as though we are in the gray fog, and forgetting where we put things. These are the body’s response to a lack of sleep. Saying you feel fine on a few hours of sleep does not mean that it is best for you. A weakened immune system, cardiac and blood pressure issues, obesity, and higher blood sugar can result from a lack of sleep. 

So, here are some suggestions that may help if you are facing a lack of ZZZs.

Give your screens a break at least one hour before bed. This includes your phone, TV, laptop, iPad, and smartwatch. The light and engagement with the screens keep your brain from winding down.

Stick to your reasonable bedtime, even on weekends. 

Find your ideal room temperature. No matter what you may think that is, the ideal room temperature is a cool 67 degrees. Your body temperature decreases to initiate sleep and a cool room can give you a head start. Often a fan helps, both in cooling and providing white noise.

Schedule workouts and heavy meals to earlier in the day. Elevated metabolism and heart rate can disrupt sleep. Try no eating, drinking, or exercising for three hours before bed. This is especially true for anything with caffeine as it raises your heart rate and can disrupt a crucial signal to your brain that regulates your internal clock.

Trade that wind-down glass of wine or cocktail for some extra sleep. Alcohol may seem to relax, but too much can rob you of REM sleep. When the alcohol wears off, there are often repeated wake-ups during the night. 

Regular daily exercise is good for rest. Staying active and being outside helps tire the body so that sleep is needed.

Reserve your bedroom for rest and recovery. Take out screens, chargers, and beeping cell phones that announce incoming emails or texts while you are trying to sleep.

As for napping, remember to take them before 3 p.m. Too close to ideal bedtime can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. That pre-bed nap at 9 p.m. on the couch often results in an inability to fall asleep when you go to bed. If tired, make yourself get up and go to bed where you can sleep without interruption.

Check the lighting in your home. Use bright, blue-lights in the daytime. Switch to dimmer and warmer bulbs at dusk such as LED-tunable lights that boost melatonin. For some, light masks sold under names such as Oasis or Illumi bring customized light therapy to your face. Some new homes are now actually being constructed with circadian lighting that brightens and dims at the right time of day.

If self-help methods of inducing sleep do not work, consult with your physician. A sleep study might detect sleep apnea, and your physician can suggest prescription or other drugs that may help you go to—and stay asleep.