It is well documented that sleep deprivation can have serious effects on long term health. Insulin resistance, obesity, heart disease and heart disease are some examples. You may be wondering how lack of sleep can cause such problems. The one word explanation would be, STRESS. Your body systems need adequate recovery and sleep is that recovery. In comparison, your body needs essential nutrients for optimal function. Lack of proper nutrition over time can cause obesity, heart disease, insulin resistance etc…..sound familiar? To illustrate how sleep causes stress to your body and therefore creates health issues, look at the simple diagram below.
So now let’s get started on some solutions to possibly fix this:
1. Stay cool- We all know how hard it is to sleep when we are too warm. Simply put, your room needs to be cooler. The temperature in your room ideally should be between 65-70 degrees. Adjust as needed. I would recommend just keeping an extra blanket close by as needed. One other tip would be to wear socks to bed.
2. Limit Light- When we lived in caves, we didn’t have lamps, computers, cell phones or televisions and so when it got dark…..it got dark. This darkness sent a signal to our brain to release GABA and melatonin, our sleep hormones. It also suppresses the hormones that wake us, cortisol and glutamate. An obvious solution would be to limit your exposure to such stimulants during the last few hours before bedtime. One way around some of this would be, blue blocking glasses. These glasses work by blocking the blue end of the light spectrum. A couple of brands that I would recommend are Uvex or Solar Shield, both can be found on Amazon. Another thought, avoid screen time altogether before bed!
3. Avoid Caffeine- This is obvious, right? Caffeine is a stimulant! Not what you want in your system when trying to sleep. What is the main source of caffeine in our country? You guessed it, COFFEE. I happen to love coffee. It completes me!! Just like anything else, too much of anything can throw your body off balance. The general guideline would be, no coffee or caffeine past noon. That would be a great place to start. Depending on genetics, you may or may not breakdown the caffeine very fast. Basically, if your a slow metabolizer of coffee you may need to limit it even more. A simple test available from 23 and me can help determine if this is the case for you. Or, you can test it on your own by cutting back and seeing if it helps your sleep quality.
4. Exercise- Research shows that regular exercise improves sleep quality. This could be a simple thirty minute walk per day. Actually, if do that walk outside in natural light that can give you a double dose of sleep quality. Natural light improves your circadian rhythms and improves sleep. Get outside everyday for a bit. We have to bundle up in my neck of the woods. Just don’t exercise within 2 hours of bedtime!
5. Stress- Carrying your worries from the day to bed with you can have a serious impact on your sleep quality. This is the most difficult thing to change! Why does stress keep you awake? One word, CORTISOL!! Cortisol is our stress hormone. It’s secreted during times of stress and fear, whenever our body goes into fight or flight response. Your cortisol is supposed to be highest in the morning to help waken you. Ultimately, you want a gradual reduction of cortisol throughout the day. If a stressful situation occurs and your cortisol increases, it’s supposed drop down to normal after the episode is over. That doesn’t occur if you hold on to the stress. Once again, I strongly recommend exercise of some kind everyday. Another important recommendation is MEDITATION. 10 minutes in the evening can also reduce the stress of the day significantly. Look up Tara Brock’s guided meditation on YouTube. Also, I really like the headspace app.
6. Limit Alcohol- Alcohol is a depressant. It can definitely help you fall asleep. Most of us have experienced that. The problem is that it effects sleep quality. It blocks REM sleep, which is considered the most restorative. Limit your intake to no more than two glasses and try to stop a couple hours before sleep.
7. Carbs- If your on a low carb diet or you stop eating for the to early, it create hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia can disrupt your sleep. Carbohydrate are the raw material to make tryptophan in the pineal gland. Tryptophan is a precursor to melatonin, the master sleep hormone. A simple suggestion would be almond butter on a celery stick shortly before bed.
8. Take a Warm Bath- A warm bath an hour before bed can help stimulate sleep. A lower body temperature stimulates your sleep cycle. Key is a warm bath. Not hot.
9. Have Sex- AWESOME!! Some research shows that sex helps you sleep better. Not sure what research, but, I think it’s worth testing it out!! Don’t you?
10. Natural Remedies- I’m going to list some natural remedies to try; magnesium 300-400mg, L-Theanine 200-400 mg, Taurine (lowers cortisol) 500 mg., 5htp 50-100mg(1 hour before bed), melatonin .05-1 mg. Holy basil( lowers cortisol), Apple cider vinegar 1tbsp, raw honey 1 tbsp and make a tea out it, works great for me.
If you try some these suggestions without success, it may be a good idea to have a sleep study done. A lot of people have sleep apnea and are unaware of it. The goal is to get to the cause of problems, not only suppress symptoms. If you need further help I’ll be glad to talk to you. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yours in health,
Dr James Dougherty