Most of us recognize how good we feel after a good nights sleep: refreshed, energized, happy and ready to take on the challenges of the day! However, one in three adults aren’t getting enough sleep according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and my guess is that most of us aren’t surprised by this statistic.
So why has such an essential requirement for health moved to the bottom of our priority list? The reasons may vary but the consensus in the research is that we can’t avoid the health consequences of not getting enough sleep by ‘catching up’ on it later on. Let’s look at just a few of the many things our body is doing while we sleep, how lack of sleep affects our health, and the simple changes we can make to increase quality and quantity of sleep for the whole family!
Sleep is a time for our body to heal and rebalance; we may be resting, but our physiology is hard at work to keep us well! Think of it like an office building where everyone has left for the day but the night shift comes in to sweep up the mess, take out the garbage, and put things back where they need to be so that the next day will run smoothly. Overnight, our hormones balance, our digestion, brain and immune system (via our migrating motor complex and lymphatic system respectively) are cleaned out.
Adults need at least 7 hours per night to promote optimal health and well being, kids need 10-12 hours, and teenagers need 8-12 hours. This doesn’t translate as the number of hours we are in bed, but solid, quality hours of sleep. Consequences of not meeting this mark include an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, depression, arthritis, and diabetes to name a few. Further, other common health concerns like getting sick with colds and flus more often, digestive issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and even mental health challenges like anxiety and depression are associated with poor and inadequate sleep patterns. Some studies have even compared lack of sleep to over indulgence in alcohol!
Start improving your mood, hormones and stress TONIGHT by following the following three steps:
1. Notice Routines
For a few nights pay attention to and ideally make a note about your evening schedule: when do you start winding down for the evening, and what are you doing? When is your light off, and when are you actually asleep versus in bed?
Make particular note of when your devices like your phone, tablet, computer are turned off. These should be off and ideally escorted out of the room at least 1 hour before it’s time to sleep. The light and electromagnetic field from the devices are the theorized culprits in increasing cortisol (aka fight or flight/stress hormone) that will end up interfering with our sleep.
Instead try reading or journaling. Journaling can be as simple as ‘mind dumping’ where anything that keeps repeating on our minds is written down. Or try writing a few things you are grateful for that day.
2. Normalize Schedule
This is a game changer whether you’re a child, student or a busy executive! Our body THRIVES on routines and rhythms. The stress hormone cortisol is often too high in the evening when we’re doing too much in the later part of our day or we’re out of routine. Just by adhering as much as possible to the same sleep and wake time can help to regulate cortisol and improve our sleep.
If you’re struggling to get to bed earlier, then just start by consistently beginning your bedtime routine 15 minutes earlier for a few weeks. Is your partner snoring, or pet making too much noise?! Try a sleep mask or ear plugs. If you’re still waking in the night, you may want to see your Naturopathic Doctor for further investigation and hormones testing.
Make the sleeping environment and conditions relaxing and peaceful. This includes not working in or near your bed, removing clutter, and having dim or bedside lighting. Also be sure there is no ambient light in the room through the curtains, or from electronics in the room that are on all night. I also recommend using airplane mode on phones.
Make sure your bedroom and bed is comfortably set up to your liking. Do you need a new pillow/mattress, sheets? You could also try some essential oils or soft music help you get relaxed and ready for sleep!
Don’t underestimate the impact of a good nights sleep, and don’t feel guilty taking the time to prioritize yourself and your health by making it a priority. Begin to have a regular time you start your bedtime routine that works for you, and be sure that your sleeping environment is a serene and work-free area.
Challenge: Try tracking your sleep times and changes you’ve made on a chart, calendar, or use an app! This can give you insight and is shareable with your ND.
Happy sleeping!! Zzzzzz…
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