7 Simple Ways to Get a Good Night’s Sleep06.18.13
Getting enough sleep has been connected to ageless beauty, good health and improved sport performance for some time. The research is still churning out some interesting discoveries about the correlation of sleep to our overall health, with lots of studies pointing to sleep affecting body weight.
In ancient times, humans typically slept in at least two stages – a first sleep at sundown, with a wakeful period in the middle of the night, followed by another bout just before sunrise. The siesta, a midday short snooze, was considered a normal behavior. It was during the industrial age, with the demands of longer work days and the invention of the light bulb that etched the patterns we have today.
Still, the fact remains that our bodies need sleep to recover and restore our cells and tissues, allowing for better brain function (mental focus, learning ability, communication, problem solving, creativity) and a healthier, more robust body – which translates into a longer life of productivity.
Why is sleep important for physical health?
A lack of sleep simulates physical stress. When the body is stressed, hormones and cellular communication get out of balance, triggering an inflammatory response. Inflammation can produce a cascade of maladies including increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. A lack of sleep stimulates our appetites, alters our blood sugar metabolism, and reduces our energy expenditure, creating an environment ripe for weight gain. In fact according to the growing body of research, sleep may be the key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
How much do we need?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends seven to eight hours each day for most adults. During periods of growth – kids, teens, and pregnancy – more is needed. Elite athletes with high amounts of intense training also appear to perform better with more sleep. (L.A. Laker Steve Nash credits his afternoon siesta for his stellar basketball performances.) You can make up some sleep on days when you have time, but regular extremes can upset your body’s sleep-wake cycle. Be aware that too much sleep can also have negative metabolic effects and may be a sign of depression.
7 Natural ways to get adequate sleep
Eat a variety of whole foods
A new study out of Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania showed that people with a healthy amount of sleep had more food variety in their diets, compared to people sleeping less. Variety entails a multitude of specific nutrients including lutein, zeaxanthin, selenium, lycopene, vitamin C and water. The best way to get these in your diets is to consume more colorful fruits and veggies (berries, kiwi, citrus, spinach, kale, tomatoes) on a regular basis.
Schedule a time to unplug from gadgets and devices
We like our computers, tablets and phones so much because they stimulate our brain activity – exactly what we don’t want just before bed. The light emitted from these screens is also stimulating and disrupts the signal of imminent darkness of night time that our circadian rhythm expects. A study published in 2012 showed that two hours of bright tablet screen exposure reduces melatonin – a sleep hormone that rises during the evening hours – by 22 percent. Break the habit by either setting a time to digitally unplug, or eliminate gadgets in bed completely.
Exercise regularly, anytime of day will do
An analysis of surveys conducted this year by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) showed that people who claimed they exercised with vigorous, moderate or light intensities were more likely to say they had a good night’s sleep versus non-exercisers, and vigorous exercisers gaining the most benefit. Sitting more than eight hours at a time also seemed to have a negative effect on quality of sleep. Try ten minutes of brisk walking to introduce movement into your routine. NSF researchers say slight movement encourages better sleep than no activity at all.
Stay away from caffeine and alcohol
Caffeine might be great in the morning after a good nights’ sleep, but because it stimulates our central nervous system, and consuming it too close to bed time can make the process of falling asleep a challenge. In fact, coffee takes one to five hours for regular cup of coffee to come out of our system. The stimulating sensations of caffeine also appear to get stronger as we get older. You don’t have to give up caffeine completely; just keep it contained to the morning hours.
Although we often think of alcohol as a sedative, drinking too much, too close to bedtime can lead to poor sleep quality as a result of altered REM sleep patterns (think: hangover). Small amounts of alcohol may be OK, but it may be worth a trial period of abstinence if sleep troubles persist.
Create a bed-time routine
Isn’t this what mom would say? Sticking to a relaxing bed-time routine is the No. 1 recommendation from sleep experts to help you fall asleep easier. Choose the time that you want to sleep, and prep to go to bed 30 minutes before then. Decide on a routine that includes things like turning off electronics, taking a warm bath, dimming the lights, drinking a cup of herbal tea or reading quietly. Once the behavior becomes a habit, drifting off to dreamland has never been easier.
Avoid being too hungry or too full at bedtime
Hunger will nag us until we get up and find food. Eating a large meal before bed triggers dietary induced thermogenesis (DIT), which is heat that we produce after eating that can cause heightened energy. Our bodies need to work hard to digest a large meal, increasing our body temperature to do so. Since the process of getting sleepy involves lowering the core body temperature, restful sleep may evade us until well into digestion. If you’re hungry before bed, try a small snack such as an ounce of cheese with fruit.
Take a nap
It’s not clear whether naps can completely reverse damage done by poor nighttime sleep, but they do provide many of the same benefits including better mood and increased alertness. Find a quiet, dark place to lie down and set your alarm. Experts say a nap of 20 minutes or shorter creates the best results; longer naps lead to grogginess, unless you are recovering from a bad night of sleep.
Written by: Andrea Q Vintro of Nutrition Logic