It’s all Edison’s fault! I mean, have you ever read about people complaining of insomnia before the light bulb was introduced? Now add work, stress, overstimulation, coffee, computer screens, and small children on top of electricity and the result is that we need a National Sleep Awareness Week to help us sleep better.
No one has yet invented the pill that eliminates the need for sleep, so we continue to “waste” about a third of our lives while being unconscious. While most of us feel like there’s not enough time in the day and our resting time is being reduced to some precious 4-6 hours per night, we don’t do ourselves any favors by not making quality sleep a priority in our lives. I know this from experience, as I used to work nights and rotating shifts for years. Even after I returned to working “regular hours” I used to prefer staying up later than going to bed on time, until I finally realized that it’s not a sustainable practice. I used to say “I can sleep when I’m dead”, and while that may be true, who wants to go through life feeling stressed, grumpy, irritable, sick, and with low energy, just because one didn’t get enough sleep again and again.
Did you know that after 17 hours of being awake the average human will experience a decrease in performance equivalent to having a blood-alcohol level of 0.05%?
As it turns out, quality sleep is one of the most important ingredients for a healthy life along with holistic nutrition and exercise. Healthy sleep helps to:
- Build a healthy immune system, while exposure to noise has shown to suppress our immune function. A strong immune system helps to prevent acute and chronic diseases.
- Improve our metabolism and helps to maintain a healthy weight (because the amount of sleep affects growth hormone secretion).
- Lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease.
- Lower stress and stress-related issues.
- Improve memory and ability to focus and concentrate.
- Increase emotional and psychological wellbeing. The right amount of sleep is needed to keep our mood up. Studies show that people with depression tend to sleep too long (and most people with depression have sleep disorders, a kind of “chicken or the egg” scenario) and people suffering from anxiety tend to sleep too little.
- Let us dream, which is important to stay sane and sound. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep phases are needed; the first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and in total they occur about 4 times during 8h sleep. While some scientists claim that dreaming is needed to “fix” experiences in long-term memory, others say dreaming helps us to forget unimportant memories so they don’t crowd our brains.
- Decrease risk of injury and accidents. Sleep disorders cost approximately $100 billion each year in accidents, medical bills, and lost work in the US.
Tips for better sleeping habits:
- Turn off electronic screens at least 1 hour before going to sleep. Keeping the TV on while falling asleep or reading on a computer or electronic screen until just before bedtime is preventing us from sleeping because light — particularly the blue light from electronic screens — can keep the pineal gland from releasing melatonin, a hormone that is needed to feel tired and fall sleep.
- Spend your final waking hour in relax-mode. Set your alarm for 1 hour before you are planning on going to sleep. When the alarm goes off turn off electronic screens and lower the lights in your room. Sip a cup of chamomile tea while listening to some soothing and relaxing music, or take a hot shower or bath and add calming aromatherapy. You could also wash your dishes while reflecting on your day, then do 15 minutes of restorative yoga and 15 minutes of meditation to clear your mind and wind down.
- Meditate regularly. Studies have shown that mindfulness and daily meditation improves sleep quality.
- Try aromatherapy. Essential oils that are known to have a calming effect are: lavender, vanilla, lime, chamomile, ylang ylang, sandalwood, clary sage, bergamot, valerian root, and marjoram.
- Calm the nervous system as much as possible. We all know that alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco are stimulants, so they should be avoided as much as possible before going to bed.
- Don’t go to bed hungry, but don’t overeat or eat rich foods. Drink plenty of water throughout the day but try to reduce your intake towards the end of the day to avoid having to pee in the middle of the night.
- Body alignment is crucial to comfort. Sleeping on your back is best, but if you are used to sleeping on your side try to keep your neck and spine aligned in the most natural position possible. Put a pillow between your knees when you sleep on your side to prevent pain in hips and lower back.
- Create a calming environment in which to sleep. Paint your bedroom in a relaxing color, keep the room tidy and uncluttered, and eliminate noise and light. A dark room with a good quality mattress, pillow and cover, not to mention quality sheets and bedclothes that feel comfortable are best. The room should neither be too warm nor too cold as room temperature can affect your sleep.
- Only use your bedroom for sleep, romantic activities and sex. Reading, watching TV, discussing politics, work or disagreements with your partner are distractions that should be taken outside into another room.
- Make sure you get between 7-9h sleep per night. Best is to adhere to a regular sleep schedule. While most of us struggle with not getting enough sleep, it is equally important not to sleep too long as that has unhealthy side effects as well.
- Get regular massages as massage therapy is known to improve sleep and is a safe way to use the body’s own chemicals, especially for people with sleep disorders. Several studies have shown that massage therapy increases seratonin secretion which effects melatonin secretion, both of which are necessary for healthy sleep. Ever felt sleepy, relaxed and cozy after a massage? Blame Seratonin production!
And with that I wish you a good night and sweet dreams!
March 5th 2015 by Eliane Baggenstos, RN, LMT, bodono
Addendum: How funny is that! After I finished writing this article I came across the following quote: “Sleep is an acquired habit. Cells don’t sleep. Fish swim in the water all night. Even a horse doesn’t sleep. A man doesn’t need any sleep.”-Thomas Edison, inventor.