Sleep – That thing we all do every single day but give little thought too.
Sleep – That thing that sometimes we feel gets in our way and robs us of our time to do other things.
Sleep – That thing that is vitally important to our health and wellbeing and without it we do not function at our best.
Sleep – That thing like air, water, and food that will cause death when a abstained from for too long.
Sleep is a fascinating thing that we do. We spend roughly a third of our lives sleeping, seemingly doing nothing. It is perhaps this thought that leads many of us to sacrifice a good nights sleep in the name of conquering bigger to-do lists. The lack of sleep has bee worn as a badge of honor in many workplaces, somehow seen as a sign of being a hyper-achiever. But sleep is not nothing, and it is not something that we “just” do. No. A good nights sleep is vital to our health and wellbeing. Without a good nights sleep, we are less productive, less creative, have less energy and yes, a lot less healthy.
It is during this seven to nine hours of each day for adults, longer if you are a child or teenager. That our body gets a reboot, it receives the recovery that its needs from a hard days work, it is when the brain gets its refresh if you will cleaning out all of the days build up of plaques and uploading what we learned to long term storage. It is when our hormones get a good reset. Two hormones that many people seem to fight a lot like leptin and ghrelin are reset during sleep; these two hormones regulate our appetite, the former signaling us when we are satiated and the latter when we are hungry. Sleep affects our mood, our ability to focus and to take charge of the day and too often it is ignored.
We need to stop ignoring it and start treating a good nights sleep as an essential and integral part of our health that it is. A good nights sleep is both a matter of the quantity of sleep we get and the quality of sleep we get. The quantity is pretty easy, for most you reading this, that is going to be somewhere between seven to nine hours a night. For those of you who think you do fine on only six hours or even fewer than six hours of sleep. The research begs to differ. I will concede there may be in the extremely rare genetic anomaly among this audience. But by extremely rare I mean extremely rare and you are probably not it. We often do not notice the decline in our cognitive abilities as our sleep deteriorates, we get used to the new normal if you will, but while test subjects often feel they have better functions on this six hours of sleep model, their test results show otherwise. So aim for the seven minimum hours and error on the side of caution and go for the eight. This time does not include the time in bed falling asleep either, which for most people is around 20 minutes. So remember the amount of time spent in bed is not the same as the time sleeping.
Many things can affect our sleep quality and quantity, and many of these items are low hanging fruit. The low hanging fruit that we have control over most days is the amount of blue light we are exposed to in the evening after the sun sets, that amount of caffeine we have and when we consume it, the number of hours we give ourselves to be asleep and when we stop feeding ourselves during the day. We also have control over keeping our routine, a routine for all seven days of the week. And the environment we sleep in, like how dark it is and what temperature the room is at.
Blue Light Exposure
Blue lights are emitted from the screens we watch, TV’s, smartphones, tablets and even some of the CFL and LED light bulbs we have in our homes can be on the cool side and emitting blue light. This blue light is the same blue light that the sun shines down on us that sets our circadian rhythms. We want blue light exposure early in the morning, preferably from the sun and not the phone. In the evening we want to prevent the blue light exposure, exposure keeps the melatonin from ramping up. We need melatonin production to kick up in the evening to signal to our body that its time for sleep. We can reduce or eliminate this exposure by using apps or blue light blocking glasses when we need to, but it is best to turn off screens altogether about 90 minutes before going to bed. Use this time to unwind in other restorative ways, having a friendly conversation, journaling with a pen and paper, reading a book – not on a Kindle or iPad. Be creative with this time, turn the lights down and use lamps, set the mood it is time for bed and the day is over.
Our bedroom is a critical part of this puzzle to a good nights sleep. A dark room without lights or alarm clocks glowing helps us get a much deeper sleep. The temperature is also important as our body temperature drops slightly at night. Remove the screens and any device that makes light from the room or use a dark tape to tape over the power light indicator. Use blackout shades and curtains to block outside street lights and turn the thermostat down to around 65 degrees.
Getting the quantity of sleep we need requires some timing and planning on our part. Plan on being done with meals and any other food intake a couple of hours before bed to help our body temperature drop and to give our metabolism a break for the evening so the body can focus on restoring not digesting. It also means looking at what time you need to be somewhere in the morning and how long you need for your morning routine. For example: If work starts at 9:00 AM and your morning routine and commute account for two hours then you need to rise at 7:00 am, so bedtime is 10:30 PM, screens are off at 9:00 PM and dinner were done by 7:30 PM.
We want to establish a daily routine we can live by most days, that does not mean only Monday through Friday and take the weekends off. That means as much as possible we want to sick the routine for the time we go to sleep and the time we get up in the morning. Over time this routine helps our body naturally find its rhythm for sleeping and being awake. Getting up only for work and then sleeping in on the weekends hurts our circadian rhythm and sleep cycle.
While much of this is not too difficult to do, yes it means we need to adjust a habit or two, the harder request is to make this routine seven days a week now. That’s right, go to bed and wake up each night, including the weekends at the same time. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day will help your body get into the zone for going to bed and rising, it will allow for waking without an alarm clock, you will also awaken more energetic and more refreshed when you are in a rhythm and can awaken on your own without an alarm clock.
A quick recap – Good sleep –quality + quantity – is essential, it is an integral part of being healthy, and without it, our health suffers. To get a good nights sleep, we can do the following:
Wake up and get some sun on the face
Stop caffeine at an appropriate time of day
Don’t eat too late, especially heavy meals
Turn off our screens 90 minutes before bed
Sleep in a dark, cool room.
Make our bedtime and wake up time a daily habit.
By Nathan Marsala