Sleep problems such as insomnia, sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome are common for many. Our lifestyle and technology affect our sleep.
Research has proven that sleep is as important to our health as diet and exercise.
Studies show that sleep is a factor in reducing weight. When we are sleep deprived we have increased levels of a hunger hormone called ghrelin and decreased levels of the fullness hormone called leptin, which could lead to overeating and weight gain. We consume about 300 more calories a day when we are tired and we perform less physical activity.
Other research shows that too little sleep plays havoc with our fat cells, which could lead to Type 2 diabetes.
“Sleep deprivation affects fat cells’ ability to respond properly to insulin, which is crucial for regulating energy storage and use,” says Dr. Eve Van Cauter of the Sleep, Metabolism and Health Center in Chicago.
Most adults sleep for around six to eight hours each night and, if they wake up during the night, it generally takes around 15 minutes to fall asleep again.
If you lie awake in the middle of the night, your mind racing, you are experiencing insomnia.
“Sleep is so critical to good health that it should be thought of as one of the components of a three-legged stool of wellness: nutrition, exercise and sleep,” says Dr. Safwan Badr, a sleep expert with the Detroit Medical Center.
“It’s hard to lose weight if you’re sleep deprived — it’s hard to eat healthy — and it’s hard to exercise if you’re tired.”
Tip One: Keep in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle
- Keep the same sleep schedule: This helps set your body’s internal clock and optimizes the quality of your sleep. Choose a bedtime when you normally feel tired so that you don’t toss and turn. If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. If you need an alarm clock, you may need an earlier bedtime.
- Avoid sleeping in, even on weekends: The more your weekend/weekday sleep schedules differ, the worse the jetlag-like symptoms you’ll experience. If you need to make up for a late night, opt for a daytime nap rather than sleeping in. This allows you to pay off your sleep debt without disturbing your natural sleep-wake rhythm. Use an alarm to limit a long nap that will disrupt the next night’s sleep.
- Fight early evening drowsiness: Falling asleep after supper may disrupt a full night’s sleep. Mild activity will help.
Tip Two: Exercise during the day; time it right
- It can take several months of regular activity before you experience the full sleep-promoting effects so be patient and focus on building an exercise habit that sticks. Try to finish workouts at least three hours before bedtime. Low-impact exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching in the evening can promote sleep.
Tip Three: Be a smart consumer
- Limit caffeine and nicotine. Caffeine can cause sleep problems up to 12 hours after drinking it. Smoking is another stimulant that can disrupt sleep, especially if you smoke before bedtime.
- Avoid big meals at night. Try an earlier dinnertime and avoid heavy, rich food within two hours of bed. Refined carbs such as white bread, white rice, and pasta during the day can trigger wakefulness at night, pulling you out of the deep, restorative stages of sleep.
- Avoid alcohol before bed. A nightcap may help you relax but it interferes with your sleep cycle once you’re out.
Tip Four: Wind down and clear your head
- Learn to manage stress levels and stop the worry habit: Write down in a journal about worries or ideas that will keep you awake with steps to resolve them; then read, listen to quiet music or an audio book in dim light to distract your mind from those stimulating thoughts.
- A warm bath helps with a lavender scented product.
- Once in bed, try slow, deep breathing.
- A body scan helps relax tense muscles: Start at your feet and work up your body, relaxing each part.
Tip Five: Improve your sleep environment
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Your brain secretes more melatonin in the dark — making you sleepy — and less when it’s light — making you more alert. Many aspects of modern life can alter your body’s production of melatonin and shift your circadian rhythm.
Manage your exposure to light:
- Have your morning coffee or breakfast in a sunny or well-lit room. The light on your face will help you wake up.
- Spend more time outside during daylight.
- Let as much natural light into your home or work space as possible. Keep curtains and blinds open during the day and try to move your desk closer to the window. If necessary, use a natural daylight lamp to simulate sunshine, especially during short winter days.
- The light from your phone, tablet, computer or TV is especially disruptive. Minimize the impact by using smaller screens, turning the brightness down and using light-altering settings or programs designed to reduce eye strain and sleep disruptions.
- At bedtime, keep the room dark. Use heavy curtains or shades to block light from windows or use a sleep mask. Consider covering electronics that emit light.
Ways to get back to sleep after waking up include:
- Keep the lights down, using a dim nightlight in the hall or bathroom or a small flashlight.
- Stay out of your head. Hard as it may be, try not to stress over your inability to fall asleep again. It only encourages your body to stay awake. Make relaxation your goal, not sleep. Even though it’s not a replacement for sleep, relaxation can still help rejuvenate your body.
- Stop the worry habit by recalling the good aspects of your life.
- If you’ve been awake for more than 15 minutes, get up and do a quiet, non-stimulating activity. Read a book and avoid screens so you don’t cue your body that it’s time to wake up. Even sitting in the dark while looking outside will help.