Along with good nutrition and exercise, sleep is an essential and basic requirement for physical health and our mental and emotional wellbeing. While an occasional sleepless night is normal and not a cause for concern, up to 75% of Americans report sleep difficulties several nights per week. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who are persistently sleep deprived are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity. In other words, if you want to stay healthy and perform at your best, consider a good night’s sleep a necessity, not a luxury.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that school-aged children need at least 10 hours of sleep daily, teens need 9 – 10 hours and adults need 7 – 8 hours. However, approximately 30% of adults and teens report getting less than optimal amounts of sleep on a regular basis. Even minimal sleep loss can affect our mood, energy level and our ability to handle stress. Neuroscientists have long debated why we spend one-third of our lives sleeping, but we do know that while we are resting, our brains are actively stabilizing memories, processing information and solving problems.
While we are in deep sleep, our bodies are restoring, repairing and detoxifying. Blood flow to the brain is diverted to the muscles to regenerate energy. Fertility hormones are released along with hormones that regulate appetite and promote the growth, maintenance and repair of both muscles and bones. Our immune systems increase production of certain proteins and agents that fight illness and aid recovery. During sleep our bloodstreams are detoxified, energy is replenished and broken down tissues are rebuilt. Sleep is the time when our brains do their housekeeping, flushing out toxins and clearing byproducts of neural activity that accumulate during wakefulness.
When you are sleep deprived, your body cannot function optimally. Over time, lack of sleep can erode your general health similar to the way a poor diet or lack of exercise can damage your wellbeing. Insomnia is the most common type of sleep disorder followed by sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy. When the inability to get a good night’s rest interferes with your ability to function during the daytime, consider consulting a health care provider to rule out underlying causes of sleep disturbances.
Strategies to optimize deep, restorative sleep include:
- Establish how much sleep you need and then set a regular bedtime. When you are getting sufficient sleep, you should wake naturally without an alarm.
- Keep a regular sleep/wake cycle. Try not to fluctuate by more than one hour, even on weekends.
- Create a sleep sanctuary. Keep the cool room, ideally between 60° and 70°. Consider switching to low wattage light bulbs. Eliminate noise to the extent possible. The ideal sleeping environment should be comfortable, cool, dark and quiet.
- Avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine in the four to six hours before bed. It’s best not to eat a heavy meal within several hours of bedtime.
- Turn off electronic equipment and dim the lights one hour before bed. Better yet, reserve the bedroom for appropriate bedroom activities only.
- Exercise late afternoon or early evening but not within two hours of bedtime. Exercising earlier in the day or several hours before bedtime helps to promote a good night’s rest.
- Practice relaxation techniques such as a warm bath, aromatherapy, or meditation to reduce stress and promote restful sleep.
- Establish a soothing bedtime routine with relaxing activities such as light stretching, reading or listening to music, which may help to ease the transition from wake time to sleep time.
Products that promote sleep include:Kavinace® by NeuroScience is a natural calming product that helps to reduce the symptoms of insomnia and anxiety by promoting healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that aids in stress relief and promotes restful sleep. Somniphan by Intensive Nutrition is a safe and effective sleep aid for occasional or chronic sleeplessness or frequent night wakings. GABA 750 mg by PhysioLogics promotes restful sleep and balanced mood and calms overexcited nerve impulses. MyoCalm by Metagenics provides a specialized blend of bioavailable calcium, magnesium and herbs that support muscle contraction and relaxation responses. This product may also aid in the relief or prevention of symptoms of restless leg syndrome.