Tue, 05/10/2022 - 16:20
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It’s well known that sleep plays one of the most significant roles in your health – equally significant to diet, movement, and stress management. When we sleep our body is:
- Repairing cells, bone, muscles etc
- Strengthening our immune system
- Balancing our hormones (like making HGH and Leptin while inhibiting excess cortisol and ghrelin production)
- Resting receptors for neurotransmitters like serotonin, histamine, norepinephrine so that during the day our production of mood boosting chemicals is working optimally
The list goes on and on. So, as you can see, sleep is a big deal. And for those of us who don’t sleep well our overall health can be greatly compromised from heart health and mood to weight management and our ability to fight off illness.
Sleep is a complex process. There are two distinct types of sleep:
- REM (Rapid Eye Movement), which is considered a “light sleep”. This is when we are dreaming, our eyes are moving, and our brain has paralyzed our muscles so we can’t act out our dreams.
- NREM or (Non Rapid Eye Movement), which is when our body is doing much of repairing and rebuilding as mentioned above.
NREM has three stages – N1, N2, and N3. When you first drift off you enter N1, then shortly after that you enter N2 (and spend most of your sleep in this stage), last you move to N3 (your deepest sleep) and from here you will enter REM. Over the course of the night, a “good night’s sleep” would mean that you would go through this cycle 4 to 5 times for roughly 90 minutes per sleep cycle. Your deep sleep phase gets successively shorter each time, which is why ensuring you get a full 7 to 8 hours to maximize your deep sleep time is very important.
There are different types of insomnia. The person who can’t fall asleep. The person who can’t stay asleep. And, the person who wakes up way early then they would like and can’t go back to sleep. So, let’s look at a few simple ways you can help alleviate any / all of the above.
First, let’s look at your sleep environment. Is it cool enough? Ideally you would have the thermostat set to high 60’s. When the room gets warm in the middle of the night it can wake us up. Can you remove blue light devices (tv, computer, phone)? Blue light tells our brain to stay alert so at the very least wear blue blockers if you watch tv before bed or put a blue blocker on your computer / phone screen. Make the room as dark as possible. Wear a sleep mask, use black out shades, whatever it takes. This will help you fall asleep, stay asleep, and help avoid that early wake up that is so annoying. Make sure your bed is comfortable for you. If you have back pain etc. a poor mattress can exacerbate that and keep you awake. If you have a partner that makes noise in the night and it keeps you up consider ear plugs. This is a good idea in general to block out street noise, weather noise etc.
Second, let’s look at bedtime habits. Avoid work at least two hours before bed and don’t work in bed. Use the bedroom for sleep and sex only. Don’t drink any liquid three hours before bed. This will avoid you having to pee and waking up throughout the night. Go to bed at the same time whenever possible. This allows your body to learn that at a certain time every day it goes to sleep. We are creatures of habit, so this habit will help cement your circadian rhythm.
Third, create a bedtime ritual that helps you fall asleep. An evening meditation, breath work, or even listening to a book on tape. Something that helps relax your mind and take it off the events of the day.
Fourth, no caffeine later than 2pm. Avoid drinking booze before bed. I know this is tough, but really work to limit alcohol and make sure your last drink is consumed several hours before you hit the hay. Many studies have shown that alcohol can interfere with several stages of sleep. So, if you are struggling to sleep no more than a drink a night at least three hours minimum before bed.
Fifth, try natural supplements to help you relax. Talk to your doctor about melatonin. Melatonin helps to set your circadian rhythm and tells your brain it's time to sleep. You can start small with 1mg a night and work your way up to 2mg. Magnesium has also been known to help and it’s a natural muscle relaxer, which might improve TMJ conditions if you struggle with that.
If you can stick with all the above, you should notice a market improvement in sleep quantity and quality within the month. Ultimately, however, if you have chronic insomnia or any physical condition that is inhibiting your ability to sleep like sleep apnea etc. consult your doctor.