But what happens when you don’t get enough sleep - as many do not? You’re in for chronic health problems, impaired cognitive abilities and mood disorders.
Studies have shown that 50-70 million US adults suffer from sleep or wakefulness disorders and 60% of adults report having sleep issues a few nights a week or more. The Centers for Disease control in Atlanta, GA labels this an epidemic threatening public health.
Fortunately, the way we go about our day has a direct impact on our ability to fall and stay asleep at night. So the power is in our hands.
This post is going to cover why good sleep is crucial and how to get it. We’ll talk in detail about how daily diet, cortisol levels, and technology can be regulated to immediately create healthier sleep patterns for a fulfilling night’s sleep. So you can rest easy.
While your head is on the pillow, your evolutionary processes are working away to repair cell and tissue damage, soothe and organize the mental stage after the day's events, and reset you 100% for another cycle under the sun.
From a physical standpoint, any stress your body has suffered from ultraviolet sunlight, intense physical activity, poor dietary choices, and otherwise are repaired at night. So if you’re trying to stay in shape, stay looking young - you need to get your 8 hours of recommended sleep.
Losing sleep means gaining weight. The body reacts to being tired by releasing the hormone ghrelin (which makes you feel hungry) and curbing the release of leptin (which make you feel full).
Sleep also affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood sugar levels. Sleep deficiency results in your body releasing more insulin when it eats, meaning increased risk for diabetes and additional calories.
The standard recommended allowance of sleep is between 7-9 hours. This give your body time to complete sufficient cycles of deep REM sleep that soothes and relaxes your body and prepares your mind for the next day.
To be mentally sharp, sleep is mandatory. Those that suffer from sleeplessness don’t learn or create memories properly. This is because pillow time is when your brain's stores and creates pathways between the previous day’s information and the existing information from earlier in life. To skip sleep is to disadvantage yourself and throw much of your day’s hard-earned information.
Moreover, insufficient rest reduces the ability to cope with change, solve problems, make decisions, and regulate emotions for the following day. Skipping a full night of sleep is equivalent to walking around with a six pack in your system the next day: you’re that impaired.
To keep your mind clear, establish sleep hygiene, or good practices surrounding sleep patterns. If you observe the following tips, you’ll be sure to get better rest.
The body’s biological clock, or it’s circadian rhythm, lasts a little more or less than 24 hrs depending upon each individual’s wakeup cycle.
This clock runs off a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol has been called the killer stress hormone in recent years because it is indeed dangerous at high levels over long periods of time. It’s the fight or flight hormone that’s released under stress.
However, it’s also crucial to informing our daily sleep and wake cycles. Increased cortisol release wakes us in the morning, it’s decline allows for our falling asleep at night, and it fluctuates throughout the day along with our alertness. Mid-afternoon drowsiness, anyone?
A healthy circadian rhythm is informed largely by light and is naturally set to the rise and set of the sun. The time of least cortisol release is about midnight, and cortisol levels begin to rise again about 2-3 hours after sleep onset. Theses levels continue to rise into the early morning and hours that we wake up, peaking around 9 a.m.
A 2009 study discovered these findings and confirmed that cortisol levels rise and fall throughout the day, as shown below.
Scientists know that cortisol levels rise at 9 am, between 12 - 1 pm, and between 5 - 6:30 pm. Follows our natural eating rhythm, right? And the times in between are cortisol dips that welcome an infusion of caffeine. But overtaking natural cortisol release with caffeine at peak times may be the unnatural action that’s keeping you up at night.
If you’re releasing unnatural levels of cortisol at bedtime, it is impossible to sleep. You can’t relax if you feel threatened, it’s just biologically impossible. Only when you have naturally low levels of cortisol can you drift off.
But humans are notoriously attracted to things unnatural.
If you like watching the fear-saturated news or a suspenseful TV show before bedtime, you’re increasing your cortisol levels.
