As we soon to embark upon (in a week or so either by force or natural ways) the sleep deprivation that is so common with new-borns I wanted to take this time to blog and reflect on sleep, why its so important, how it can be the game changer when it comes to improving health, wellness and your quality of life and some ways to improve it in both the short term and long term.
Waking today after 10 hours literally with only one waking in the middle to have a quick loo break (baby is still pushing on my bladder) leaves me feeling alive, refreshed, clear headed, and ready to take on the day whatever it may hold. This sort of restorative sleep and waking from this sort of sleep is how we all really should feel everyday. If you wake feeling like I need/want more sleep, not refreshed, not resilient, foggy headed in need of coffee, cake or the like then you may benefit from focusing on improving your sleep. I will outline some basic ways to improve sleep below as well as some more in depth changes that you can work towards over time to improve your sleep.
First off why do we sleep? We sleep to restore mainly to rest our mind, body, emotion and to solidify what we have done in the day, to flush out waste toxins that build up in the day. So if you are a student then sleep is imperative to real learning that’s why teenagers who’s brains are growing at a rapid state and are maturing at a rapid state are said to need 9-10 hours sleep per night to function optimally. How many of us got that much sleep or have teenagers who get that much sleep I would say not many. Our society and system is not set up for that with kids having to be at school by say 8am and having before school, after school activities this leaves little time to get get in bed by say 9pm to get that elusive 9 hours sleep. What if you studied less, did less and slept more you would find that you not only would be more efficient in the time you are working, studying or performing tasks but also that you would learn quicker.
Inadequate sleep not only gives you the feeling explained above but it has also been implicated in a whole host of chronic lifestyle diseases such as; heart disease, obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, impaired cognitive function/memory and much more. Sleep is not only a factor in the above diseases but also for pretty much any disease not getting adequate sleep will worsen the condition – if your inflamed you will be more inflamed, if you have an immune system dysfunction like autoimmunity then it will worsen so adequate and quality sleep is imperative to prevention of chronic disease states but also to improving our overall health as a whole.
So how to improve your sleep in the short term? Here are 5 quick tips to improve your sleep quickly and easily.
- Got to bed at the same time and wake at the same time everyday. By going to bed at the same time each day we train our brains when it is time to switch off and when is the time to wake this not only helps with winding down and falling asleep but also helps set our circadian rhythm (the rhythm of our light/dark cycle).
- Create a sleep cave – yup a sleep cave, create a room/space where absolutely no light seeps in. Even the smallest light source has been shown in studies to disrupt sleep, stop people from getting deep restorative sleep and leave them feeling unrested and unrefreshed in the morning. In one study where they had people sleep in absolute pitch black room they placed a small LED light taped to the back of the knee to participants and this small source of light disrupted sleep. So its not only your eyes that detect the light your entire body – your skin to be exact detects light. To ensure you have a sleep cave, invest in some blackout blinds, remove all light sources – alarm clocks, phones, night lights and ensure there is no creeping light from hallways or other sources.
- Wear Blue Blockers or remove bright junk light in the last 1-2 hours of time before going to bed. Blue blockers are a type of sunglasses that block out blue junk light and filter it to be only orange red warming light. When we were hunter gatherers our sleep wake cycle was in tune with the sunrise and sunset and those last few hours before bed were always red/orange warming light not the blue light we are all exposed to on a daily basis from our TVs, phones, devices and artificial lights of the indoor household. By wearing these glasses you can slowly wind down stop the blue light that is inevitable from waking you up and keeping you awake and have a more gradual wind down to your sleep routine. Blue light has been shown in studies to wake the brain, so if your up in the night having to go to the loo don’t switch on that bathroom light unless you want to wake completely or if your in with your kids try orange lights in their rooms or keep lights dim or off so as to not wake them completely. Here are a few blue blocker glasses I recommend:
- True Dark – not cheap but best on the market and will completely block out all blue artificial light: https://biohacked.com/product/truedarktwilight/
- Blue Blockers – a great alternative to the more expensive True Dark glasses: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B010B5GUH0?aaxitk=CseXDsU6O6tY3jIq2Ye8yg or https://www.amazon.co.uk/Terminator-UV-400-Safety-Glasses-Light-Orange/dp/B005IPPBNI/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1507542988&sr=8-3&keywords=blue+blocker+glasses
- Exposure yourself to sunlight / outdoor light within 30 min of waking for 30 minutes. Our circadian rhythm cycle that is present throughout the entire day is one of the biggest determinants of our ability to get quality sleep at night and by exposing ourselves within 30 min of waking to outdoor light especially if its bright resets our circadian rhythm for the day setting us up for a good sleep that evening. Even if your in an office with bright lights the outside light spectrum is 50 x brighter than those bright LEDs and our bodies and internal clock require this sort of exposure to really know that its day time.
- No caffeine or sugar after 2pm in the day. The half life of caffeine can be upwards of 8-10 hours and if you have that coffee or caffeinated beverage at even 2pm it could still be in your system keeping you awake at 9/10pm. Sugar is another one that keeps you away and reaching for that sweet treat after dinner might be the reason you don’t sleep well at night. Try to keep caffeine at 1-2 cups per day maximum and all done before 2pm. Some people are slow and fast metabolisers meaning some people that caffeine may be in their system the next day still and some lucky ones metabolise it within a few hours – unless you have been tested genetically you will not know which you are so its best to stop all caffeinated beverages by 2pm to be sure.
I would also like to say that it can take time to adjust and improve your sleep routine and below are 3 tips that you can work on in the long term to ensure you get quality sleep in the long term.
- Create an evening routine – in the last 1-2 hours before bed you can create a wind down or evening routine where you prepare your body for sleep and quality sleep. Some tips include stopping drinking liquid 1 hour before bed, trying magnesium or a magnesium bath to relax and unwind, doing activities that are calming and relaxing, removing blue light exposure by either wearing blue blockers (see above) or dimming lights or doing activities that don’t require screens, meditating, spending time with loved ones and reading a physical book can all help you create your own evening routine. Journaling and performing a gratitude practice – write down 3 things your grateful for before sleeping has been shown to over 21 days literally change the brain and improve outlook to a positive one.
- Create a morning routine – upon waking creating some space for reflection, personal time, meditation and movement can set you up for a good day and a good sleep that night. As above discussed exposing yourself to bright outside light within 30 min of waking can wake up that internal body clock, meditating or taking even just 3 min to yourself to breathe and relax can set you up for a stress free calm day and movement we all should get moving asap as soon as we wake after 8 hours in bed without movement our bodies are screaming for some movement and it also prepares us for our sadly so sedentary lives that many of us lead on a daily basis. Try this morning movement routine here if you don’t know what to do: https://youtu.be/k-qarA_KPQQ
- But going for a 20-30 min walk or getting in our own movement that you love first thing is a great way to start the day.
- Exercise outside daily – to help set your circadian rhythm or internal clock and to exposure your body to outside air/temperature and nature. Daily exercise not only is good for overall health, disease prevention but it also helps with your sleep the following night. So get outside get 30 min of exercise/movement daily even if you walk for 30 min whatever takes your fancy your body and sleep will thank you later.
If your someone that suffers from sleep deprivation, insomnia or inability to get quality sleep I hope the above tips and tricks help you. If you need further assistance or are interested in functional medicine and how it might help you to find the root causes of your chronic conditions (sleep may be just one) checkout my website at www.eatmovethriveforlife.com
May you all sleep well,
Eat Move Thrive