We've all read that getting enough eyes is essential to our well-being, and yet kicking the bag at a reasonable time can be one of the hardest habits for most of us. Of course, long work hours, stressful times, and a busy family life all contribute to late nights and poor rest, but how much do we really know about the specifics of why sleep is so important to so many processes involved in our body's functioning? Body? And what can we do to improve our relationship with stillness?
To mark National Sleep Day in the US (March 18), M&F spoke to the "Sleep Doctor", Dr. Michael Breus, Ph.D., a renowned expert on the importance of sleep. dr Breus is a clinical psychologist, Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, and Fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. With qualifications like these, it's no wonder a good doctor is widely regarded as one of the most influential people in the field, so we asked them a series of questions and came up with this excellent guide to better sleep.
Most Americans get less than the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night. What does this mean for our health?
This study by Mute Nasal Dilators shows that on average we get less than 6 hours of sleep and 37% of us are dissatisfied with the quality of sleep we get. Your body can suffer from mild sleep deprivation for quite a while, but over time you will suffer from a variety of consequences:
- Physically: You may gain weight, have less sex, look and feel older, be at greater risk of injury, heal less quickly, and your immune system may be weakened. Sleep deprivation causes changes in the hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. The hormone leptin suppresses appetite and stimulates the body to use energy, but sleep deprivation reduces leptin. The hormone ghrelin, on the other hand, triggers feelings of hunger. Ghrelin levels increase when you get little sleep.
- Cognitive: When you don't get enough sleep, you can't concentrate well, your reaction time slows, you have trouble collecting and storing memories, your decision-making and judgment are impaired, and you're less creative.
- Emotionally: With less sleep, you're more emotionally reactive, likely to have more negative attitudes, 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 previous day and get ready for the day ahead. If you don't give your body and brain the time it needs to do all of this, you won't start your day fully rested and/or prepared.
Why is lack of sleep associated with increased stress?
When you're stressed, your body releases cortisol, the main stress hormone. This coincides with the entry of sugar or glucose into the bloodstream, which in turn raises your blood pressure. Soon your muscles will tighten, your heart will pump and your brain will work overtime. This response is best known as the "fight-or-flight" response, an innate survival mechanism that our bodies activate when we are in perceived trouble. This reaction makes it difficult for us to drift away. Our bodies are hardwired to keep us awake when we are stressed.
If stress leads to poor sleep, poor sleep can also lead to increased stress and anxiety, which becomes a vicious cycle that is difficult to break out of. On the other hand, sleep is a stress reliever. More rest can significantly lower cortisol levels and restore balance to your body's systems.
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Can we catch up on lost sleep by napping?
The quick and accurate answer is no. You just can't restore sleep's healing powers by napping or sleeping in on weekends. And there are many studies that prove it. In 2003, scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research examined the cognitive effects of a week of poor sleep followed by three days of at least eight hours of sleep a night. The researchers found that "recovery sleep" did not completely reverse performance declines on a test of reaction times and other psychomotor tasks. This was especially true for subjects who were forced to sleep only three or five hours a night.
The good news, however, is that a study conducted this year found that people recovered from a week of poor sleep much more quickly if it was preceded by a "banking" week of 10-hour nights of sleep.
Of course, snoring is annoying for our partners, but can it also affect our own quality of sleep?
Yes, 100%. Snoring belongs to the spectrum of sleep-disordered breathing, which means that when you snore, you only get a limited amount of oxygen, so snoring is absolutely detrimental to the snorer. The loud and annoying snoring noises are caused by a narrowing or blockage of the airways during sleep. The breath moving through these narrowed passages causes the soft tissues of the airways to vibrate, and the vibration creates the sounds of snoring.
Long-term snoring can lead to irregular heartbeats, stroke, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and decreased sexual satisfaction, among many other conditions.
What are some of the best ways to prevent snoring?
There are a number of behavioral changes that can significantly 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 when sleeping on their back, which can narrow their airways, I suggest they try sleeping on their side or use a pillow that supports their head and neck so their head is slightly elevated .
I also recommend Mute Nasal Dilators. They sit right in the nose to increase airflow, improve breathing and reduce snoring.
Is there an added benefit of memory foam mattresses over the traditional spring-based products?
Choosing a mattress is a very personal decision. What is best for one may not be best for another. I actually created a mattress buying guide that suggests looking at your sleeping position first, and then the mattress type. For example spring core, memory foam or latex. Then look at the firmness. In general, memory foam mattresses provide pressure relief while gently contouring your body. Innerspring mattresses are durable and responsive.
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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 into the evening hours. Our bodies operate a process called thermoregulation on a 24-hour circadian cycle, as does the sleep-wake cycle. This allows your body to adjust its core temperature. Lowering your body temperature at night helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. Rising temperatures signal the body to wake up in the morning. So when your body cools down, it signals your brain to release melatonin; the key that starts the engine for sleep.
How important is it to establish a routine to take control of your sleep and what should the routine include?
I recommend planning at least 60 minutes for your "off hour." Schedule all of your streaming, web surfing, and social media scrolling to end before this hour begins. Set aside 20 minutes of this hour for hygiene and grooming; Brushing and flossing, applying night cream, changing bed and taking any medication required. Of the remaining 40 minutes, dedicate 10 minutes each to the following tasks:
- Something for your mind: Consider meditation, an excellent addition to a power-down class. But it could also be 10 minutes of reading pleasure. Avoid bright reading lights and wear blue light-blocking glasses when using an e-reader. Or listen to a fun or inspirational podcast or music that relaxes you.
- Something for your body: This can include yoga, tai chi, light stretching, or even walking the dog around the block before the lights go out. Take some time to focus on relaxing your body and letting go of the tension you've built up throughout the day. If you like to shower or bathe before bed, try to do so 90 minutes before turning off the lights to maximize the sleep-promoting benefits of your late-night bath.
- Something for the stomach: A small snack before bed is fine, but don't let it become a full meal or your sleep will suffer. My rules for a bedtime snack are to stick to around 250 calories, maintain a balance of protein and complex carbohydrates, and avoid the "sugar bombs" that so many of us crave. A bowl of low-sugar granola, a piece of toast with almond butter, or a small whole-wheat muffin are good choices.
- Something for your senses: Too often we forget touch and smell as sleep influencers. Essential oils added to your tub, used in a diffuser, or rubbed onto your skin can be powerful sleep promoters. Spend a few minutes of your downtime in the company of sleep-inducing scents, if you're able.