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Sleep is crucial for giving your body (and your skin) a chance to rejuvenate and repair itself, and proper rest is just as important as a proper diet, regular exercise and being mindful about our overall health. Yet I’m continually amazed at the lack of value placed on this essential part of our lives. Very often, sleep is not prioritized, and most people are unaware of how to set the body up for a better night of rest.
Let’s consider these facts…
- 7–19% of adults in the U.S. report not getting enough rest or sleep every day
- An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans have chronic sleep disorders
- It is estimated that over 50% of the U.S. population will suffer from a sleep disorder at some point in their life
Sleep is essentially our bodies’ “repair mode,” and it has a profound, positive impact on our health. It affects every cell, tissue, and organ in the body and how they all work. There is a 200% increased risk of heart attack with less than 6 hours of sleep on a regular basis. Sleep also has an impact on how your body responds to insulin, the hormone that helps to regulate blood sugar. Additionally, poor sleep can change how your immune system functions and can lead to increased levels of inflammation, as well as oxidative stress which can increase predisposition towards disease. Sleeping improves learning and this is the time when we consolidate memories. Sufficient sleep helps us make better decisions and focus. Lack of sleep tends to be associated with impaired mental health, mood, and cognition.
Are you that one in five people not getting enough sleep? Here are a few pointers for getting the rest your body desperately needs.
Consistency is key.
Going to bed around the same time and having a regular sleep routine trains the brain to get the message that it’s time to simmer down. This can be relaxing with a book, taking a hot bath with favorite scents, meditation, stretching or a simple yoga routine. There are dozens of meditation apps, online yoga options and other incredibly effective tools for prepping the body and brain for sleep.
Understand the power of light.
Light sets our circadian rhythm, so exposure to natural light throughout the day (especially first thing in the morning to help signal the brain that it’s time to be awake) is critical. Later in the day and in the evening, it’s important to work in dimmer light and log off your electronics (which can suppress the sleep hormone, melatonin) two hours before bed to promote sound sleep. If this is difficult, then purchase blue light glasses or download the F.lux app on your computer or tablet to help reduce blue light emissions.
Mind your diet.
Eating balanced meals throughout the day and avoiding large, heavy dinners can set the body up for a good sleep. (Since the body is working hard enough to repair itself, it doesn’t need a massive steak and bowl of ice cream to digest as well.) Caffeinated beverages may seem like an obvious culprit, and some people are genetically predisposed to the sleep-disrupting effects of caffeine, and stopping caffeine even earlier in the day may be necessary. Alcohol can also have a negative impact on sleep quality. While it may help you drift off, it reduces REM sleep (the most restorative type of sleep), which is why grogginess may ensue upon awakening. It’s also wise to avoid excessive fluid consumption too close to bedtime as it will inevitably lead to a need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, which for many, makes getting back to a peaceful slumber difficult.
Enhance your environment.
Your surroundings play a vital role in good sleep and liking your bed, sheets and pillows are essential. Temperature matters as well, since a drop in body temperature is a normal trigger for the onset of sleep. A range of 60 to 67 degrees has been shown to be optimal for sleep. If possible, the bedroom should be considered a “sanctuary” for sleep and intimacy only. If someone always works while in bed, chances are the brain will come to think of this area as a workspace instead of a sleep space. Focusing on the position you fall asleep most easily in is a great tool as well. If you positively associate a body position with falling asleep, chances are if we get into that position, sleep may come more quickly. Some research also suggests that the scent of lavender can act as a mild mood stabilizer and sedative, so a lavender body lotion or diffusing lavender oil is worth a try.
Mary Purdy, MS RDN is a Coach for Arivale, a data-driven wellness program that helps clients overcome specific health frustrations such as an inability to lose weight, digestive problems, lack of energy and trouble sleeping. Arivale coaches are Registered Dietitians and Certified Nutritionists, each with unique areas of expertise and all with expert training in genetics and the science of behavior change.