March has been designated as National Sleep Awareness Month. One part of sleep awareness is knowing how our sleep may be affected by our lifestyle and environment.
The quality of our sleep directly affects our mental and physical health. Many of the major restorative functions in the body like muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, and growth hormone release occur mostly, or in some cases only, during sleep.
No other activity delivers so many benefits with so little effort!
One sleep researcher says that consistently poor sleep has the same effect as eating at McDonalds every day. That’s the importance of good sleep!”
Here are some factors that can prevent a good night sleep and what you can do about them:
Caffeine: It is recommended to cut off your caffeine consumption by 2pm. Stick with the 8 oz. size cup and taper off caffeine consumption as the day goes on.
Alcohol: Alcohol disrupts REM, the “rapid eye movement” essential to recovery, memory and learning. Studies show alcohol can disrupt sleep and over time cause insomnia by interfering with the body’s system for regulating sleep.
Light: Light plays the largest role in setting your circadian rhythm or “clock”. Make sure your bedroom is pitch black to avoid disruption of melatonin production. Try blackout window shades, or you can wear an eye mask. Dr. Klug loves her eye mask from Dear Lil’ Devas.
Blue blocker eye wear worn in the evening can help, as any exposure to artificial lights (whether they’re LED, incandescent or compact fluorescents) can disrupt sleep. You can find amber tinted glasses online for less than $10. It's most beneficial to wear these glasses 1-2 hours before bed.
Screen Time: The blue light that is emitted from electronic devices disrupts our normal sleep patterns, makes you more alert and suppress melatonin (a key hormone necessary for regulating our circadian system and telling our body it’s time for sleep). This impacts anyone who uses an eReader, laptop, smartphone, or watches TV before bed. Try putting your device in “night” mode, download a “night shift” app or try “blue fire” for Kindles.
If using a computer or smart phone, you can install blue-light-blocking software like f.lux, which automatically alters the color temperature of your screen as the day goes on, pulling out the blue wavelengths.
Food: The timing of your evening meal and snacks play a role on how well you sleep. It’s best to keep your eating window to 10-11 consecutive hours for the day, with breakfast and lunch being your larger meals. That means starting with a healthy breakfast (ex: at 7am) followed by a large lunch, and a small dinner, which should be finished (along with all snacks by 6pm.
Stress: When we’re stressed, our minds race with thoughts instead of shutting down at night. You’re stressed, so you can’t sleep, and then your lack of sleep makes you more stressed, and so on.
Try keeping a notepad by the bedside to write down those to-dos’s so you can forget about them till morning. A clear mind is a more sleep-ready mind.
Start a sleep routine:
Give yourself 30 minutes before bedtime to start some healthy sleep habits.
Take a warm bath followed by your favorite soothing scented oils or lotion
Try light stretching or bedtime yoga. Try this video to get you started, and search YouTube for more.
Drink warm herbal tea before bed (chamomile and holy basil are great) or try warm golden turmeric milk.
Try meditation, deep breathing, or listen to a guided sleep meditation, such as a body scan for sleep. Click here for links. There are also many phone apps for sleep available for download.
Try turning on some white noise or nature sounds as you go to bed. This especially helps if there is noise elsewhere in the house or outside that may keep you awake. Here is a web link or you can download a free app to your phone.
For those who experience chronic insomnia, Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a great treatment. You can find an Internet-based program for insomnia at Sleep Healthy Using the Internet (SHUTi).