Sleep Better, Quicker, and Longer
If you frequently “borrow” hours from the sleep department in order to get more done, you’re not alone: more than a third of Americans aren’t getting the minimum of seven hours a night recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the Sleep Research Society (SRS). And a whopping 65 percent of Americans never get a full eight hours of sleep.
While skimping on an hour or two of shuteye each night might not seem like much, the consequences of chronic sleep deprivation are far more dire than simply feeling groggy or fatigued. Insufficient sleep—defined by AASM and SRS as fewer than seven hours per night—has been shown to set the stage for everything from weight gain to depression to major chronic health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, impaired immune function, and even all-cause mortality.
So what happens when you make sleep a priority but your body just won’t shut down? Many seemingly harmless daily habits can disrupt the delicate balance of your sleep-wake cycle. If you suffer from chronically sub-par sleep, here are several daily habits that you may be overlooking as contributing factors—and what you can do about them…
- Getting too much artificial light in the evening. Exposure to artificial light in the evening tricks the brain into thinking it’s time to stay awake, and it also suppresses the secretion of melatonin, the crucial hormone responsible for making you sleepy. A 2014 study published in the journal PNAS found that people who read on light-emitting devices like smartphones in the evening took longer to fall asleep, had less REM sleep, and after they slept for eight hours, were sleepier and took longer to wake up than those who read a printed book and got the same amount of sleep. Your best bet is to turn off all screens two hours before bed and focus on reading, unwinding, or intimacy. Keep television, phones, and laptops out of your bedroom and purchase amber-tinted lenses and light bulbs, which block blue light, to use when the sun goes down.
- Not getting exposure to natural sunlight. Our bodies were designed to sleep and wake in accordance with the daily cycle of the sun, otherwise known as the circadian clock (we’re meant to rise when it’s light out and rest when it’s dark). As such, the most powerful cue for improving circadian rhythms is natural light exposure; it helps your brain and hormones recalibrate your sleep wake-cycle. Spend at least ten to fifteen minutes outside during the day.
- Consuming caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime. Research shows that caffeine can take a toll on sleep when it’s consumed within six hours before bedtime, but for sensitive individuals, caffeine after noon may also pose a problem—so keep your caffeine habit to the morning hours. As for wine with dinner, you may want to skip it while you’re working on better sleep hygiene. Alcohol, while it may help you nod off faster, often disrupts sleep later in the night—and it also worsens sleep apnea.
- Not regulating blood sugar. If you don’t start your day off with a meal that contains ample protein and fat, you’re sending your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride the rest of the day that will leave you craving simple carbohydrates. Simple carbs cause quick blood sugar spikes and crashes—and imbalanced blood sugars interrupt sleep. Make sure to eat balanced meals and have protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates (green and starchy vegetables) with dinner, which will help keep your blood sugars stable as you sleep.
- Keeping an erratic sleep schedule. Irregular sleep patterns, or not going to bed and waking up at generally the same time every day, make it harder for your body to know when it’s time to slow down and when it’s time to be alert. Maintain regular bedtime and wake times as much as possible, and minimize fluctuations of this schedule to a half an hour or less—even on weekends and other time off.
If you try all these tips and still end up counting sheep, there may be a hormonal imbalance at the root of your insomnia. Imbalances in cortisol, your master stress hormone, as well as progesterone in women, are often to blame for persistent sleep woes. In addition, women may find that they start to have sleep trouble as they approach menopause due to their shifting hormones.
Physicians within the BodyLogicMD network can check hormone levels using advanced urine testing and use supplementation and bioidentical hormone therapy to help balance overactive or underactive hormones. Call today for a consultation. Your BodyLogicMD affiliated physician will create a treatment protocol that will help you get the sleep you need to feel your best.