10 Simple Steps to Get the Sleep of Your Dreams
Many scientists believe that infections are much more serious for older people, than younger people, because younger people have much higher levels of the sleep hormone melatonin. Melatonin is not just an essential sleep hormone, but a fabulous anti-oxidant. Some foods that boost melatonin levels are walnuts, pineapple, bananas, oranges, cherries – especially tart cherries. Good sleep positively impacts not just our immune system but EVERY area of health; physically, mentally and emotionally. You simply cannot lose by doing all you can to get the sleep of your dreams.
Sleep deprivation was first cited as a torture method in the 15th century by the same man who invented slow drip water torture: Hippolytus de Marsilliis. For most of human history we had no choice but to go to bed soon after dark and rise with the sun. Modern inventions of the last 100 years have allowed us to stay active after sundown, but at great cost to our health. Getting good sleep allows us a lot of latitude in other important areas of our health; sleeping poorly allows all other stressors to be even more damaging. Here’s what getting just a few nights of poor sleep does to us:
- Impairs immune function and increases leaky gut. Researchers are just learning the details of how lack of sleep affects our immune system,(Cheung In, 2016) but it is clear that it does. Even short-term sleep deprivation makes us more vulnerable to infections and autoimmune issues.
- Increases overall inflammation. All chronic modern diseases have a common denominator – inflammation. With even a little loss of sleep we immediately see increases in our blood levels of C- reactive protein – a measurement of overall inflammation. Platelets quickly start to clump together. This can increase our risk of heart issues and strokes.(Meier-Ewert, et al., 2004)
- Brain function. Did you know that literally half of the drivers on the road are as impaired as someone who is at the legal limit for drunk driving?! Although these drivers are not really drunk, their reaction times and decision-making ability is equal to this degree of impairment after missing just a little sleep. Considering that at 55 MPH we can cover the length of a football field in just 5 seconds this is truly frightening!(Consumer Reports, 2016) Now imagine how this affect on our brains hinder our ability to carry out other daily tasks.
- Increases anabolic hormones (hormones that break down our bodies rather than build them). Want to lose muscle and gain fat? Don’t sleep. Just one night of poor sleep can make us as insulin resistant as a type 2 diabetic. The effect on glucose tolerance is serious and immediate. (St Onge M P, 2012)
- Causes cravings. Sleep deprivation is a stressor. Stress causes adaptive behaviors. One expression of this is the drive to seek more food; especially processed food. Not only does lack of quality sleep make us desire what is “bad” for us; we also have less willpower to resist these foods and feel less satisfied after eating them when sleep deprived. The hormones ghrelin, which causes hunger, is increased while leptin, the hormone signaling fullness, is suppressed. (NTA, SSM student Guide P32)
10 Practical Ways to Get Better Sleep:
- Make sleep a priority! Aim for at least 8 hours of sleep at night. Get into bed by 10pm. An hour of sleep before midnight is equal to two hours after midnight. Have a regular routine. Having a nighttime ritual allows us to quickly and easily prepare to make the most of our down time. Some ideas are to sip your favorite herbal tea, take a warm bath (stir in some Epsom salt for added benefit), do some light reading, stretching or meditating before bed.
- Unplug! Ditch the electronics, ideally at sundown, but at least an hour or two before hitting the sack. The blue light entering our eyes from these devices goes straight into the brain through our optic nerve, telling the brain that it is time to be awake and active. If you must use electronic devices, protect yourself with good blue blocking glasses that filter out as much of this wavelength as possible (check ratings: not all blue blockers are created equal).(Cheung In, 2016)
- Get light in the morning. Just as important as blocking evening blue light is, it is equally important to get natural daylight in the mornings, even if only for a few minutes. This sets the internal clock telling the body it is time to be up and positively affects our circadian rhythm all day long. (Cheung In, 2016) It also improves our mood! When morning light is not possible, try to get outside on breaks or at least during lunch! If it is often difficult to get natural light, consider investing in a 10,000 (or more) lux full spectrum indoor light for this purpose. It only takes 15 minutes a day and can be done while doing other things.
- Avoid alcohol and sleep meds. The rest we get with these substances is not equal to that of natural sleep; plus, these cause the body to become habituated, making natural sleep less and less likely over time. If you are hit over the head with a rock, or you drink a whole bottle of whiskey, you will be unconscious – not asleep. There is a big difference between natural and drugged sleep in brain waves and benefits. Alcohol depletes our magnesium reserves, which is why alcoholics suffer from DT’s during withdrawal. Almost 90% of Americans are estimated to be deficient in magnesium. Taking 150-300 mg of magnesium at night helps our bodies to make melatonin and muscles to relax.
- Sleep in a cool room. Studies have shown we sleep best at 64-66 degrees. For best sleep, it is necessary for our body temp to drop a degree or two.
- A truly dark environment. Your bedroom should be as dark as an igloo with no door at midnight in January. We come equipped with light sensing cells that are easily stimulated even through closed lids. This tip may require you to invest in blackout shades or if nothing else, line your windows with foil. If you have an alarm clock, phone or other light emitting device in your bedroom remove or cover it at night.
- Don’t take your worries to bed! Give them to your Creator. “Casting all your care upon Him: for He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 Keep a notepad by your bed. If thoughts occur to you as you are going to bed, or just waking up, jot them down and then forget about it until tomorrow!
- Some of us have trouble regulating our blood sugar throughout the night. If you regularly wake up in the middle of the night for no identifiable reason (or you think it is just to use the bathroom) you could be a person who would benefit from having a high protein moderate fat snack an hour or so before bed. Experiment with this and find what works best for you.
- Buy a good mattress, good pillow and quality bedding. Since we spend a third of our lives in bed, consider this and investment in health rather than just an expense!
- Regular movement and exercise was not optional for most of human history. Our bodies have not changed. We still need daily movement to reduce stress and get tired enough to sleep well. “The sleep of a labouring man is sweet” Ecclesiastes 5:12a It is best not to work out in the evenings however because this can cause us to be more alert.