Strategies for Better Sleep
If we're honest, many of us aren't as well rested as we should be.
A recent study shows that less than a third of Americans are achieving restorative sleep at night. Francesco Cappuccio, a cardiovascular and sleep expert says, "the amount of the average duration of sleep reported by us people has been declining steadily." In 1910, most Americans slept 9 hours per night. Nowadays, the average American gets less than 7 hours of sleep per night.
The prevalence of sleep disorders in the United States is so high that the CDC declared insufficient sleep a public health problem.
Here are some national statistics on sleep loss in the U.S.:
- 70 million Americans have chronic sleep problems (CDC, 2017).
- 1 in 3 U.S. adults regularly don’t get enough sleep (CDC, 2016).
- Insufficient sleep is experienced by about 30% of the general population that’s over the age of 18 (CDC, 2018).
- 48% of Americans report snoring during the night (ASA, 2021).
- 88% of American adults reportedly lose sleep due to binge-watching (American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 2019).
- A lack of sleep among the U.S. working population costs the economy up to $411 billion a year, which is 2.28 percent of the country's GDP (Science Daily, 2016)
Yikes! We know there is a compound effect of not getting enough sleep.
Even if you eat well and exercise well, if you don’t sleep well, this will start to cause problems for your body. Insufficient sleep gives rise to increased inflammation that wears on the immune system. You age faster. Insulin cycle and cortisol cycles are disrupted and the body starts to suffer. Imbalances build over time. Inadequate sleep impairs your ability to think, to handle stress, to maintain a healthy immune system, and to moderate our emotions. Chronic sleep insufficiency is related to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, weight gain and obesity, motor vehicle accidents, depression, and anxiety.
The benefits of sleep are huge.
The costs of not sleeping well may well be the motivator to make changes in your life so you can sleep better. But, what’s even more important are the big prizes that sleep can give you. According to Dr. Sara Gottfried, "sleep can make or break your ability to lose weight, age slowly, prevent cancer, and perform at a high level.” Shawn Stevenson of Sleep Smarter writes, “sleep rebuilds you and keeps you youthful. High quality sleep fortifies your immune system, balances your hormones, boosts your metabolism, increases your physical energy and improves the function of your brain.”
How well do you sleep?
Which of the following statements is true for you?
- I’m a good sleeper; I have no trouble falling and staying asleep.
- I just don’t sleep as well as I did when I was younger.
- Sleep issues have been a problem for me on and off throughout your life.
- I tend to be a night owl and I know I’m not getting as much sleep as you need.
- I have a hard time falling asleep.
- I fall asleep fine, but tend to wake up in the early morning hours and can’t get back to sleep.
The strategies for sleeping better are simple but they do require some lifestyle changes.
Circadian rhythms are key for health.
Your body has a built in 24 hour clock. This Circadian timing is tied to your sleep cycle, your digestion, immune system, blood pressure, appetite, mental energy and more. Scientists are only now beginning to understand exactly how important it is for the body to stay connected to the rhythms of nature. The disconnection from the circadian rhythms is called chronodisruption. Chronodisruption has been linked to a host of health concerns, including poor cognitive function, mood disorders, sleep disorders, diabetes, obesity, daytime sleepiness, reduced school performance, reduced driving reaction time, substance abuse, heart disease and some cancers.
Know your daytime and nighttime hormones.
Proper alignment to Circadian rhythms regulates your melatonin and cortisol levels. Cortisol, a daytime hormone, is tied to helping you wake up and feel alert in the morning. Melatonin, a nighttime hormone is tied to helping you wind down at night. Sunlight plays a role! Your skin absorbs UV rays from the sun that promote the production of Vitamin D and serotonin. Serotonin is transformed into melatonin, which is the star of the show when it comes to sleep quality.
We are ancient bodies living in a modern world.
Our ancestors’ lives were regulated by natural light. They rose with the sun and went to bed near sunset. There was no artificial light to disrupt the daily cycle of melatonin and cortisol production.
Our modern lifestyle affects our cortisol and melatonin cycles.
- During winter months, we wake in the dark, work inside all day and go home in the dark.
- We spend our evenings bathed in artificial light and looking at screens.
- LED lights from screens signal to the body to stop the release of melatonin at night.
- Stress raises cortisol levels. Our cortisol levels can be affected by psychological stress, emotional stress, as well as by toxins and chemicals.
Managing stress and syncing up to nature’s rhythms can help us sleep better.
