Lately I have not been getting enough sleep, which is worrisome because sleep deprivation leaves your body in a state of unhealthy stress. So I re-visited those things that promote quality sleep and soon got back into a proper routine. Quality sleep is critical to maintaining good health and performing optimally in our daily activities
A lack of sleep is associated with impaired learning, driving and work performance, faster aging of the brain and body, overeating, obesity, elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol and increased risk of diabetes and hypertension.
There is also evidence that poor sleep can impair your immune system and increase inflammation in your body. When you get enough sleep you can shorten the duration of a cold or other such illnesses and increase the number of cells that naturally kill mutant or deviant ones. Darkness, which is one of the things needed to get good sleep, produces the hormone melatonin, and melatonin is an antioxidant and inhibitor of cancer cell growth.
Let’s face it, a lack of sleep affects our physical appearance and emotional state. Our brain works best when well rested. It keeps us more alert and energized, and sleep improves our memory too.
But how much sleep is needed varies from person to person. The rule of thumb is 7-9 hours. The best way to tell if you have gotten enough sleep is determined by your alarm clock. If you need one to wake up daily, you probably are not getting enough sleep.
What are the strategies to getting a better night’s sleep?
- Minimize your use of a television, smart phone, tablet or laptop at night, and by all means do not go to sleep while using such devices. All of them emit light, typically blue in color, which suppresses melatonin production, so using them at or close to bedtime is disruptive. This is what caused my recent problem. I love to research things, read blogs and return less urgent emails at night after dinner. Now, instead of using such devices, I’ve gone back to reading a book at night. NOTE: I’ve heard you can get various apps that turn the blue light to yellow, but that hasn’t worked for me.
- Cut off lights. The natural rhythm of light and dark keep us alert during the day and promotes sleep at night by shifting how much melatonin our bodies produce. Clocks, phones, night and outside lights can disrupt this natural rhythm. And did you know that light exposure before bed can increase your risk of cancer? Any exposure to light before bed or during your sleep reduces the depth and quality of sleep. Even a low-level light through closed eyelids can reduce melatonin production. A sleep mask makes a lot of sense if you are bothered by excess light, although I’ve yet to use mine.
- Maintain a regular schedule of going to bed and waking up. Once you get into a good routine, you’ll no longer need an alarm clock. By waking naturally, you allow your body to go through its final sleep cycle, where the hormones shift, melatonin decreases and cortisol increases so you become alert.
- Your body temperature should drop naturally at night so make sure you keep your bedroom cool. Ideal sleep temperature is 68 degrees. By lowering the thermostat, avoiding alcohol and caffeine and minimizing noise, you give your body the best chance of a good night’s sleep.
- No surprise here but eating right and exercising are also important for sleep. One of the many benefits of exercise is it helps to physically tire your body so you are ready to get a good night’s sleep. Also, remember to eat your vegetables daily. Otherwise, your sleep may suffer.
I continue to read more and more about the side effects of the various prescription sleep aids on the market today. Relying on a sleep medication generally isn’t the best long-term solution for insomnia. Medications can mask an underlying problem that needs treatment, and they have side effects.
For example, some people who take Zolpidem (Ambien) or similar medications, such as Eszopiclone (Lunesta), do things while asleep that they don’t remember — such as driving, sleepwalking and preparing and eating food. Because you’re not awake, these obviously are dangerous behaviors.
Also, after taking sleep drugs, the Food and Drug Administration recommends that you avoid driving or doing activities that require full mental alertness the next day. This is especially important if you take extended-release varieties.
Sleep medications can be useful in the short term but don’t make them a habit. The best approach is to address whatever is causing your sleep problems in the first place. Remedies include many of the things I have talked about in this blog. In addition, counseling for anxiety or using stress-reduction techniques, such as meditation, can be helpful.