Americans desperately need to get more quality sleep. Most of us aren’t getting nearly enough. Not only does the typical American diet interfere with our sleep quality, our near constant exposure to TV screens, computer screens and cell phones during our waking hours translates to insomnia and poor sleep once we finally do climb into bed.
Now you don’t need me to tell you what skimping on sleep does to you. If you’re like most folks, when you get only 5 or 6 hours of sleep you’re a little less sharp and a tad less effective the next day.
Yet patients tell me all the time that they walk around during the week in that kind of sleep deprived state and then try to make up for it by sleeping late on the weekends. That may sound like a reasonable plan, but there’s just one problem. It doesn’t really work.
Sleep deprivation causes weight gain & memory loss
Unfortunately, studies show that after a few days of inadequate sleep, sleeping in for 1-2 days is NOT enough to restore brain function to normal. People simply just get used to stumbling around functioning at only 60 to 80 percent of their optimal potential.
In fact, it’s gotten so bad that the US Public Health Service has declaring that sleep deprivation is a true threat to everyone’s health. And they’ve got good reason.
Folks who shortcut sleep and don’t get at least 7 to 8 hours a night are more likely to…
- pack on the pounds
- be diagnosed with diabetes
- develop heart disease
Plus they’re at a greater risk for sudden death, depression and irreversible memory loss. Yikes!
Experts tell us that somewhere between 50 and 70 million Americans aren’t getting enough shut eye. But if you’re not from the USA don’t think you’ve dodged this one, because sleep deprivation is spreading worldwide.
Your circadian rhythm regulates your sleep and wake cycles
We’re all born with a sort of internal body clock called a circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms regulate our sleep and wake cycles. But that body clock relies on a variety of outside influences to stay on track including light spectrums, our activity or inactivity, and what we eat and drink.
When everything is working as it should as we slip off to sleep our body produces a spike in the hormone melatonin. The melatonin calms us so we can get the sleep we need. This is followed by a spike in cortisol to get us moving when we wake up in the morning.
But when our circadian rhythm is knocked out of balance—by eating the wrong foods or being exposed to the wrong light spectrums at the wrong time of day for example—this normal sleep wake cycle can get disturbed and the result is insomnia or poor sleep
8 steps to overcoming insomnia & getting some sleep
If your body clock has been disturbed, and you’re not getting a full 7 to 8 hours of quality restorative sleep, your health can seriously suffer. But these 8 easy to follow steps can squash insomnia and get your body clock back on track.
1. Get a move on earlier:
A great way to wake up in the morning and give your natural cortisol surge a hand is to move your exercise session to the AM. This move does double duty because it doesn’t just help you wake up and get moving in the morning while revving up your metabolism, it also can make it far easier to calm down and relax later in the day.
Avoid working out within 2-3 hours of going to sleep, as exercise revs your metabolism and can make it hard to get quality sleep at night.
2. Let the RIGHT light shine:
Natural sunlight, which falls into the blue-green light, is a powerful brain stimulator early in the day. Exposing yourself to some bright sunlight in the morning can help wake you up and keep you functioning at full capacity. During the day melatonin-stimulating orange-red light starts to slowly take over and by sunset it’s the primary light spectrum. Exposure to the orange-red light helps prep your body for a good night’s sleep.
As you can imagine, being exposed to the right kind of light at the right time of day is essential for keeping your body clock on time and getting the quality sleep you need to stay healthy.
With that in mind…
- Make an effort to expose yourself to natural sunlight in the morning either by spending a little time outside or at least getting it through a window.
- Folks who work in an office that doesn’t get any natural daylight often need extra sleep to feel fully rested. So if this is the case for you try to plan an extra forty-five minutes to an hour of slumber a night. Or if that’s not realistic, install high-intensity, full-spectrum lighting over your workstation.
