When it comes to sleep, quantity and quality are both important for living a healthy life. While asleep, your body is hard at work healing, repairing, and restoring so you can live your best when you’re awake. You’ve probably seen many of the studies that show the detrimental effects of too little sleep. In the fall of 2005 (a particularly sleep-deprived time period in my life) I read an article in the Washington Post that has stuck with me through the years because it gave a great snapshot of what happens to us when we get too little or poor quality sleep. The title of the article was, “Scientists Finding Out What Losing Sleep Does to a Body.” The six main effects these scientists noted include:
- Disruption of every physiological process in the body [This one really needs no elaboration. Lack of sleep messes with every process in your body. Period.]
- Heightened levels of inflammation [And we know chronic low-grade inflammation is a cause of virtually every degenerative disease.]
- Weight gain and obesity [Many studies show that for each hour of sleep deficiency, odds of being obese go up.]
- Greater difficulty regulating blood sugar [This has to do with interference in the way our bodies use our insulin—which is our fat storage hormone. But insulin isn’t the only hormone affected when we get too little sleep. Leptin and grehlin—hormones dealing directly with healthy appetite levels—are also negatively impacted by too little sleep. And each hormone in our body is connected to others, so the more we allow one to get off track, the more others get out of balance, too.]
- Drastically reduced immune function [Sleep deficiencies weaken your body’s ability to deal with infections such as colds and flus. I’ve certainly noticed that when I miss sleep, I’m much more likely to end up sick—and I’m sure you’ve seen this, too.]
- Increased risk of death from every cause [We know that when we don’t have enough sleep, we feel mentally sluggish, react more slowly, and don’t perform as well as we should. That’s why it should be no surprise that lack of sleep not only increases your risk of death from all health related causes and all accidental causes, but all other causes as well.]
If we know this is the case for lack of sleep, then we can conclude that getting enough sleep will do the opposite—support the body’s healthy processes, reduce inflammation, help us achieve and maintain a healthy weight, encourage healthy hormone regulation, strengthen our immune system, and reduce our risk of death from every cause.
The problem? Our modern lifestyles aren’t the greatest at supporting healthy sleeping habits.
People today have a tendency to jam-pack their schedules. And when the schedule gets full, what do we give up? Typically the first three things we sacrifice are: Preparing healthy foods, exercise, and sleep. (And these are three of the biggest players in our health and well-being!)
Add to this sedentary and high stress lifestyles and you really begin to mess with your sleep. When you are stressed or fail to move your body enough throughout the course of a day, it can prevent your body from getting truly restful sleep—even if you are in bed for an appropriate number of hours.
Finally, artificial lights interrupt natural sleep rhythms. (Our ancestors would go to bed not too long after sunset and rise with the sun.) Instead, we keep our electric lights burning (and oftentimes, the tv going) right until the moment we are ready to drop off to sleep. These lights can interfere with the body’s natural hormone regulation, including the production of one of our powerful sleep hormones, melatonin.
But fear not! Even in today’s world, you still can choose to get high quality (and quantity) ZZZ’s. Here are five steps to help you get the best sleep you can:
1. Schedule it
If you’ve been around me for any length of time, you’ve likely heard me say that anything that’s important but easy to skip (like exercise, personal development, fun, and yes even sleep) must be put on the calendar and treated like an unmissable appointment. And the truth is, when it comes to sleep, your body does best if you have a routine. Aim to go to bed around the same time each night—and wake up around the same time each morning. A little fluctuation in this is not a big deal, but if you’ve been struggling to get good sleep, the more steady a pattern you can create, the better.
2. Set the environment
The right setting for getting your ZZZs is critical—and easy to create. To support melatonin production, make your sleeping environment as dark as you can. If you’re a city dweller or have a lot of light that’s difficult to block, consider wearing a sleep mask. Use an alarm clock with a dimmable backlight—and forego blue light alarm clocks as these seem to be the most disruptive to melatonin production. If disruptive sounds are an issue, consider white noise sound machines. This is the one that I use and I love it for blocking out noises that might interfere with my restful sleep—particularly when I’m traveling. You can also pick up inexpensive white noise apps (if you don’t mind leaving your phone / tablet running all night).
3. Appropriate nutrition
What we eat and the nutrients we get greatly affect the quality of our sleep. Eating too many rich, sugary, or processed foods interferes with our body’s sleep cycles. Also, eating too late and drinking too much will cause disruptions in sleep. It’s also advisable to avoid caffeine after 2pm.
And when it comes to nutrients, the B vitamins are not only shown to positively affect energy, but they also support good sleep. As does vitamin D and nearly every mineral. Your best bet is to take a high quality nutritional supplement that provides the right forms and amounts of these nutrients (plus all the others you need for optimal health).
4. Practice Stress Reduction
Ongoing stress wreaks havoc in our bodies, literally robbing life from us. Stress not only can prevent you from falling asleep to begin with, but it can cause numerous disruptions to your sleep as well. To deal with stress, consider the following 3 tactics:
- Exercise. Moving your body is a proven stress-buster. Getting enough exercise helps reduce stress AND empowers the body to more easily get into restful, restorative sleep.
- Writing. Many times stress results in a difficulty in ‘turning the mind off.’ To help combat this, keep a notebook and pen next to your bed and jot down everything racing through your brain to literally take a load off your mind and help you get to sleep.
- Breathing. Taking deep, quality, belly breaths immediately reduces the stress load on your body. When you lie down, turn out the lights and get comfortable. Then take a slow, deep breath in, feeling your stomach expand first and then your chest. Hold for a brief second and then slowly release, first from your belly and then your chest. Repeat until you peacefully drift off to sleep.
5. Supplement with quality melatonin
Melatonin is one of the body’s hormones that regulates the sleep and wake cycles. Melatonin helps you get into the deep cycles of sleep where healing and restoration occurs. As we mentioned above, melatonin production is greatly affected by our modern lifestyles, and it also declines as we age. Supplementing with a natural, pure melatonin supplement can aid your body in getting into—and staying in—those healthy sleep cycles. Quality and purity are important when it comes to a melatonin supplement, so it’s important to find a brand you can trust. This is the one I use.
With sleep being so important to living life well, I encourage you to make a sleep a top priority—and use these strategies to help you get your best sleep. Sweet Dreams! 🙂
Any questions, thoughts, or comments on today’s article? Or do you have a particular method for getting good quality sleep? We’d love to hear from you! Comment below. 🙂