Sleep is the new status symbol is our hurried, busy world with so much going on having the time to get a full night’s sleep is a luxury. We live in a world with more going on than ever inclusive of drowning in information, navigating new climate, living in denser cities the reduce our connection to the natural light-dark cycle, glued to our devices that emit blue light wavelengths that interrupt our sleep cycle hours later, and navigating a new economy. All of this while a growing number of studies show the importance of sleep.
Individuals who sleep less weigh more. When you’re sleep deprived your body seeks out the energy it didn’t get during a restorative night’s rest. Glucose happens to be the primary and easiest source of energy, i.e. calories, that the human body can utilize. Meaning if you don’t get enough sleep, you get slammed with cravings for carbs.
Not only doing you crave carbs when you’re sleep deprived you suffer from a hormonal shift that is a recipe for weight gain and gastro-misery. Your body increases the production of grehlin, the hormone that increases appetite, and decreases the amount of leptin, the hormone that lets you know when you’re full. All of which translates to you eating carbs you normally wouldn’t in large amounts and for hours on end.
Basically that’s all a scientific explanation as to why you ate the age old donut in the breakroom, followed by the entire leftover cake that an unknown coworker brought in and opted to have 3 soft pretzels after the giant lunch you ate and washed down with a large soda.
Stomach expanding from just reading that? Short term, this toxic combo results in something I lovely refer to as triangle belly or the particular belly bloat associated with excessive refined carbohydrate intake. One these days if you look at yourself in the mirror profile-style, you’ll see that the way your stomach is bloating comes out like a rounded triangle, with the top happening to be right where your pant/skirt line is. This is the result of poor sleep and high refined carb intake.
Sleep deprivation also increases cortisol, the hormone that is the ring leader of all the stress and inflammation hormones and their responses. While it’s a great hormone to have around when you stumble upon a bear or need to slam on your breaks in traffic, it’s not good to have floating around on a consistent basis and further more at high levels.
It has been found that driving after sleeping less than 5 hours the night before is equivalent to the mental impairment of alcohol. Would you booze and cruise to work? If so that’s an entirely different issue that another healthcare professional can assist you with.
Getting a good night’s sleep has been shown to be important for mental health, improve productivity, improve cognitive function and memory. However, a good night’s rest in different for everyone in terms of hours. For the majority of adults the sweet spot is somewhere between 7 to 9 hours. However, science has discovered that sleep needs vary depending on the person. Some folks do fine on 4 hours, while others need 11 hours. Age, genetics, current stress levels and current health status all play a role in that number. As to the persons reading this that read the 4 hour remark and took it as a validation for chronic sleep deprivation, know that the humans who can thrive on 4 hours of sleep are rare creatures.
How to get more sleep in your life?
The answer to that is different for everyone. But there are some basic nutrition and lifestyle practices that help across the board.
Don’t eat a big meal right before bed.
There are a host of reasons for this, but let’s get very literal. When you sleep your body is capitalizing on that downtown to repair from the day and prepare for tomorrow, digestion is not on it’s to do list, unless you put it there. Your cellular night crew is not really trained for digestion, so it does a poor job. Leaving you with a wad of food that has barely moved since you ate it, elevated blood glucose all night, waking gassy and bloated and having a poorly scheduled bowel movement when you’re supposed to be in a morning meeting… or stuck in traffic. Awkward.
Plus if it was a spicy meal, contained certain compounds and/or was washed down with a heavy dose of alcohol, you may be in for some odd dreams and poor quality sleep. Avoid all this by trying to time your last meal or snack two hours prior to your bedtime.
Sip some relaxing herbal tea, but not so much that you’ll be up all night peeing.
Chamomile and lavender are two well-known herbs that help with sleep and relaxation. In tea form, they can help you unwind and eventually fall asleep. There are plenty of other herbal teas that help you do the same. Read the ingredient panels to verify what’s in the tea and add hot water, it’s that simple. Well, pay for the tea and bring it home. Also, drink a small amount, think formal teacup amount, to prevent being up all night peeing.
Turn those screens off long before bed.
Turns out our beloved electronics may be the biggest saboteurs of our sleep. While checking up on your exe on social media and/or watching endless cat videos may seem like a great idea right before you go to bed, the blue light emitted from your smart phone, laptop, tablet, t.v., etc. actually throws off your brainwaves hours later. Swap out the cyber stalking and kitties grabbing your time for a good book, relaxing yoga stretches, a hot cup of chamomile-lavender tea or even a massage from your new, emotionally healthier love.
Pre-sleep yoga stretches.
If you’ve ever done a Yin Yoga class, you know how hypnotic and sleep inducing it can be. As can many of the poses and deep breathing techniques of regular yoga. Learn a few health yoga stretches or book mark a few in a book (no yoga YouTube on a blue light emitting device before bed) and let your Savasana send you off into a deep sleep.
Write out your concerns and turn them over for the evening.
Worry keeps many up at night. Very few problems have been solved from midnight fretting, but an exorbitant, innumerable amount of problems have been created or made worse from it. Write your list of concerns down on a piece of paper or in your journal before going to bed. Then, even if you have to literally say it out loud, turn it over to the higher power, the world, life, whatever you call it, to handle it while you sleep. Follow this up with a list of the same number of things you’re grateful for, or more, to put yourself in a positive state of mind to drift off.
Simmer down on the sugar
High intake of refined carbohydrates, AKA sugar, is bad for your health on every level. Constantly vacillating blood glucose levels all day long, especially in the evening, will throw off your sleep cycle. That’s in addition to putting every system in your body at risk for major health issues.
Make sure your getting enough vitamin D
Vitamin D is needed for over 200 functions in the human body, inclusive of the mechanisms that help us fall and stay asleep. It’s our sunshine vitamin, but unfortunately getting too much sun exposure, especially without sunscreen, can be harmful to our health. Get 5 to 10 minutes a day total of sun exposure, if you can, and regularly take a vitamin D3 supplement.
Make sure you’re eating magnesium rich foods.
Magnesium is needed for over 300 enzymatic functions in the human body, most of which utilize vitamin D. Because of its host of responsibilities, magnesium deficiency can do a number on your body, including throw off your sleep cycle. Magnesium is readily found in seeds, nuts and beans.
Make sure you’re eating foods rich in tryptophan.
While reading (lightly stalking) Sleep Expert Christine Hansen to learn more about sleep hygiene, I came across and interesting
Focus on it.
Make sleep a priority by actively focusing on it. Recently I’ve discovered SleepLikeABoss.com where Sleep Expert Christine Hansen not only share a metric ton of information on sleep health, she also offers a free 5-Day Sleep Challenge where she provides a lot of information and guidance on sleep, nutrition and the relationship in between. It’s free and your homework is sleeping. I think we can all agree that “free” is a price tag we won’t lose sleep over. Try it out.