- For at LEAST two hours before bed do your best to avoid computers, TVs, cell phones and any backlit devices that give off bright white-blue light which can cause insomnia or poor sleep. Or wear amber sunglasses
- In the evening try to increase your exposure to the orange-red light spectrum. You can switch out a bulb in a table lamp, or if that isn’t practical try wearing amber or orange-red sunglasses for an hour or two before turning in for the night.
- Make your sleeping environment as dark as possible. Eliminate any sources of blue or white light such as computer screens. If you need a night light of some sort just make sure it’s red.
3. Tweak your menu:
Light isn’t the only thing that can knock your body clock off balance and interfere with your sleep and wake cycles. What you eat can have a huge impact too. Food helps regulate your hormones and your metabolism, both of which play a critical role in when you wake up, when you fall asleep and the quality of that sleep.
Make sure you’re eating some good quality protein in the morning which will charge up your metabolism and help your body burn calories. Carbohydrates are better eaten in the afternoon or early evening when your body is better equipped to handle them, so eat your vegetables and fruits with your lunch and dinner.
Stop eating at least two hours before going to sleep. But if you suffer from insomnia you might want to try eating some foods rich in serotonin-triggering tryptophan from two to four hours before you turn in. Foods that might help you sleep include turkey, bananas and peanut butter.
4. Keep an eye on caffeine:
If you don’t happen to be highly caffeine sensitive caffeine isn’t the enemy. But taken in at the wrong time it can interfere with your sleep. We all metabolize caffeine differently so you need to listen to your own body.
If you’re overstimulated by caffeine, then by all means simply avoid it. However, if that isn’t the case, two to three servings of coffee a day is probably good for both your brain and your overall health.
Just be sure to keep your intake moderate, and don’t drink caffeinated beverages in the afternoon or evening.
5. No booze too close to bedtime:
Like coffee, alcohol in moderation—one or two servings with dinner—can be fine. But don’t drink any booze for at least an hour or two before going to bed.
While some folks feel like a nightcap before turning in helps them fall asleep, the truth is it can also interfere with quality restful sleep. Plus it can cause you to wake up a few hours later and trigger insomnia so you have trouble getting back to sleep.
6. Keep calm with warmth:
You can help improve your quality of sleep with a hot bath about an hour before bedtime. Warming your body will help you relax and reduce muscle tension.
Try adding a half to a full cup of magnesium-rich Epsom salts and 10 drops of relaxing lavender oil to your bath water to naturally lower your cortisol levels before bed. Keep the warmth going by putting on socks and PJs right out of the tub.
But since a cooling body temperature can help you slip off to sleep you might want to lose the socks and PJs when you climb into bed. The best sleep happens in a cool room with a temp that falls somewhere between 66-72 degrees.
7. Try tea:
A cup of warm herbal tea is another great way to help relax your body and get it ready for sleep. My personal choice is a cup of valerian and chamomile infusion.
8. Stick to a schedule:
One of the very best—not to mention easiest—ways to reset and maintain your circadian rhythm is to stick to a regular schedule for going to bed and getting up. It will make falling asleep easier, your quality of sleep will be better overall and waking up will not feel so much like a chore.
Wishing you sweet dreams!
Dr. Masley has received the award of Fellow from three prestigious organizations: the American Heart Association, the American College of Nutrition, and the American Academy of Family Physicians. He is also a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of South Florida, and he teaches programs at Eckerd College and the University of Tampa. In 2010, he received the physician Health Care Hero award by the Tampa Bay Business Journal, plus he has received several awards for his lifestyle related research. Dr. Masley sees patients from across North America at the Masley Optimal Health Center in St Petersburg, FL.
Dr. Masley has published several health books, including Smart Fat, The 30-Day Heart Tune-Up, and Ten Years Younger, and numerous scientific articles. His work has been featured on the Discovery Channel, the Today Show, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), plus over 250 media interviews. He also completed a chef internship at the Four Seasons Restaurant in Seattle, WA, and he has performed cooking demonstrations at Canyon Ranch, the Pritikin Longevity Center, and for multiple television appearances.
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