Imagine the human body as a vehicle with four wheels. This car is not going to get you anywhere with only three wheels, or with two of them deflated. Nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress management are like those wheels, driving us towards our health and well being. If we eat poorly, spend all day sitting in an office under a lot of stress, and stay up very late, surrounded by artificial light sources, we don’t do our bodies any favors. Today, we will be focusing on sleep. If you struggle with falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting enough of it, keep reading. Sleep is a natural periodic state of rest for both body and mind. Many people tend to ignore the importance of sleep, literally seeing it as a waste of productive time.
If you happen to see things this way, you may be a workaholic. Working long hours and getting up very early gives us a lot of time to work, that is for sure. Yet neglecting our precious, natural rest time is a big mistake that can have a very negative impact on our health over time. Some people convince themselves, and others, that they are fine with six hours of sleep, that this is enough for them and they feel okay. Are you one of those people? Do you sleep five or six hours a night and then need three cups of coffee to wake up and turn your system on (or keep it going throughout the day)? There is a better way. Last but not least, there are individuals that suffer severely from lack of sleep or insomnia. They go to bed early, but are unable to wind down, fall asleep, and get the restful night they need and deserve. Lets find out how to make our sleep count every single night, how to improve its quality, and get the most benefit out of our rest period.
WHY DO WE NEED TO SLEEP?
Our brain goes through stages of deeper and lighter sleep at night. Most of the time, we stay in the deep sleep mode, called non-rapid eye movement (NREM). During NREM, our heart rate slows down, our body temperature drops, and our body starts recovering bones, muscles, and other tissues are repaired and regrown. If you exercise to gain muscle mass, your muscles grow during deep sleep. If you suffer from tissue injury, your body does its healing work during this deep sleep. If you are a student preparing for an exam, getting enough NREM sleep is key, because that is when memories are transferred from short-term to long-term memory storage. When something wakes you up during the NREM phase, you might feel disoriented and tired, but usually you can fall back asleep easily. Lighter sleep stages, rapid eye movement or REM, happen a few times during the night, making up around 20% of total sleeping time for adults.
The brain is more active in the REM phase, that is why you can have vivid dreams, and why waking up is easier and you feel more awake and refreshed, but you might find it more difficult to fall back to sleep. Our mission is to stay in NREM sleep as much as possible to get the most benefits and not allow anything to wake us up in the middle of the night during the REM phase. The ideal scenario is to fall asleep easily, enjoy a deep, restful, undisturbed sleep, and to wake up refreshed and ready for a new day. Shawn Stevenson, author of a great new book Sleep Smarter says: A great night of sleep starts the moment you wake up in the morning. The truth is that if we want to sleep better, we have to behave better during the day. Once we realize why sleep is so crucial for our health and well being, we can start adjusting our lifestyle and environment in order to get the best sleep possible. Here are some of the best tips for a good night sleep:
AVOID BLUE LIGHT
Our body creates a hormone called melatonin. When we wake up in the morning, levels of melatonin in our body are very low and they increase during the day, being their highest at the end of the day, when we should be getting ready for bed. This natural fluctuation of melatonin hormone is regulated by the circadian rhythm, and it is tied to sunlight in an ideal world, we should be waking up with the sunrise and going to bed after sunset, but unfortunately our reality is far from this ideal. Low levels of melatonin might make it difficult for us to fall asleep. Artificial blue light from LCD screens, laptops, TV or even smartphones can further mess with our ability to produce this hormone. It is best to avoid all blue light sources at least one hour before going to bed. This also applies to lamps with bright, cold-spectrum light.
If you really MUST check your phone or laptop five minutes before bed, consider installing one of the blue-light blocking apps that are available for free. F.lux is an amazing app for both iOS and Windows users. F.lux synchronizes your computers time with sunrise and sunset and gradually tints your computer screen as the sunlight goes down. You wont even notice the change, but it will make a huge difference for your sleep. Android users might want to download an app called Twilight, which works just like f.lux and is free. iPhone owners can use Night Shift, which works the same and already comes pre-installed on the device.
Another great option is using some kind of amber tinted glasses (for example these). They work as a blue light blocker everywhere you go and are very popular among shift workers. They might look silly, but they are helpful to those who are not able to follow the natural sunlight pattern. Amber tinted glasses are also wonderful for those late night trips to the bathroom, so even though you have to turn the lights on in the middle of the night, they will not affect your melatonin levels as much. Alternately you could try using a night light with an amber tinted bulb.
CHANGE THE TEMPERATURE
Most people experience the best sleep when the temperature in a bedroom is around 68F/20C, but for some, even 60F/15C can be way too hot. It is not comfortable to sweat all night, but shivering with cold isn’t great either. Start experimenting with different temperature settings for your bedroom to find out what feels good to you. Turn off the thermostat, open your window a bit, let the fresh air in and see how it goes. Get a lighter blanket for warmer months of the year, and don’t hesitate to add more blankets in the winter. This might take a while to figure out, but don’t give up, your body will thank you in the morning.
