I often notice that sleep is becoming something people take for granted. My own patient’s explain how busy they have been and are only sleeping few hours at night. Some will share how stress is keeping them awake. Pain can be a reason for disrupted sleep as well. Women may find going through menopause poses its own challenges and insomnia can just be one of them.
I’m sure we all have experienced how the day drags with fatigue and low levels of mental and physical energy when we have not been able to sleep enough.
The ideal time for an adult to sleep is at least 7-8 hours every night. But it is not just the quantity, the quality is equally important.
Every person is different and where it is great to aim for fixed hours, personalised sleep recommendations maybe beneficial to get to the root cause of the problem.
So why is sleep so important?
Sleep is a vital part of our health. This is the time when the body heals and repairs. It is extremely critical for our cognitive functioning as well as mental wellbeing. Sleep plays an important role in supporting the immune function of the body. Getting enough sleep consistently can be one of the ways to ensure the body is ready to deal with future infections in a better way. There is growing evidence that lack of sleep has an impact on poor metabolic health, which includes blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels. A recent study showed poor sugar control the following day, even in people without diabetes, when they did not have a good sleep pattern or slept less. It is also important to highlight the effect of sleep and appetite. The hormones ghrelin (responsible for hunger) and leptin (responsible for satiety), which play major role in appetite regulation, can be disrupted with lack of sleep. This results in cravings and increased hunger levels which can cause us to reach out for the wrong foods and as well eating more than required. Lack of sleep can impact the skin as well as hair, which maybe one of the few initial symptoms one might notice. Pro-inflammation markers are seen to be higher with sleep deprivation, resulting in increased obesity, type 2 diabetes as well as auto-immune diseases.
Some tips to improve sleep
- Have a sleep routine and try to sleep at a similar time every day. Following the body’s circadian rhythm helps keep the balance of the hormones that are vital in functioning of a healthy body.
- Have a wind down routine, so the brain and body get the message that are preparing for sleep. This can include dimming the lights in the evening, avoiding being exposed to bright screen lights 60-90 minutes before bed. Most people roll their eyes at this suggestion as we are becoming a generation who are hooked to their screens all the time. Bright light disrupts the melatonin, a hormone responsible for good quality sleep. Listening to music, reading, mindfulness or just sitting with a loved one can be other ways of having a relaxed atmosphere.
- Caffeine- Reducing caffeine intake can have a significant impact on sleep quality. Caffeine can stay in your bloodstream anywhere between 5 to 10 hours after consumption and hence avoiding taking a shot after midday is best. With the growing trend of caffeinated drinks, green tea and coffee on the go, I feel we are becoming walking zombies. Green tea as well as coffee is rich in anti-oxidants and have several benefits for health, however if taken after mid-day, can have a negative impact on sleep.
- Exposure to daylight before mid-day- this is one of the most helpful tips which I find can be very easy to do. Even on a cloudy day, if you stand outside, the light will reach the hypothalamus, a gland in our brain which supports the functioning of physiological cycles.
- Exercising during the day helps alertness during the day and supports a restful sleep. I personally find this very effective for myself and one of my reasons to incorporate movement even on a busy day.
- Diet plays a major role in sleeping well. Making sure to have foods which are nutrient dense and include complex carbohydrates. With the current culture of low carbohydrate diets I often notice people complain about not being able to sleep. Magnesium rich foods which include pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, green vegetables like spinach, nuts, soya products and legumes can help support sleep. Avoiding late night meals and eating at least 3 hours before bed helps good quality sleep too.
- Improving the sleep environment is a vital part of sleeping well. So making sure there is no light in the bedroom, maintaining the temperature to a slightly cooler side, investing in a comfortable mattress, making sure the room is quiet and peaceful are few of the things I would recommend.
- This topic would not be complete without mentioning stress management and if you want tips for this you can check out my blog which I wrote earlier.
- Last but not least, alcohol does not promote better sleep and so best to limit it as much as possible.
Remember awareness is the first step to change.
Sleep is one of the pillars of health I focus on when doing a personalised lifestyle medicine consultation. Most of what I have shared are evidenced based tools, that I use regularly myself.
I hope this blog gives you some areas you can focus on.
Have a blessed week ahead.