How many hours of sleep do you get a night? How many do you think you need? The answer may surprise you. The average adult requires 7-9 hours sleep for optimal health, according to the National Sleep Foundation, (sleepfoundation.org). I am certainly not getting 7-9 hours a night, are you? Ever wonder why you need to sleep that much? I’ve done a little research, having asked that question myself, and here’s what I found.
What happens to your body if you get 7-9 hours sleep a night;
- Your heart and brain becomes healthier. You are twice as likely to suffer from heart attack or stroke if you get less than six hours of sleep a night.
- Your hormones are happier! Sleep helps regulate key metabolic hormones like insulin and stabilize glucose levels. This is important because it helps to prevent and manage diabetes.
- You are less moody. Sleep helps to ward off and manage symptoms of anxiety and depression making you a happier more emotionally stable person. When you are anxious or depressed you also tend to sleep less. It’s a vicious circle.
- Your body weight stabilize. All things being equal two people on the same exercise regime and diet will have different results if their sleep patterns differ. The more sleep you get, the easier it is to loose weight. Plus, you are less likely to put on excess weight if you get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Again, it’s all about the hormones (ghrelin and leptin).
- Your body will fight cancer and other diseases more effectively. Disruptions in circadian rhythm have been associated with higher risks of cancer. Crazy right?
- Your memory will improve. Sleep helps the brain to retain memories and make them last.
- You have more Ah-Ha moments! Sleep helps the brain to be creative and generate new ideas. I love those Ah-ha moment!
- You will have fewer accidents and will stay safer. This one speaks for its self. Falling asleep while driving and working while drowsy are never safe and can be life threatening.
Ok I’m sure there are many other reasons to get good sleep. I don’t need to sell that concept to you. The problem seems to lie in how to fall asleep, stay asleep and make time for sleep. So here are a few tips for you.
How to fall asleep;
- Practise good sleep hygiene. I studied Correctional services in collage as well as Developmental services. Two fields of work where shifts are not only common, but you are guaranteed to do shift work for a good chunk of your career. I was able to participate in a seminar about how to manage sleep while doing shift work and I can tell you it’s all about sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is about developing a routine and bed time ritual that triggers your brain to start shutting down for sleep. This ritual is going to be specific to your own needs but the key is to keep it consistent. My ritual look something like this. I will have a light snack somewhere around two hours before bed, often I’m at work when I have my snack at 9pm as I usually finish my shift around 11pm. Once I get home I’ll turn on very few lights and I’ll leave the tv, computer, music alone. I’ll brush and floss my teeth and wash my face, after which I get into bed. If I’m tired I sleep immediately, if I’m wired I’ll listen to either an audio book or a sleep meditation. I set the shut off timer for 30 minutes and then off to sleep I go.
- Do a body scan. Start at your toes and relax each body part one by one. Or start at your head if you prefer. You’ll be dozing in no time.
- Exercise and be active. One of the best ways to fight off insomnia is to be active and drain that excess energy. I find the more active I am on any given day the quicker I fall asleep.
- Eat very lightly two hours prior to sleep. You can also eat foods high in tryptophan (seeds and nuts, soy, oats, legumes). Bananas also help make you sleepy. So the perfect bedtime snack might be a banana and glass of soy milk, or a handful of nuts, or even a bowl of oat meal.
- Try some gentle yoga to calm yourself. Just don’t do any strenuous exercise prior to sleep, it could keep you awake.
- Avoid alcohol and caffein before bed as both are stimulants.
- Make your alarm clock inaccessible, I personally use an alarm on my watch, but the key is to not have a clock to look at. Watching the clock will heighten your anxiety about trying to sleep, which will be counter productive.
- Avoid electronics at least an hour before bed. Electronic light spectrum falls more on the blue side which triggers your brain to believe it is day time. Even with the clever night mode filters which changes blue tones to orange the brain works more actively when on an electronic device is on making it difficult to shut it down.
How to stay asleep;
- What times are you waking up in the night? If you are consistently waking at around 3 am your adrenals may be fatigued and stressed. There are plenty of supplements to aid in adrenal fatigue but the most effective way to manage it is to manage your stress and anxiety levels. Practising meditation, mindfulness and gratitude is incredibly helpful. Finding a stress outlet is an amazing technique when that outlet is something healthy like exercise, meditation, dog walking or journaling.Talk to your doctor too, there are medical reasons that the adrenals can become fatigued that stress management cannot resolve.
- Are you urinating frequently through the night? Try refraining from drinking 2 hours before bed. Just make sure you hydrate well through the day.
- How is your sleep environment set up? Try to keep electronic devices out of the bed room. Certainly training yourself to sleep without a TV or radio on is key. Electronics interfere with your brain waves and can wake you through the night.
- What about temperature? Try not to have your bedroom too hot or too cold. It should be cooler than the rest of the house but if you are waking up shivering its counter productive.
- Don’t drink caffeine after noon. The stimulating effect can last for several hours in your system keeping you awake.
- Exercise regularly. Active people tend to sleep more uninterrupted hours.
- Go to bed when you are sleepy, if you aren’t read for a little bit. Just make sure you’re reading isn’t done on electronics.
- Avoid daytime napping, it interrupts your brain’s natural rhythm and sleep cycle.
How to make time for sleep;
- Arrange your day to allow you to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time, if you find you want more sleep simply go to bed a little earlier each week until you get the desired time you want to sleep. Or you can set your alarm to wake up a little later each week if that works better for you.
- If you work shift work try to select a consistent time to fall asleep for each shift that you work. Follow your sleep hygiene routine and set your alarm to wake up for 7 to 8 hours later.
- Make sleep a priority, for twenty-one days experiment with new bed times paired with an hour or two to unplug and unwind. You can make this a challenge. At the end of the twenty-one days your body and mind will recognize this new pattern as routine and will use it to trigger more sleep. You need to recognize your need for sleep and embrace it. Make sleep your best and favourite time of the day.
If you follow these suggestions and stick with it, in time you’ll find that your sleep schedule and your sleep routine becomes second nature. You’ll instantly feel far more energized and relaxed every single day. A good sleep routine will help you to manage your day to day activities and help you to manage your daily stress levels. So grab your comfy PJs and your favourite blanket and get on the sleep bandwagon you’ll be absolutely happy you did.