More and more research points to inadequate sleep as a contributor to the cause of many chronic diseases in our society. A critical ingredient for getting a good night’s sleep is managing the last couple of hours of your evening. This is even more important in the time we find ourselves having to live with the uncertainty of COVID.
It is widely acknowledged that our addiction to social media (another expert sharing his/her opinions about COVID) and the widespread fascination with our devices fuels much of the global sleep recession the world is experiencing.
Blue light wavelengths (from either the sun, energy-efficient lighting or electronics) are beneficial during the day because they boost attention, reaction times and mood. However, at night, the blue light emitted from our tech toys and modern-day lighting is a powerful activator of photoreceptors called ‘intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells’ that reduce the amount of melatonin our brain’s pineal gland can secrete and knocks our biological clock out of whack. Essentially, that means your body does not know whether it’s supposed to be awake or asleep, and that is why you may feel tired – exhausted even – but can’t get to sleep.
Without adequate sleep, it is fiercely difficult to get up early and be productive during the day. And if that is not enough, there are a number of other highly damaging things that happen during sleepless nights that can impair your ability to function during the day, support vibrant health and experience happiness.
Although our bodies may take a rest during the night, our little brains are very, very active. A lot of ‘maintenance’ occurs, and can only occur when we are off in the land of nod.
One activity that happens only when we sleep is ‘brain washing’ (not the kind you may be thinking!). When we sleep, our brain is literally cleansed by cerebral spinal fluid so it can operate at warp speed during our waking hours. (Reduced occurrences of this nightly brain washing have also been cited as a possible contributor to plaque formation found in people with Alzheimer’s disease.)
Another is the production of the human growth hormone (HGH), a hormone that raises your moods, cognition, energy levels and lean muscle mass, supports a strong metabolism and a long lifespan while reducing your cravings through the regulation of leptin (the hormone that decreases appetite) and ghrelin (the hormone that signals hunger). While HGH is released through exercise (a good reason to exercise first thing in the morning), 75% of HGH production happens when you sleep.
So, how much sleep do we need? Research shows that the sweet spot turns out to be between 7&1/2 and 8&1/2 hours.
Managing Your Sleep
There are a number of things you can do to prevent sleep-deprivation. Some of them may sound familiar, too, if you have children because they involve establishing a nightly routine.
* Start early. Expose yourself to lots of sunlight during the day. It will boost your ability to sleep at night, as well as your mood and alertness during the day.
* No caffeine after 2pm. Limit alcohol in the evening.
* Begin with scheduling the last meal of the day at least 3 hours before heading to bed. Let your stomach rest also.
* Establish a nightly routine that your body will begin to recognize as the wind-down period. Do some light stretching, take a bath (by candlelight) or shower, give yourself a relaxing, moisturizing reflexology session, engage in a meaningful conversation, meditate and/or read a physical book by lamplight. These activities will train the brain to release sleep hormones and will relax the mind and body in preparation for sleep.
* Turn off all electronic devices at least one hour before you plan to retire. (preferably for the three hours discussed above)
* Remove all electronic items from your bedroom. No phones, tablets, computers or digital clocks. Use the old-style alarm clock, and ideally no television in your sleep area either.
* Go to bed and rise at the same time every night and morning. Regularity is the number one thing you can do to improve sleep. Remember how important that was for setting the kids (and yourself) up for a good day?
* Sleep in a cool, dark room.
* Try reciting all that you are grateful for that has occurred that day before drifting off to sleep. Ending the day feeling gratitude is such a gift.
* If you are having a restless night, research tells us it’s best to get up, move to another room, read a book (not look at screens) in dim light until you feel tired again; then return to bed. Tossing and turning in bed for hours just trains the brain to associate wakefulness with the bed. The other strategy that works equally well is to sit up and meditate.
* If you regularly wake with muscular pain, check out the age and state of your pillows and mattress. It may be time to replace.
* If you are not yet ready to give up your devices at night, at least go to the Settings on your smartphone or tablet and look under Display and Brightness. You will see options to filter out the blue light. You can schedule a Night Shift/Blue Light Reduction between certain hours so as to automatically filter out the blue light. Slide the bar that appears for Color Temperature more to the warmer side.
Many of our clients are struggling with sleep disorders, even before the situation we find ourselves in now. Please feel free to share the above with anyone you think might benefit.