The Importance of Sleep

The Importance of Sleep

We all know how good it feels to get a good night’s sleep. Did you know that poor quality sleep can have a significant negative impact on your health? According to a report published by The Institute of Medicine in 2008, lack of adequate sleep can increase your risk of developing hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, stroke and heart attack. Other studies have demonstrated a link between sleep deprivation and reduced ability to fight off illness.

Here are some things to watch out for if you are experiencing insomnia or have disrupted sleep patterns:

Difficulty falling asleep may be due to:

  1. Stress and elevated cortisol levels
  2. Too much caffeine
  3. Restless legs syndrome – muscle pain and twitching when lying down to bed
  4. Hormonal changes – during day 24-28 of the menstrual cycle there are more sleep disturbances
  5. Menopause – body temperature does not “dip down” like it should, and so there are more difficulties falling and staying sleep

Difficulty staying asleep may be due to:

  1. Sleep breathing problems – snoring, sleep apnea
  2. Hormonal changes – estrogen is protective of the airway – so decreased estrogen can lead to sleep apnea
  3. Movement disorders
  4. Hypoglycemia – eating a protein snack before bed and making sure that the majority of your calories are eaten before 4pm and do not eat dinner after 6-7 pm
  5. Nocturia (getting up at night to urinate) - try to drink most of your daily water before 5 pm
  6. Alcohol consumption – affects quality of sleep 7. Stress and cortisol levels spiking at night

Improve your sleep hygiene:

  • Your bed should only be used for sleeping. Do not work on the computer in your bed, and do not watch TV in your bed.
  • Melatonin, the hormone that tells your body to go to sleep, is highest 2 hours after you go to sleep. Full spectrum lights will disrupt the effect of melatonin more than the yellow colored (incandescent) lights.
  • Your sleep environment should be completely dark as if you are sleeping in a cave.
  • Keep your bedroom around 60 degrees – you sleep better in cooler temperatures, and your body’s temperature naturally decreases at night.
  • Keep your bed away from fuse boxes, electrical cords, and do not have anything plugged in beside your bed.
  • Do not allow pets in your room and keep your room as hypoallergenic as possible – histamine promotes wakefulness.
  • Go to bed at the SAME time every night, and wake up at the SAME time every morning – even weekends.
  • Try to eat your last full meal before 7 pm or at least 3 hours before you want to be sleeping.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine for at least 6-8 hours before you plan on going to bed.

Create a wind-down routine:

  • Start your wind-down at least 1 hour before bed, and then go to bed – Otherwise, you will wind-down from the day while lying in bed, and this leads to insomnia.
  • Your wind-down needs to be in low lights and NOT task oriented. Don’t work on something that needs to be done, instead; read, do a puzzle, knit, stretch. Do NOT watch TV, work on the computer, or clean the house.

Consider using these techniques to help you fall asleep:

  • Visualizations or story telling – make up a story in your head
  • Gratitude prayer or spiritual practice
  • Breathing practices
  • Meditation – but don’t listen to tapes, when they stop, your environment changes and you will wake up

If you are unable to fall asleep after 20 minutes:

  • If unable to fall asleep, or back to sleep, within 20 minutes, get out of bed and read something boring – not a novel that you are fascinated by, but something that you care nothing about. Do this in dim lighting.
  • Do not clock watch – if you wake up in the middle of the night; do NOT look at the time. Even if you get up to go to the bathroom, avoid looking at the clock.
  • When changing a sleep behavior or sleep pattern – be sure to try it for 7-10 days, before giving up. It takes this long for your body to learn changes.

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