Seven Strategies for Better Sleep
Here are seven simple strategies for optimizing your lifestyle for great sleep:
1. Build stress relieving practices into your daily routine.
Stress is one of the biggest factors disrupting sleep. Stress impacts sleep quality and duration. Chronic stress bathes our tissues in stress hormones like cortisol, which makes us hyper-vigilant, and makes it very hard to relax and wind down. Fortunately, there are many things we can do to release stress from our bodies and minds.
Here are six evidence-based ways to relieve stress:
- Deep breathing or meditation
- Physical activity and exercise
- Positive social interactions
- Affection including cuddles, hugs, and kisses
- Creative expression such as music, art, dance
2. Get up early and get daylight on your skin.
A good night’s sleep begins at the moment you wake up in the morning. Get direct sunlight outside daily so that your body aligns to the solar clock and your daytime and nighttime hormones (cortisol and melatonin) get regulated. Morning daylight exposure is tied to sleep.
**Tip: Get direct sunlight outdoors for at least 30 minutes daily. Your body is most responsive to sunlight between 6 - 8:30 AM.
3. Exercise your body daily.
Studies show that daily exercise can make for a radical improvement in sleep quality. Get your body moving in the first part of the day, preferably outside, even if you also plan to exercise later in the day. The Journal of Sleep Medicine found that patients with insomnia had a radical improvement in sleep quality when they had a consistent exercise routine.
**Tip: Build exercise into your daily routine.
4. Reduce stimulants and alcohol.
Caffeine is a powerful stimulant and can stay in your system for 5 - 8 hours causing your body to produce anti-sleep hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but can negatively influence sleep quality, especially for women because women metabolize alcohol differently than men.
** Tip: if you must drink coffee, set a curfew of 2 PM. Watch your evening alcohol consumption.
5. Eat a healthy diet and eat an earlier, lighter dinner.
What and when you eat can affect your sleep. Big meals leave you uncomfortably full, and over time can contribute poor sleep and to obesity, a well-known risk factor for sleep apnea. Spicy meals can contribute to heartburn. Eat a balanced diet made up largely of whole foods including a variety of vegetables and fruits. Eating this way will provide your body with necessary vitamins and nutrients which will contribute to better sleep and promote a healthy weight.
** Tip: Eat an earlier, lighter dinner and eat your heavier meal for lunch.
6. Create an easeful evening ritual.
After dinner, do something that is moderately active to help digest your food. Walk, spend time in the garden or yard, read, or play a game. Honor your fatigue. Engage in relaxing activities before bed for restful sleep. Enjoy a cup of herbal tea, read something inspiring, keep a gratitude journal, meditate, take a bath, listen to music, or give yourself a foot massage.
Avoid screen time before bed.
This is one thing you can do to improve your sleep quality tonight! The blue light emitted from your computer, tablet, TV and phone causes your body to create more daytime hormones like cortisol that keep you awake!
** Tip: Get off your electronics 90 minutes before bed.
Make your bedroom a haven for sleep.
Don’t use your bedroom as a workplace, or a place to watch TV. In general, the darker the room, the better. Darker and cooler sleep environments have been shown to help people sleep better. Blackout curtains and eye masks can help those who are light sensitive.
** Tip: Don’t bring your work into your bedroom.
7. Lights out by 10 PM.
Get to bed by 10 PM. This is when your body temperature and cortisol levels start to drop, and melatonin levels start to rise.The time between 10 PM and 2 AM is the money time. These hours give you the most rejuvenating power from your sleep. At this time, your body engages in detox. Beneficial hormone secretions are at their highest during this time. If you are constantly up and awake during these hours, your body won’t be able to restore itself as well.
What about night waking?
Night waking is not fun. Night waking can be caused by
- physical problems such as pain, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, the need to pee
- psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorders
- habits such as your sleep schedule, alcohol, caffeine, electronics use, and smoking
- sleep environment issues such as too much light, heat, too much noise
- sleep rhythm disturbances such as jet lag, working the night shift, age
If you suffer from night waking, here is a list of things you can try:
- Relaxing breath exercises
- Guided relaxation with an audio app
- Get up and move your body gently for 20 minutes
- Try time-tested herbal remedies such as chamomile, valerian, skullcap, passionflower, nutmeg, and ashwagandha.
**Please consult your health care provider before taking any new herb or supplement.
If you still can’t sleep, do some work to uncover the root issue.
Is there an unresolved issue in your life? Is there a health issue? If so, seek professional help from a counselor, coach, or health care provider.
What sleep strategies work for you?
Feel free to drop me an email and let me know what helps you sleep better.