We’ve all read that getting enough shut-eye is essential for our well-being, yet getting to bed at a reasonable hour can be one of the hardest habits for most of us to maintain. . Of course, long work hours, stressful times, and busy family lives all contribute to late nights and poor quality rest, but how much do we really understand about the specifics of why sleep is essential to so many processes involved in the functioning of our body? And what can we do to improve our relationship with rest?
In honor of National Sleep Day in the United States (March 18), M&F spoke with the “Sleep Physician”, Dr. Michael Breus, Ph.D., a recognized expert on the importance of hitting the hay. Dr. Breus is a clinical psychologist, board member of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, and Fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. With such qualifications, it is no wonder that a good doctor is widely regarded as one of the most influential people in this field. So we asked him a series of questions and came away with this superb guide to better sleep.
Most Americans get less than the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night. What does this mean for our health?
This review of Dumb Nasal Dilators finds that we sleep less than 6 hours on average and that 37% of us are unhappy with the quality of sleep we get. Your body may experience mild sleep deprivation for a while, but over time you will suffer from various consequences:
- Physically: You may gain weight, have less sex, look and feel older, have an increased risk of injury, not heal as quickly, and have lower immune function. Sleep deprivation causes changes hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. The hormone leptin suppresses appetite and encourages the body to expend energy, but sleep deprivation reduces leptin. The hormone ghrelin, on the other hand, triggers feelings of hunger. Ghrelin levels rise when you’re sleep deprived.
- Cognitively: When you’re sleep deprived, you don’t concentrate well, your reaction time slows, you have trouble creating and storing memories, your decision-making and judgment are skewed, and you’re less creative.
- Emotionally: By sleeping less, you’re more emotionally reactive, you’re likely to have a more negative outlook, worry more about the future, and feel less connected and grateful to your partner and your own life.
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. Remember: when you sleep, your body and brain recover from the day before and prepare for the day ahead. Not giving your body and brain the time it needs to do all of this means you’ll start your day not fully recovered and/or prepared.
Why is lack of sleep associated with increased stress levels?
When you are stressed, your body releases cortisol: the main stress hormone. This coincides with sugar or glucose entering the bloodstream, which in turn raises your blood pressure. Soon your muscles are tensing, your heart is pumping, and your brain is working overtime. This reaction is better known as the “fight or flight” response, an innate survival mechanism that our body activates when we are in trouble. This answer is what makes it difficult for us to drift. Our bodies are wired to keep us awake when we are stressed.
When stress leads to poor sleep, poor sleep can also lead to increased stress and anxiety, making it a vicious cycle that can be hard to break out of. On the other hand, sleep is a stress reducer. Getting more rest can significantly lower cortisol levels and bring your body’s systems back into balance.
Can you make up for lost sleep by taking naps?
The quick and precise answer is no. You simply cannot recoup the healing effects of sleep by napping or sleeping in on the weekends. And many studies prove it. In 2003, scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research examined the cognitive effects of one week of poor sleep, followed by three days of at least eight hours of sleep per night. The scientists have discovered that ‘recovery’ sleep did not completely reverse declines in performance on a test of reaction time and other psychomotor tasks. This was especially true for subjects who had been forced to sleep only three or five hours a night.
The good news, however, is that a study carried out this year found that people recovered much faster from a week of poor sleep when it was preceded by a “banking” week that included nights with 10 hours of sleep.
Snoring obviously disturbs our partners, but can it also disturb our own quality of sleep?
Yes, 100%. Snoring is part of the spectrum of sleep-disordered breathing, which means that when you snore, you get a restricted amount of oxygen, so snoring absolutely has a detrimental effect on the snorer. The loud and annoying sounds of snoring occur as a result of narrowing or obstruction of the airways during sleep. Breath moving through these constricted passageways vibrates the soft tissues of the airways and the vibration creates snoring sounds.
Long-term snoring can lead to irregular heartbeat, stroke, gastroesophageal reflux, and decreased sexual satisfaction among many other conditions.
What are the best ways to prevent snoring?
There are a number of behavioral changes that can dramatically improve or even eliminate a snoring habit. Losing weight, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, not drinking excessively, and avoiding alcohol within three to four hours of bedtime will all help.
For those who snore primarily while sleeping on their back, which can narrow the airways, I suggest they try sleeping on their side or using a pillow that supports their head and neck so that the head is slightly elevated .
I also recommend Mute nasal dilators. They sit just inside the nose to help increase airflow, improve breathing and reduce snoring.
Do memory foam mattresses have an added advantage over traditional spring products?
Choosing a mattress is a very personal decision. What may be best for one person may not be for another. I actually developed a mattress buying guide, and it suggests looking at your sleeping position first, then the type of mattress. Springs, memory foam or latex for example. Next, look at the firmness. In general, memory foam mattresses relieve pressure while gently conforming to your body. Spring mattresses are durable and responsive.
Does our body temperature play a role in sleep?
Our bodies are designed to start cooling down for sleep and this begins in the late afternoon and continues well into the evening. Our body operates a process called thermoregulation, on a 24-hour circadian cycle, just like the sleep-wake cycle. This allows your body to adjust its core temperature. Lowering body temperature at night helps you fall asleep and stay asleep all night. Rising temperatures signal the body to go into a state of alertness in the morning. So when your body gets cold, it’s a signal to your brain to release melatonin; the key that starts the engine to sleep.
How important is establishing a routine to take control of your sleep and what should that routine include?
I recommend setting aside at least 60 minutes for your “power off time”. Schedule all of your streaming, web browsing, and social media scrolling to end before this time begins. Allow 20 minutes of this hour for hygiene and grooming; brushing and flossing, putting on night cream, changing for bed and taking any necessary medications. With the remaining 40 minutes, dedicate 10 minutes each to:
- Something for your mind: Consider meditation, a great addition to a downtime. But it can also be 10 minutes of reading for fun. Avoid bright reading lights and wear blue-light blocking glasses if you use an e-reader. Or listen to a fun or inspirational podcast, or music that relaxes you.
- Something for your body: This could involve yoga, tai chi, light stretching, or even a walk around the block with the dog before the lights go out. Schedule time to pay attention to relaxing your body and releasing the tension you have built up throughout the day. If you like to take a shower or bath before bed, try to do so 90 minutes before lights out to maximize the sleep benefits of your nighttime bath.
- Something for your stomach: A small snack before bed is fine, but don’t let it turn into a full meal or your sleep will suffer. My rules for a before bed snack are to stick to around 250 calories, maintain a balance of protein and complex carbs, and avoid the “sugar bombs” that many of us tend to dream of. . A bowl of low-sugar cereal, a piece of toast with almond butter, or a small whole-grain muffin are good choices.
- Something for your senses: Too often we overlook touch and smell as sleep influencers. Essential oils added to your tub, used in a diffuser, or rubbed into your skin can be powerful sleep promoters. Spend a few minutes of your downtime in the company of sleep-promoting scents if you can.