How to improve your sleep

Sleep deprivation is now considered a known carcinogen alongside exposure to cigarettes and asbestos.  We all know that lack of sleep can impair many of our functions including concentration and memory.  It has a cumulative effect on the body, especially with the addition of stress and poor diet. This combination can be absolutely detrimental for your health and safety, your immune system, family interaction, employment, relationships, career, financial status, social life, and your mindset.  In fact, too little sleep has been linked to weight gain and almost all chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, depression, cognitive decline and ADHD.  Sleep is essential in early childhood for development, learning and the formation and retention of memories (2).

I set out to write a series of 5 articles that address what I consider to be the 5 foundations of our health – clean water, fresh air, sunshine, movement and fresh food. Due to the effects on people of different amounts and quality of sleep that I see in practice, I am now adding a sixth to this list of foundations…SLEEP.

As well as keeping us functioning safely, sleep is important to the maintenance of muscle mass, vitality, and weight.  According to the National Sleep Foundation adults require 7-9 hours of quality sleep to maintain optimal function.  Just one hour less sleep can make us 15 minutes less productive the next day, meaning that if you stay up 2 hours late to watch a movie or study etc, you lose 30 minutes of productivity.  We know that sleep is critical for weight maintenance and hormone balance.  A staggering 90% of sleep studies show a positive association between sleep deprivation and weight gain (1).  One particular study found that adults who slept less than 6, or more than 9 hours per night gained more abdominal fat over a 6 year period than adults who slept 7-8 hours.  .  A 2013 study found that treating depressed patients for insomnia can double their likelihood of overcoming the disorder (2).

“Some 80% of working adults suffer to some extent from sleep deprivation.” (3)

Most of us know from experience that sleep can be greatly influenced by stress.  Stress can include pressures placed on our body, including illness, exercise and our food choices, which can all increase stress hormones in our body.  It follows that for better sleep, it is important to reduce the amount of stress hormones we have in our body (by doing relaxation exercises etc.) especially as we move towards our sleep time.

Sleep-wake patterns, such as the timing of going to sleep and waking, vary significantly between different people and are affected by our own circadian rhythms.  It is important to maintain your own regular sleep-wake patterns ie. going to sleep and waking at consistent times…including throughout your weekends.  Going to sleep late Saturday night and sleeping in on Sunday can skew your sleep cycles and put you back to square one each Monday.

Some people benefit from taking naps as our ancestors did and some cultures still do, taking a siesta in the early afternoon, usually between noon and 3pm, when shops, museum and business cease to operate.  Here in Australia, we refer to a 15 minute pick-up as a power nap, although it is usually considered as slacking off rather than a way to boost alertness and productivity.

When we sleep, our body goes to work to clean out the brain of all the wastes that have accumulated from the day, however under sleep deprivation, our body cannot effectively ‘clean out’ the brain.  A recent study “found that while our brains can recover quite readily from short-term sleep loss, chronic prolonged wakefulness and sleep disruption stresses the brain’s metabolism (as the wastes accumulate in the brain). The result is the degeneration of key neurons involved in alertness and proper cortical function and a buildup of proteins associated with aging and neural degeneration.”  So, now is the time to make some changes…

Tips for better sleep quality:

Food

  • eat your last meal well before you go to sleep – 4 hours for a large meal, 3 hours for a moderate meal, 2 hours for a small meal, 1 hour for a snack
  • reduce the size of your portion in your evening meal, especially the amount of meat
  • include some carbohydrate with your evening meal – sweet potato, potato, vegetables etc.
  • avoid sugar, caffeine and other stimulants towards the evening
  • Try this homemade tea recipe below:

Banana Tea for sleep

Bannana peel is packed with magnesium so try this sleepy tea before bed...

Wash an organic bananna, cut off the ends and cut in half (leave the peel on). Put it in four cups of boiling water and boil it for 3-4 minutes. Remove from the stove and steep it. Add honey or cinnamon to taste. Drink the water loaded with magnesium.  Thanks to Dr. Michael Breus

Behavioural

  • spend 30 minutes outside each day, reduce or eliminate your use of sunglasses – this will support your circadian rhythm
  • have a bedtime routine – this can include stretching, brushing teeth, showering, relaxation strategies

Sleeping Environment

  • maintain fresh air flow in your bedroom by opening a door or window
  • keep phones, TVs and computers out of the bedroom
  • create a relaxing bedroom that you are comfortable in

Relaxation

Timing

  • if you need a nap, make it less than 45 minutes, any longer can cause drowsiness and upset sleep-wake patterns
  • maintain regular sleep cycles, for example, sleep from 10pm-6am every night, even weekends
  • exercise in the morning if you can, or at least before 4pm, its even better for your circadian rhythm to exercise outside in the sunshine
  • reduce screen time – avoid using the internet (computer or phone), TV, computer games etc. for at least 30min before bed
  • control your lighting environment – reduce your exposure to light at night, both our home and work lighting and blue light from phones, TV and computers.  Turn this artificial light off or try f.lux – a program that removes blue light emission to match the light from your screen to your natural environment, “warm at night and like sunlight during the day.

It is crucial to establish and maintain consistent sleep routines and cycles.  So much of your healthy functioning depends on it, now and in the future.  If you believe you could benefit from better quality or quantity of sleep, commit to changing your sleep habits. Identify what may be preventing you from achieving great sleep and go to work to resolve this, even if that requires outside assistance from an alternative health practitioner.  If you need support to find the most appropriate therapy and practitioner for please contact us on 07) 3208 8308 or book instantly online.

Check out other articles in this series packed with simple and practical ways to improve the 6 foundations of your health – clean water, fresh air, sunshine, movement, sleep and fresh food.

Written by Dr. Jess Harvey B.Sc. (Anat, Phys), B.Ap.Sci (Comp. Med.), Ma Osteo., Registered Osteopath and Director of Head 2 Toe Health, a multidisciplinary clinic in Brisbane also providing Acupuncture, Massage, Life Coaching and Counselling – where we aim to get you as well as possible, as fast as possible, permanently.  We believe in a thorough approach to restoring and maintaining health and address many aspects of our lifestyles that can contribute to pain, stiffness, dis-ease and disease.  For any further information, please contact us on info@head2toehealth.com.au or 07) 3208 8308.

1)http://www.blogtalkradio.com/undergroundwellness/2014/08/20/dan-pardi-how-sleep-deprivation-fries-your-brain-and-makes-you-fat

2) http://time.com/55390/sleep-is-the-new-health-frontier/

3) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/12/opinion/sunday/goodnight-sleep-clean.html?_r=0 

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