As it is estimated that 50 –70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, it’s safe to say that many of us know how exactly how it feels to lose a night or two of sleep. In the short term, inadequate sleep can impair judgment and mental clarity, and negatively affect efficiency, mood, and physical safety. In the long term, sleep loss and sleep disorders have a profound effect on human health. The price we pay for insufficient sleep is an increased risk of chronic disease, overall poor health, and even early mortality. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the cumulative long-term effects of sleep loss have been associated with a wide range of deleterious health consequences, including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack and stroke.
Is there an amount of sleep that is considered ideal? While the general recommendation for adults is to strive for seven to eight hours nightly, sleep needs are individual and vary by age, lifestyle and state of health. In other words, infants, toddlers, children and teens require more sleep than adults and the elderly may require less. And then there are those who proclaim that the need for continuous seven to eight hour nightly sleep is a myth and that there are underexplored variations of daily sleep, such as shorter sleep/wake cycles with naps in between, similar to our how our ancestors lived before the advent of electricity. However, it’s believed that only about three percent of the population can get by with just a few hours of nightly sleep without experiencing ill effects. While it’s well documented that short naps are beneficial, many of us don’t have the luxury of time to indulge in them.
History tells us that sleep patterns change, although our need for sleep does not. From the ancient Greeks and Romans who worshipped powerful sleep deities, to Aristotle who concluded that sleep was a time of physical renewal, to King Louis XIV who held court while reclining in one of his many beds, to Napoleon Bonaparte who prescribed “six hours of sleep for a man, seven for a woman and eight for a fool,“ to the present day advice, sleep has been a necessary part of life since the dawn on time. While Aristotle may have believed the “seat of consciousness resided in the heart, and that sleep was a direct result of warm vapors rising from the stomach during digestion,” we now know that sleep is a highly active process during which the day’s events are processed, memories are stored, the body is rejuvenated and energy is restored.
According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, we have two internal systems that regulate when we sleep and when we are awake. These two systems work independently and under normal conditions produce consolidated periods of wakefulness and sleep, but they can become misaligned when we stay up past our usual bedtime, work shift work, are jet lagged, suffer from a sleep disorder, or are under a lot of stress. When we disconnect from the natural cycles of activity and sleep, chronic sleep deprivation can result. Despite the fact that sleep loss is considered by some to be a public health issue, the management and treatment of sleep is not often addressed. Those who struggle with insomnia, sleep apnea, chronic pain, restless leg syndrome and other sleep difficulties may want to seek a consultation with their health care provider or a sleep behavioral specialist. For those of us who don’t prioritize or can’t manage to get regular heathy sleep, the most effective treatment may be a simple understanding of proper sleep habits that enable us to get better rest. Just as we have bedtime routines for our children, establishing a regular and relaxing routine can be a very helpful way to transition into sleep.
Good sleep habits begin way before sundown. Experts recommend no caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime, no alcohol within 3 hours, no exercise or food within 2 -3 hours and no electronics during the last hour before bed. The following simple tips help to establish a routine to aid healthy sleep:
- To improve your sleep patterns, establish a consistent bedtime routine, and as often as possible go to bed at the same time each night. Sleep is a behavior that can be reinforced positively or negatively. Learn to put yourself to sleep by following better sleep guidelines.
- If you have trouble sleeping, limit naps to 20 minutes and take them early in the afternoon. Although there are differing opinions regarding the benefits of sleeping in on the weekends, if you are exhausted, sleep.
- Allow time to transition from activity to sleep. Take the last 30-60 minutes before bed to unwind and relax. You can try reading, taking a bath, stretching, listening to music, meditating, enjoying a cup of herbal tea or anything else that works to calm your mind.
- Avoid overstimulating activities including high intensity exercise, surfing the internet and late night television. In addition to stimulating the mind, light from devices can interfere with your internal body clock.
- If you are stressed and worried about the next day’s activities, you won’t fall into a restful sleep. Writing down your thoughts or a plan for the next day’s activities, will help to put your mind at ease so you can rest.
- Start dimming the lights at least 30 minutes before retiring to allow the natural production of melatonin, a hormone that helps to control sleep/wake cycles. Optimize your light exposure during the day, especially first thing in the morning, and minimize light exposure after dark.
- Once in bed, if you find you are still awake after 30 minutes, ease your frustration by getting up and repeating parts of your bedtime ritual. Keep lighting soft and go back to bed when feeling sleepy.
Professional Supplement Center carries these and other high quality products to aid restorative sleep:
Kavinace Ultra PM by NeuroScience – This very popular proprietary blend is designed to support calming hormones and neurotransmitters to promote normal, healthy, restorative sleep and relieve symptoms of anxiousness, irritability and stress. Gluten and soy free, vegetarian formula.
Sleep Aide by Vital Nutrients – This botanical blend contains valerian and lemon balm, two of the most studied herbs shown to support occasional restless sleep. Additional ingredients and herbals relieve occasional tenseness and irritability, and provide safe, natural calming support for the central nervous system to encourage restful sleep. Gluten, soy and dairy free formulation.
Melatonin PR by Douglas Laboratories – One serving provides 3 mg of pharmaceutical grade, prolonged-release melatonin, a natural hormone that appears to regulate sleep/wake cycles, support normal immune function and provide free radical protection. Gluten and soy free, vegan formula.
5HTP Supreme by Designs for Health – As a precursor to serotonin production, 5HTP helps to naturally restore serotonin levels to promote healthy mood, reduce food cravings and aid health sleep.
Extent and Health Consequences of Chronic Sleep Loss and Sleep Disorders. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/
Consequences of Insufficient Sleep. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences
How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need
Nightly 8-Hour Sleep Isn’t a Rule. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201403/nightly-8-hour-sleep-isnt-rule-its-myth
Historical and Cultural Perspectives of Sleep. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/history