A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book. – Irish Proverb
In 1910, North Americans slept about nine hours a night. By the mid-1970s the average night’s sleep had dropped to seven-and-a-half hours and to just seven hours by the late 1990s. According to a recent survey by Statistics Canada, one in seven Canadians aged 15 and over has reported symptoms of insomnia, a problem more common among women than men. Shawn Nisbet explains why a good night’s sleep is so important.
What difference could an extra hour of sleep make in your life? Perhaps more than you think. The average person spends 1/3 of their life sleeping, and a good night’s sleep can improve your overall health, productivity, energy, mood, sex life, weight control and performance.
On the other hand, lack of sleep contributes to depression, cardiovascular disease, digestive problems, gastric reflux, muscle aches, headaches, allergies, irritability, lack of mental ability, loss of lean muscle mass, loss of appetite or inability to lose weight. In fact, going without sleep for more than 19 days could cause death.
In the 2007 Survey of Women, the National Sleep Foundation reported that in their effort to ‘do it all,’ women were sacrificing sleep, with 60% saying they only get a good night’s sleep a few nights a week or less. Two out of three women admitted they experience sleep problems at least a few nights each week, and 46% experienced sleep problems every night!
The problem is affecting children as well. On average, today’s children are sleeping fewer hours than they did 40 or 50 years ago. One study shows the percentage of children sleeping eight to nine hours per night decreased from 41% in 1960 to 23.5% in 2001. Over that 40-year period, childhood obesity has nearly doubled.
Why you need to sleep more
If you are not getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep every night, here are eight reasons why you should turn off the TV, computer, cell phone and lights, and head to bed at an earlier time starting tonight.
1. Improved health Study after study links insufficient sleep to some serious health problems such as heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, obesity and cancer, to name just a few. One study, which looked at the effects of disturbed sleep patterns of shift workers on 10 young healthy adults, revealed that after just four days, three had pre-diabetic blood glucose levels.
2. Improved mood A bad night’s sleep has a negative effect on your mood the next day. You may feel tired, cranky, more emotional and less like yourself, and this can have a negative effect on your relationships with family, friends and co-workers. Long-term sleep loss has also been linked to more serious complications such as depression, anxiety and an increased risk of suicide.
3. Improved clarity of thought Sleep can have a direct effect on your cognition, attention and decision-making. Studies have found that people who are sleep-deprived have difficulty solving logic or math problems, and are more likely to make odd mistakes such as putting the milk in the cupboard or misplacing their keys.
4. Improved memory When you sleep, your brain processes and consolidates all of your memories from that day. If you do not get enough sleep, those memories may not get stored in the correct place for retrieval at a later date, or they may simply get lost. This poses the question to students old and young whether it is better to study late into the night, or to go to bed at an earlier time and continue to study in the morning.
5. Stronger immunity In one study, people who slept seven hours a night or less were almost three times as likely to get sick as those who slept eight hours. Work less, sleep more is good advice.
6. Decreased risk of injury The Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Challenger explosion, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island meltdowns all had one thing in common: they were caused, at least in part, by sleep deprivation. Almost half of Canadians go about their daily lives deprived of sleep, according to a new report from Statistics Canada. That means half the 18 million vehicles on the road are in the hands of drivers who may not be as alert as they should be. Even household accidents such as falling off a ladder or cutting yourself with a knife can have serious consequences.
7. Decreased pain Whether you suffer from chronic pain or acute pain from a recent injury, getting enough sleep may actually make you hurt less. Studies show a link between less sleep and lower pain threshold.
8. Improved weight control Could your lack of sleep have a negative effect on your weight loss goals? The answer is ‘yes.’ When you don’t get enough sleep, the hormone leptin you produce drops. Leptin is the hormone that gives you satiety. This leads to a never-ending craving for high-fat, high-calorie foods. Lack of sleep can also make you chronically overtired and less likely to have the energy to exercise, or even plan and cook a healthy meal after a long day.