EAT THE RIGHT FOOD AT THE RIGHT TIME
If you eat too close to your bedtime, your body is still busy digesting food, making it hard for you to unwind. However, going to bed with an empty stomach can trigger sleeping problems too: you might wake up in the middle of the night feeling hungry. Timing your dinner according to your sleep and matching its composition to your Metabolic Type might be tricky, but don’t underestimate this step either. Keep a glass of water on your nightstand to quench your thirst in the night without having to go all the way to the kitchen and wake up completely. Depending on your Endocrine Dominance, you will need to eat a dinner that is small, medium, or large. Only the Adrenal dominant people do well with heavy dinners. Additionally, depending on your metabolic type, you will be alkalized (made more sleepy and relaxed) by either more fat and proteins, or by its opposite, carbohydrates. Having a glass of wine (or a piece of fruit) can either help you sleep, or wake you up. Test it for yourself.
Waking up in the middle of the night for no obvious reason can also correlate with your body’s histamine management. Its levels in the body are usually highest between 2am and 4am and they cause sweating, itching, or urge to urinate, which of course wakes you up. If you know you suffer from high histamine levels, the best thing you can do is switch to a low histamine diet. Download this food compatibility list for histamine elimination diet and use it as a guide when planning grocery shopping. You might also want to check out some all natural supplements like NeuroProtek, a mast cell stabilizer that supports your body to reserve histamine for times when it is truly called for. Speaking of supplements, TransDerma Magnesium can also help you achieve your sleeping goals; magnesium is known for helping you to relax, giving you that sleepy feeling, relieving insomnia, reducing muscle cramps and twitches, and decreasing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that can keep you up at night. Magnesium engages the rest, repair, and digest functions of the body.
Caffeine is an enemy to your sleeping habits. Its not just coffee we are talking about; caffeine is present in other drinks, including green and black tea, yerba mate, energy drinks, or even (hot) chocolate or cocoa. Many people drink an excessive amount of caffeinated beverages during the day, and later they are not able to fall asleep. So the next morning, after an exhausting, restless night, they need another cup of joe to stay awake. This is not a pattern you want to follow for a lifetime, right?
And while you might really love coffee for its taste, you should consider giving it up, or at least limiting your intake, for the sake of your sleep and overall health. The best way to start is setting a cut off time for yourself and not allowing yourself to drink anymore caffeine after that hour. Start with 3pm, for example, and see how it affects you. Some people, myself included, might want to have their last cup around noon. Anything after 12pm is going to keep them away from those sweet dreams. Please note that even decaf has some caffeine left in it, and even though the amount is not as high as in regular coffee, it still might have an impact.
YOUR BED, YOUR RULES
If at all possible, go to bed at the same time every day. Get up at the same time as well. Keep your sleeping space clean of gadgets and artificial light sources. Your bed should be a place dedicated exclusively to two things sleep and intimate moments. Don’t work from bed, don’t watch TV from bed, don’t eat there. The neuro-association between bed and sleep is strong in our brain, so help your body to build sleep supporting associations. Humans get the best sleep when sleeping between 10pm and 2am, so try your best to be asleep during this part of the night. It is generally better to go to bed earlier and wake up early as well (while still maintaining those recommended 8-9 hours of sleep a night), than working until midnight and sleeping till 8am.
People who get up earlier tend to be more refreshed and productive throughout the rest of the day. Another important thing to look into is your choice of mattress and bedsheets. Cheaper mattresses can be full of chemicals, and we do not want to spend 8 hours a night so close to them, touching or breathing them in. Likewise with bedding. The more natural materials you choose, the safer your bed environment is going to be. Synthetic materials can contain a lot of chemicals, toxic dyes, or plastics, and just as we don’t want to put toxins inside our bodies, we certainly don’t want to cover our skin with them for a good third of every day. Materials like organic cotton, bamboo, linen, silk, or hemp are free of chemicals and plastic, are safe for you and your kids, and also gentle to the environment. Last but not least get your bedroom DARK. Like really dark. The skin of our eyelids is very thin and any light can be disruptive to your sleep. That tiny red LED control on your television or charging phone counts as well. Remove any light sources, darken your windows, or even get an eye mask if necessary.
We already talked about EMF protection before, but make sure you read that info once again. Maybe you will find the sneaky sleep thief in your life with those insights! ADR Mat is a wonderful option for every bed size. By putting this protective mat under your own mattress, you can instantly turn your bed into a EMF free space. If you live in a small apartment with no separate room for sleeping or you share a place with a roommate and therefore you are not able to remove all the technology from your bed space, even the small pillow-size version of ADR Mat will make a huge difference. The ADR-3 may also be a good option as it can be easily stashed under your bed if you are concerned about the feeling of sleeping on the mat.
If your sleep isn’t great, chances are that you are guilty of one or more of the common mistakes described above. You might not even realize it. You might think coffee does not affect you, or that you simply HAVE to stay online until midnight, and there is no way you can afford eight hours of sleep. Would you consider trying this as an experiment, even for a few weeks? Following these tips is fairly simple, and basically free, but the best part is that it might change your life quite literally! Start bio-hacking your sleep today and thank yourself tomorrow morning, because it was YOU who made the change. Let us know in the comments what works the best for you, what changes you experienced, or even add your own time tested sleeping tips. The importance of sleep should not be overlooked, you deserve a refreshing journey into a dreamland every single night. So take it, and guard it wisely throughout the day!