Improve the quality of your sleep, Tonight!
February 23, 2017
February 23, 2017
We all know we need quality sleep, that it is essential and that most of us need more of it. Do we know the sleep essentials? What happens to us when we don’t get enough of it? What happens to our mental and physical states when we are getting adequate amount of sleep, in comparison? Do we know how to get to sleep faster and optimize the precious hours we do get hitting the pillow? Hopefully by the end of this short read we can open your eyes on the importance of closing them (see what I did there)
First let’s establish what “adequate” sleep is. For anyone over the age of 18, 7-9 hours is considered an appropriate sleep range, and the time needed goes up as age goes down because younger children, toddlers and newborns need more sleep to develop body systems properly, although many parents will argue that a newborn doesn’t sleep anywhere near the 12-14hr range associated with this age. Clearly most us fall below this baseline, and the effect of continuously falling short of our necessary hours of sleep can wreak havoc on our minds and bodies. Starting with the immediate effects on the brain, let’s review the impact that lack of sleep has on our daily lives.
Lack of sleep can result in cognitive dysfunction to varying degrees. Consistently being short even 1-2 hours per night can interfere with learning and concentration skills. An interesting thought, considering that during my senior year at the University of North Florida, my classmates and I were averaging a solid 3-4hrs of red bull soaked sleep a night. On a more serious note, this can be a problem as many teens fall considerably short of their requirement which can lead to difficulty with memory and retaining information in school.
Sleep deficiency can also cloud the decision-making process and grind creativity to a halt. This can be a huge issue at the educational level, and in the workplace. While it is true that some can grind and burn the midnight oil to get that big project together just before the deadline, the reality is that if the project had been given proper attention with full rest, the final product might have been better than expected. (see current writing)
The brain controls emotions as well, of course, and these can also be affected greatly by sleep loss. You may become short-tempered and moody, becoming easily agitated over unimportant or unnecessary issues. It could see its way into relationships with family, friends and significant others (who may also be suffering from lack of sleep, as sleeping with another person is one of the most disruptive things we can do to our personal sleep patterns). Long term loss of sleep can also mimic the symptoms, as well as lead to, clinical depression. Anxiety and even feelings of hopelessness and suicide are all possible side effects of severe chronic sleep deprivation. (What a happy article Pat, thanks!)
Now we’ve gone over some of the mental issues that can arise due to lack of sleep, let’s talk about how your body reacts to it.
A consistent lack of sleep creates an increase in the stress hormone, cortisol. To keep the science part simple, higher levels of cortisol can increase fat stores. Combine that with a decrease in leptin production, a hormone that tells your brain that your stomach is full, and you have a recipe for storing fat and over eating. This can sabotage even the best training efforts and diet, and is a huge reason sleep deprivation is a major risk factor in obesity. Your immune system is also compromised. Think about it, when you do get sick what does your body want most? Shut down, sleep, fight off infection, recover. If you can’t/don’t sleep, the illness lingers and you feel like dog poop for a week.
So, we know what happens to our mind and body when we don’t give it enough sleep, so what in the world can we do to improve the sleep that we do get? Glad you asked.
First we will start by getting your bedroom ready for sleep. Let me preface this by saying, if it is possible, the bedroom should be used for two things, sleep and sex. Sorry, that’s it. If, due to living situations, the bedroom must double as your office or dining area, so be it but I would try to change that as quickly as possible.
Bedroom set up in no specific order:
1) Get it cold, 65-68 degrees is fantastic. Use fans if you can’t regulate your own air conditioning. This tells the body that it’s time to sleep.
2) Get an old-school alarm clock, like without a digital, light emitting face, and keep your cellphone out of the bedroom. I know, crazy talk. In fact, no electronic devices besides the clock at all. No TV, no tablet, just no. Trust me on this one, falling asleep to CSI re-runs isn’t the way to optimal sleep.
***Bonus tip, when you wake up you won’t be able to instantly jump on social media and ruin the day before it starts!
3) Get that room black hole dark. Buy blackout drapes, cover the windows with blankets, whatever. Just get it as dark as possible as any light that sneaks in will tell your brain that it’s time to wake up.
4) This one is tough for some, but Fido can’t sleep in your bed. I know…that face though…. but no. Every time our fur children get up and move around, which is a lot over the course of the night because they have been sleeping all damn day while you’re working to buy kibble, they can take you out of your deep sleep. I’ll bet that they wouldn’t mind their own comfortable bed anyway. Little spoiled fur child.
5) Invest in high quality bedding. You spend a lot of time in bed, make it as plush and comfortable as possible.
6) Lastly, your mom was on to something when she was yelling at you to clean up your room. As we opened with, the bedroom should be for two things and those two things only. A messy, cluttered room doesn’t help with either of them. Clean it up, junior.
Now that we have your sleeping area set up perfectly, let’s focus on you, specifically.
1) Try to get off your technology at least 1-2hrs before going to bed. Electronics emit light that keeps our brains in “awake” mode, never giving it a chance to wind down. If you must use a computer at night, I suggest an app such as f.lux, which will dim the computer screen to warmer, softer colors so the transition to sleep is easier.
2) Make late meals lighter. Digestion is one of the more energy consuming activities in the body, so if we eat a huge meal closer to our bedtime, the body will be working to digest food instead of being in resting mode. In addition, taper drinking down as frequent bathroom trips will disrupt sleep patterns.
3) Avoid caffeine and alcohol. This should be obvious, but I must make sure it is clear. Even if you’re an old coffee head like myself, cut caffeine way down in the afternoon and try not to have any in the evening. You may think coffee isn’t affecting you anymore or that alcohol will help you sleep, but I can assure you that neither is enhancing the quality of your rest.
4) Exercise earlier in the day. When you train, you release those wonderful, feel good endorphins that make you feel indestructible. Unfortunately exercise also releases the previously discussed cortisol, so try to finish up your workout at least 2-3hrs before your normal bedtime.
5) Overall try to create a bedtime routine. Take a hot shower or bath (the rise and subsequent fall in temperature will help enhance drowsiness), read for a few minutes (paperback please) and try to go to bed at the same time every night, and yes even on the weekends you party animal you.
Try implementing one or two of these tips at a time and monitor your sleep quality. Over time, as you see and feel your sleep improving, add a few more. I realize that sometimes getting “more” sleep just is not an option, but by utilizing some of these tips, you can make the precious few hours you do get as effective as possible in giving the body the rest and recovery it needs.