Much of our media is designed to remind us that we live in a dangerous and unpredictable world. The excitement we get from watching suspense and crime shows and the news is derived from the subsequent cortisol response after viewing. Hands down, this is a poor choice before bedtime. It’s also not going to help you dream any better. These are like monster stories for adults.
Cut out stressful TV programs to allow your mind and body to truly relax.
Your TV, your tablet, your smartphone, that new energy efficient LED lighting - all this brightly-lit technology can prevent your sleep.
That’s because the light is beaming light right into your brain. Specifically, blue light. Blue wavelengths of light, very present during the daylight hours, are shown to boost attention, mood, and reaction times.
Harvard researchers showed that light of any kind, and blue light especially, suppressed the release of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone responsible for regulating sleep and wake cycles. In the study, blue light was shown to decrease melatonin release by twice the amount of green light and actually shift the circadian rhythms of participants by twice as much (3 hrs v. 1.5 hrs).
Remember those BluBlocker sunglasses from the seventies? A University of Toronto study found that wearing blue light cutting eyewear was effective at preserving melatonin release in wearers subjected to blue wavelengths during normal sleeping hours. So if you work the graveyard shift or must read from a screen at night, get your retro swag on (or buy the new version) and get smart about falling asleep.
While alcohol is a nervous system depressant drug and therefore offers a sedentary effect, it will only interfere with long and restful sleep. And after prolonged use at night, it will lose its sleep-inducing effect and the disruptive effects will only increase.
One study found that 58% of respondents did not know that alcohol can be detrimental to sleep.
Sad, but true: there is no magic fix. Alcohol is shown to prevent deep REM sleep, that most-restful and essential sleep stage with so many mental benefits. Alcohol also lightens sleep cycles, making us more prone to wakefulness, and causes abrupt awakenings when it leaves our system. Remember those soggy late nights when you think you’d “pass out” until 4pm...but you wake up at 7am? That’s the alcohol leaving your system and stealing your rest.
Going to bed with a drink (or more) in your system will cost you an hour or more of sleep. And hopefully not more: sleeping less than five hours a night increases the risk of death from all causes by 15%.
Having a bedtime snack or a late dessert is setting yourself up to have sleep problems. The refined grains and sugars of most late-night sweets are metabolically disruptive and overstress the organs involved in organ regulation in the body.
Stressing your digestive system with low-quality and stressful food is never a good idea, but it can be especially troublesome before bedtime. That’s because you release cortisol when you digest food. If you’re having to react to a heavy, sugary, or processed bite to eat, expect your body to keep you up and along for the ride.
People have been using plants to aid in sleep for all of recorded history. From eucalyptus to lavender oil, many plants are available to aid in sleep processes.
Adaptogens are plants that are harmless with no side effects, initially discovered and labelled by research scientist Israel Berkman. Adaptogens increase the ability of the body to adapt to stress and increase resistance to disease. These effects are not localized to specific organs but rather reach the whole of the body with a restorative “normalizing” effect upon the imbalances caused by physical or emotional stress.
Now, all vegetables are somewhat an adaptogen. With their chlorophyll, all plants naturally have antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties from alkaline. But certain others are more concentrated in their benefits:
Many choose to supplement on daily basis to improve their overall health and quality of sleep. As all bodily processes are strongly intertwined, getting adequate levels of plant-based nutrition is a guaranteed way to improve total health - and it can improve sleep if used properly.
These have been four tactics for increasing the length and quality of your sleep. As in waking hours too, paying attention to your cortisol levels and your body responses to this powerful hormone is crucial for optimal functioning. Be sure to eat a responsible and balanced diet to aid sleep, drink caffeine in observation of your body’s circadian rhythm, and cut back on alcohol. If you’re serious about more sleep, consider a supplement to cover your bases and simplify the quest for good rest. Lastly, regulate technology use and harsh blue lighting to a minimum before bed to help in melatonin release. Observe these key principle of sleep and you’ll have no trouble finding the land of nod in the future.