9 Tips for a Better Sleep
If you currently experience sleep issues such as problems falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up too early, these tips are for you. Likewise, if you want to improve your quality of sleep, lose weight, improve your overall wellness and help slow the aging process, read on.
1. Turn those lights out! Start turning down the lights at least two hours before bedtime. This will help your body to begin producing the hormone melatonin needed for a good night’s sleep. Make sure your room is dark (you should not be able to see our hand in front of your face). When light hits our eyes, it disrupts melatonin production. Even a small amount of light can cause a decrease in melatonin levels which can have a negative effect on your sleep and may raise your chance of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. When you wake in the morning, open the drapes to reset your internal body clock and ensure your melatonin levels stay set on ‘awake’ until evening.
2. Control your stress levels When you are stressed, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol, which helps us through times of ’fight or flight.’ But if produced for long periods of time, this hormone can have a negative effect on overall health and weight. Cortisol is highest in the morning and declines throughout the day in preparation for sleep that night. Managing your stress during the day will have a huge impact on your quality of sleep.
3. Setting the atmosphere for the perfect sleep
• Keep your bedroom cool. We naturally feel sleepier when we are cooler, not warm.
• Use your bed for sleeping and sex only. Avoid other activities which can be too stimulating and less relaxing in nature.
• Purchase a white noise machine, listen to relaxing tapes or run a fan facing away from you in the winter. These sounds are
• Use a quieter alarm to wake yourself in the morning. If you are getting quality, regular, deep sleep an alarm clock is unnecessary. Needing an alarm clock or sleeping through an alarm may indicate you are sleep deprived.
4. The benefits of exercise for a deep sleep
• Exercising within two to three hours of bedtime may be too stimulating and can have a negative effect on your sleep. To maximize the benefits of exercise on sleep, exercise three to six hours before bed. Your body will increase deep sleep to compensate for the physical stress of exercise.
• Exercise your mind also. Those who intellectually and mentally stimulate their minds during the day feel an increased need to sleep to maintain their performance. Disinterested or bored people seem to sleep less well.
5. If you have trouble falling asleep
• If you cannot sleep, get up and do something else until you feel the urge to sleep. Lying in bed for long periods of time unable to sleep can cause stress. • Meditation and relaxing activities such as reading and dimming the lights will all help you sleep.
• Make a ‘to do’ list or try writing in a journal. If you lie in bed with thoughts of what you must do or things you have done, try writing them down. You may be surprised how much this helps.
• Take a warm bath, shower or sauna before bed. You can also add Epsom salts to increase your magnesium, which is relaxing and which may also help to detoxify your body. (Add 1 to 2 cups of Epsom salts to a full bath).
• If you nap, make sure you limit your naps to 20 to 30 minutes, and try not to nap after 2:00 in the afternoon.
6. Schedule your bedtime Try to get to bed before 11pm, or ideally by 10pm. Your stress glands, the adrenals, recharge between the hours of 11pm and 1am. Before the invention of electricity, going to bed with the sun was a much simpler task. Establish a regular bedtime and wake-up time each day. Oversleeping can be as detrimental to your health as sleep deprivation. If you want to sleep in on your day off, try not to sleep later than two hours past your regular time.
7. Avoid caffeine and alcohol A dose of caffeine usually takes 15 to 30 minutes to take effect and its effects can last up to four or five hours. Everyone metabolizes caffeine differently: for some, for example, that single cup of coffee in the morning can cause sleeplessness that evening. Caffeine may also have a negative effect on the natural release cycle of the stress hormone cortisol which can cause waking at 2am and 4am.
Alcohol may also influence the length of time it takes to fall asleep, the total time you sleep and the depth of your sleep. One glass of wine with dinner may not affect your sleep since it takes about 90 minutes to metabolize one ounce of alcohol. But drinking too much or too close to bedtime can disrupt sleep.
