Sleep Like Your Life Depended on It
Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together - Thomas Dekker
The image of a hard charging, go getter putting in long hours with little rest is stereotypically American. In much of our society, the idea that a person would need more than a few hours of sleep per night is viewed as a weakness. It is unfortunate, but true, that our cultural norms form the very basis of many of our health issues. In searching the literature, one cannot find a single study that suggests anything less than 7 hours of sleep for an adult male is essential. In fact the range of 7-9 hours is most often cited as the optimal amount of sleep for the adult male.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “At least 40 million Americans each year suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders, and an additional 20 million experience occasional sleeping problems. These disorders and the resulting sleep deprivation interfere with work, driving, and social activities. They also account for an estimated $16 billion in medical costs each year, while the indirect costs due to lost productivity and other factors are probably much greater.
Doctors have described more than 70 sleep disorders, most of which can be managed effectively once they are correctly diagnosed. The most common sleep disorders include insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy.” A 2004 report in the The Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism clearly stated that “Total sleep restriction in humans is associated with increased daytime sleepiness, decreased performance, and hormonal/metabolic disturbances.” Additionally, the report concluded that in “men and women, modest sleep loss is associated with significant sleepiness, impairment of psychomotor performance, and increased secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines.” Finally, a 2010 report in the Journal of Andrology concluded that “sleep duration was associated with androgen concentrations in men, and thus the evaluation of sleep hygiene may be beneficial in the management of men with low androgen concentrations.”
The evidence is pretty clear, poor sleep habits lead to lower hormone levels for both men and women. For our first order of business, let get you sleeping and resting better.
5 Tricks to Help You Sleep Like a Baby and Get Healthier Doing It
1. Sleep Routine
Get in the routine of going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day. Our bodies crave routine. In The Harvard Medical School Guide to a good Night’s Sleep, Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein advises “Keeping a regular sleep schedule—even on weekends—maintains the timing of the body's internal clock and can help you fall asleep and wake up more easily.”
2. Sleep in Total Darkness
Dvorsky explains that prior to the end of the stone age, humans were exposed to two different kinds of natural light responsible for regulating circadian rhythmicity. During the day we had the sun, while at night we had the moon and the stars, and perhaps the light from campfires. The binary day/night pattern was unrelenting, and our biological programming followed suit. Today we have artificial lighting at night which is considerably more powerful than moonlight. This difference influences a series of critical biochemical cascades tied to light periodicity, including the production of cortisol and melatonin levels.
Neurologist George Brainard said, “ Light works as if it’s a drug, except it’s not a drug at all.” Light suppresses Melatonin. Melatonin is a workhorse biochemical produced when it’s dark. It is a key regulator of our sleep-wake cycle. It lowers blood pressure, glucose levels and body temperatures - key physiological responses responsible for a restful sleep. Studies have shown that exposure to room light before bedtime shortens melatonin duration by about 90 minutes compared to dim light exposure. In addition, exposure to room light during usual hours of sleep suppresses melatonin levels by more than 50%.
Additionally, our eyes sense light and send a signal to our brain to wake up. It also kickstarts other processes like raising body temperature, and producing hormones like cortisol. Our cortisol levels are relatively low at night, allowing us to sleep, and higher during the day, allowing for the stabilization of energy levels and the modulation of immune function. Unfortunately, light at night elevates cortisol levels which disrupts sleep and introduces a host of problems relating to body-fat levels, insulin resistance, and systemic inflammation. It also contributes to sleep debt and a disruption the neuroregulation of appetite.
To put it all in simply bright lights, computer screens, flashing LED’s and even the street lamp out side your window may be contributing to your lack of restful sleep. In order to get the rest you need, keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Turn off all light emitting gadgets and close the blinds. Turn off computers, smart phones and televisions in the hours preceding sleep. Tape over LEDs with electrical tape. Even the alarm clock can give off light so make sure you address that. Think of a cave or a coffin and then you will be able to visualize the level of darkness you are aiming for.
3. Choose the Right Bed Linens
In his article for Today’s Health and Wellness Blog, writer Chris Sercio sheds some light on the importance of great bed linens and how to find them (Article Here .)Here is a quick run down of the 9 points he makes:
The bottom line here is buy great bed linens, keep them clean and replace them often. The more comfortable you are during sleep, the more restful that sleep will be.
4. Make Your Bed Every Morning
At lifehacker.com Naval Admiral William McRaven suggests making your bed is one of the best ways to start your day. “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.”
Additionally, a study conducted by The National Sleep Foundation suggests that gong to bed in a bed that is made leads to a better nights rest.
5. Use White Noise to Mask Offending Sounds
The Definitive Guide to White Noise and Sleep (Found Here) is exactly what the title suggests. For a complete understanding of the science behind white noise use as a sleep aid, check it out. In a nutshell, using white noise is a way to employ sound masking. “When you add white noise (or a similar sound) to your sleeping environment, you’re utilizing a principal known as sound masking. Rather than drowning out the offending sounds, they become ‘masked’ by the frequencies of the white noise signal.”
Author Jeff Mann lists a host of machines, gadgets and apps to facilitate white noise in your sleeping environment. One of the easiest white noise hacks, and the one we use is an old fashion desk fan...
Over the coming weeks we will share more tips on getting a great night rest, so stay tuned....