A suggestion has been made by multiple health experts that sleep is above all else the most important thing we can do to improve and sustain a healthy mind and body.
Who knew? All these type-A Americans who pride themselves on getting by with 5 hours of sleep per night may just be sacrificing a long, cognizant lifespan. I for one, want to change my type A and perfectionist ways in order to get the incredible health and longevity benefits of sleep. And the bonus is that sleeping a lot FEELS AMAZING!
I just learned a very interesting fact from Dr. Michael Breus, who is known as the “Sleep Doctor”, that the second and third “thirds” of a full night of sleep (which should be a minimum of 7.5 hours) is where all the best brain and body healing occurs.
The middle third, he stated, is where your body does the most repairing of damaged tissues and cells (physical body repair), and the final third is where your brain does the rejuvenating (brain repair). When a person consistently gets only 5-6 hours (or less!) of sleep per night, that person is cutting off the time of brain repair EVERY SINGLE NIGHT! This is thought to be associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Are you scared yet? I sure am! This makes me want to do everything possible to get longer periods of those Z’s.
The sleep experts agree that people who think they are adapted to not much sleep each night are fooling themselves. A recent study (Sleep Med. 2017 Oct;38:104-107. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2017.07.018. Epub 2017 Aug 2) even found a link between inadequate sleep, the gut microbiome, and cognitive decline. Yikes! Looks as if lack of sleep even changes the types of bacteria in your gut and contributes to faster mental decline as compared to your well-rested peers of the same age.
Do you remember the big news that eating and sleep deprivation studies created a few years back? Essentially, lack of sleep makes you want to snack on starchy and sweet foods to the tune of many hundreds of extra, useless calories being consumed after only 5 hours of sleep as opposed to 8 hours of sleep.
Regardless of the health implications, getting a nightly 8 hours of sleep feels amazing.
Seriously, as someone who was an insomniac as a baby (ask my mom!) and all the way through my teen and college years and beyond, getting 8-9 hours of sleep each night feels like winning the lottery. Waking up rested and looking forward to my day, knowing that I can easily face any challenges the day may bring is worth millions to me. Knowing how much better my health will be as a result is icing on the cake.
Maybe you are convinced to try to get more sleep but don’t know the best ways to do so.
Here are my tips:
- Go to bed earlier. All professionals in the sleep world agree that we can’t get extra zz’s on the back end so we must go to bed earlier. Sounds simple on paper. Do you really need to stay up for the news? Must you watch another episode of that Netflix series or scroll through Facebook one more time? Put down the electronics, shut off the tv, and walk to your bedroom. You can do it! Personally, I am often seen walking upstairs to start my bedtime routine (and reading in bed) around 8:30 PM.
- Read something not-too-interesting in bed (and not social media or emails!). Read laying on your side, not on your back with your head propped up (chiropractor’s rule). As you feel sleepy, set it down immediately and close your eyes.
- Try Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that our brains make naturally to help us get into deep sleep. Taking a 1-3 mg tablet will help you to get sleepy and fall asleep. If you consistently wake up way too early and can’t fall back asleep, have the Melatonin and water ready at your bedside and take it the first time you wake up, say between 11 pm and 2 AM.
- Listen to white noise or an audiobook or light music. Keep it soft so you can hardly hear it.
- Sit by a bright light in the morning while you sip your coffee or tea for 15 – 45 minutes. There are products for sale called Light Boxes which you can find on Amazon for approximately $40 if you search for “seasonal affective disorder light box.” Choose one that is 10,000 lux. The super bright LED rectangle simulates the rising sun and stimulates your brain to make hormones the way nature intended to match your sleep with normal circadian rhythms.
- If snoring is an issue, for yourself or your partner, here is all the info you ever wanted to know about mouthguards (from the American Sleep Association), with a list of them that includes photos and price, that are supposed to reduce or eliminate snoring. Might as well try one if it could improve your sleep! (I don’t have personal data on this topic.)
- Lock your kids in a room two floors away in a soundproof room. Just kidding! Don’t do that! But, remember that someday those children will grow up and care for themselves all night long. Yes, it’s true. I wouldn’t have believed it when in the throes of three children back to back to back and all the nocturnal interruptions that accompany those wee ones. There really is a light at the end of the tunnel. Keep being good mommies and daddies and know that you will get your sleeping lives back soon.
- Other tips: Block out all light from the bedroom and keep the temperature at 65-68 degrees (or cooler but not hotter). Keep a paper and pen by the bed so you can write down any worries or “things to do” so you can let your brain relax and let go.
Dr. Amy Mercovich