8. Calming teas Some herbal teas can help you relax and fall asleep. Chamomile, for example, slows the nervous system and promotes relaxation. Consult your health care provider when using herbs because some herbs may react with other supplements and medication.
9. Limit food and beverages before bed Lying down after you eat can cause heartburn and indigestion. Also, your metabolism increases slightly to digest food, which can raise your energy level. Avoid eating within three hours of bed if you have trouble sleeping.
Aromatherapy for a deeper sleep
• Lavender Smelling lavender essential oil before bed can increase the amount of time spent in slow-wave sleep, the restful and restorative sleep phase. Just add a few drops of lavender essential oil to a night-time bath or tuck a lavender sachet under your pillow.
• Chamomile : Chamomile is known to ease tension and promote relaxation of both mind and body. Sipping a cup of chamomile tea 30 minutes before bed can promote a deep rejuvenating sleep.
• Jasmine : The smell of jasmine in the air induces a deeper sleep. Add 25 drops of jasmine essential oil to two ounces of water in a spray bottle.
• Vanilla : The scent of vanilla has long been recognized for its anti-depressant and tranquilizing qualities, lowering blood pressure and promoting feelings of wellbeing and calm. Add a few drops of vanilla essential oil to a cloth and put under your pillow.
Eating to control stress
• It’s important to eat every three to four hours, and to eat a source of protein at every snack and every meal.
• Have a protein shake with berries and almond milk for breakfast, an apple and nuts for a morning snack, a large salad with sliced chicken and avocado for lunch, vegetables and hummus for an afternoon snack, and lean meat, steamed vegetables, fresh salad and brown rice for dinner. Dinner should be two to three hours before bedtime.
• Eating in this manner will balance your blood sugars, and prevent mood and energy fluctuations throughout the day. Skipping meals is stressful on the body and causes an increase in cortisol which will have a negative effect on your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
• Remember– moderate exercise also helps reduce stress, especially exercising outside.
Sleep and weight: snooze to lose
Is it just a coincidence, or is there a relationship between how much sleep we get and how much we weigh?
• Studies suggest there is a ‘just right’ amount of sleep, with those who get too little and those who get too much sleep actually gaining weight as a consequence.
• Some believe sleep deprivation disrupts the production of hormones that regulate the body’s appetite. Too little sleep appears to increase production of ghrelin – the hormone that tells us we are hungry – and decreases the production of leptin, the hormone that tells us we are full.
• Those who sleep too much can actually be bad sleepers who stay in bed because they haven’t had high quality sleep.
• Sleep loss results in less deep sleep, the kind that restores your energy levels. Losing deep sleep decreases growth hormone levels. Growth hormone is a protein that helps regulate your body’s proportions of fat and muscle. Less growth hormone reduces the ability to lose fat and grow muscle.
• With sleep loss, your body may not be able to metabolize carbohydrate efficiently. This can lead to increased fat storage and higher blood sugar levels. Excess blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance which means the body has trouble disposing of glucose in the liver and other tissues. This can trigger further health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
• Lack of sleep equals lack of energy. Not only will you accomplish less with less sleep, you will also burn fewer calories.
Burning fewer calories equals hoarding calories as fat, making it difficult to lose weight!
If you are not sleeping well, try to recognize some of the aspects of your life that may be having a negative effect on your sleep. Remember – a good night’s sleep will increase your productivity, so listen to your body to determine how much sleep is right for you. Too much sleep can be just as unhealthy as too little.
Wellness is a balance between diet, exercise, stress management and deep sleep! If sleep deprivation becomes chronic, visit your healthcare specialist to make sure your lack of sleep is not caused by something more serious than those causes listed in this article.
Shawn M. Nisbet, RHN, CFA, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Certified Fitness Consultant & Nordic Pole Walking Master Instructor. Tel: 416.804.0938. Website: www.shawnnisbet.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org