The ABC’s of Getting Your ZZZ’s for Good Health
Somewhere along the way in North America, we began to value quality sleep less, as we glorified the art of being ‘busy’. How many times have you heard someone proudly boast about going one or more days, on very little sleep? Or perhaps you have a friend or family member that shares they are simply too busy, to prioritize sleep, which helps them get more things done in their day.
Lack of sleep is really no laughing matter, and chronic sleep deprivation is something that impacts multiple facets of personal wellness. It’s not a luxury, but a health necessity, to get 7 hours or more of rejuvenating sleep on a daily basis, allowing your brain to process and destress, while giving your immune system time to repair damaged cells. If you have been experiencing a lack of energy, or changes in your mood (such as low feelings, irritability or depression), or if you’ve found yourself more susceptible to bacterial or viral infections, it could be linked to a low sleep score.
Defining the Condition of Chronic Insomnia
Stress and a busy lifestyle contribute to lack of sleep, periodically (and that’s normal). But what happens when disrupted sleep becomes the ‘new normal’ over a longer period of time?
There are three types of insomnia, that are diagnosed by a health provider. Transient insomnia is the most common, and it is a period of lack of sleep (or disrupted sleep), which can last for a few days. Short-term insomnia can last up to three weeks, with a difficulty achieving a deep and restorative sleep.
Health providers indicate that chronic insomnia only occurs, if disruptive sleep patterns occur a minimum of three nights per week, for a duration of one month or longer. Chronic insomnia is a medical concern, as it can have a sweeping impact on health and immunity, and complicate other health conditions like hypertension, heart health, the metabolic system, memory, mood and more.
You aren’t simply ‘grumpy’ or feeling sad, because of one-night of restless sleep. According to Dr. Lawrence Epstein, Medical Director of Sleep Health Centers and instructor at Harvard Medical School, “there’s a big relationship between psychiatric and psychological problems and sleep. So people who are depressed or have anxiety, often have trouble with sleep as part of those disorders.” Another study suggests that 15% to 20% of individuals with diagnosed insomnia, may develop clinical depression.
Factors That Contribute to Poor Quality Sleep
One of the most positive things you can do to improve personal health and wellness, is to create and then sustain, a solid sleep schedule. That means eliminating elements in your environment, certain food and lifestyle behaviors that are obstacles to achieving your seven hours every night.
Nothing is more satisfying than a hot cup of fresh coffee, tea or hot chocolate after dinner (especially if it is cold outside). But hot beverages have plenty of stimulants, including sugar and caffeine that can wake your body right up, instead of relaxing it before bedtime. And smoking tobacco products even several hours before bed (or consuming alcohol) can also result in sleep disruption.
Avoid large meals and stimulants at least four hours before you plan to go to sleep, to support a better night of rest with fewer problems. And if you regularly go to the gym during evening hours, consider switching the time of your workout to earlier in the day.
- Sleep Environment
Cultivate a relaxing bedroom, to make deep sleep possible. For many people, the bedroom can serve many purposes, including entertainment, with large televisions, personal assistant devices, and other light and sound generating technology, that can keep your brain awake. If you need an activity to help you relax immediately before bed, try reading, but banish the electronics for a better night of sleep.
Taking a short power nap can be a great idea, and you can wake up feeling refreshed. But did you know that scheduling an after-dinner nap, can actually cause some disruption to your sleep schedule? First, it’s never a good idea to go to sleep after eating a meal (keep moving to help your body metabolize more efficiently). Avoid taking a nap at least six hours before your regularly scheduled bedtime.
- Light and Melatonin Disrupters
Light pollution has a big impact on how much sleep we get, on a daily basis. If you live in a neighborhood, or an urban environment with lit walkways, or window light that penetrates your bedroom, it may be impacting how much sleep you are getting. Invest in high quality shades or sun blocking curtains, to filter out light that can prevent your body from releasing the right amount of melatonin you need, for a great sleep.
- Prescription Medications
Researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center, identify common prescription medications as disruptive to healthy sleep patterns, and many are a contributing factor to chronic symptoms of insomnia.
Talk to your doctor about alternative prescriptions, that may interact better with your body, without creating a disruption to your ability to sleep well. Many people are simply not aware that common medications can impact sleep quality, but your physician can help you seek out some other options, if insomnia is a factor.
The Benefits of Mastering Quality Sleep
Even if you are exercising on a daily basis, and focusing on maintaining a balanced diet, your immune system requires a minimum of 7 hours of sleep for health and wellness. Professional athletes know that sleep is ‘good medicine’, and training healthy sleep habits, offers a number of wellness benefits, that include:
- Improved memory and cognitive processing
- A 2010 study linked sleeping an average of five-hours per night in women, with increased early morbidity.
- Reduced C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker that is strongly linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and premature aging. Some studies have reported individuals who sleep less than 6 hours per night, have higher levels of C-reactive proteins.
If you cannot fall asleep within the first forty minutes of laying down, sleep experts recommend that you get up, and do something active. That can mean putting away the laundry, taking the dog outside, or doing some advanced meal preparation. But make sure to keep your interior lights very dim, to avoid triggering the human brains daylight response (and alertness).