What your sleep says about your health
I’ve always loved sleep. Like, really loved it. I’d sleep for ten or eleven hours a night, regularly. Or until my mother came in and opened the blinds. At least on weekends and summer break. During the school week, and later work week, I’d stay up reading until eleven or twelve, and then struggle to wake up in time for the bus.
What I didn’t realize was that my excessive sleeping was my body’s cry for help.
Sleep is super important. It helps sweep away waste and repair cells and muscles. It helps our brain clean up and repair. It allows our heart and lungs to rest. But most people can do all that in 6-8 hours. I needed 10.
I eventually learned that I was, in fact, sick. All the time. My food allergies were messing up my whole system. When I finally stopped eating the bad stuff and recovered, I needed less sleep. Funny, huh? And when I slip and eat some bad stuff now, I pay for it the next morning. Or the next couple of mornings.
What if you have the opposite problem? What if you can’t get to sleep? What if you sit there staring at the numbers on your alarm clock, watching them change every sixty seconds?
I’ve been there too. Much less frequently. Usually the night before something big. An important presentation. The first day of a new job. Meeting someone important. An early morning flight. These all mess me up.
If this happens to you occasionally on the night before a big day, you’re in good company. Its nerves, plain and simple. If this happens all the freakin’ time, you need to do something about it. Without sleep, you’re kind of screwed. It’s a form of torture, right? Lack of sleep can mean memory loss, lack of concentration, reduced reaction times, decreased performance, and mood swings.
You’re sleepless nights could be caused by poor food choices, using stimulants like caffeine and (I’m sorry to say) chocolate, your mental state, a lack of physical activity, too much screen time, and electromagnetics, which sounds a little woo-woo but trust me, there’s something to this.
I got all excited writing a presentation for a sleep talk, and I created my own 5 Steps to Better Sleep.
5 STEPS to Better SLEEP
- SOOTH Your Mind
- LISTEN to Your Body
- EAT well
- POWER Down
Se what I did there? Pretty snazzy, right? Yeah, baby. All mine.*
Here’s the breakdown.
STEP 1: SOOTH Your Mind
- Screen out noise and block light. That one’s pretty obvious.
- Keep the room cool and well ventilated. Your body sleeps better when it’s cooler.
- Turn off electronics – wireless, cell phones. Not only are they distractions, but the electromagnetic waves could be activating your brain.
- Find a comfy mattress and pillow. They wear out after five or so years.
- Establish a soothing pre-sleep routine. Doing something ritually, like drinking chamomile tea or reading or lighting a candle, sends a signal that it’s bed time.
- Examine medications for sleep warnings. Take the stimulants early in the day, and the ones that say “don’t operate heavy machinery” near bed time.
- Racing mind? Write problems down—and then put them aside. Still racing? Try a daily journal. Get it all out!
STEP 2: LISTEN to Your Body
- Go to Sleep When You’re Truly Tired. Don’t make yourself wait until a certain, later bedtime if you’re dead tired. Go to bed early. Waiting it out could make you overtired, and then you’re done for. Like a toddler who misses her nap and gets all cranky and won’t fall asleep.
- Don’t Be a Nighttime Clock-Watcher. If you cannot sleep, get out of bed and go do something else for a bit. Maybe have a snack, some protein and carbs. Then try again.
- Use Light to Your Advantage. Keep it very dark at night and expose yourself to light right when you wake up. Make sure your alarm clock has red numbers, they don’t register as light in your brain.
- Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule. This trains your body, and mind.
- Note how you feel when you wake up – if you’re not refreshed, you’re not getting enough sleep.
STEP 3: EAT well
- Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, Nicotine, Excess Sugar and Other Chemicals that Interfere with Sleep
- Balance Fluid Intake. Get your main water in earlier in the day, and just take sips after dinner. That way you won’t have to get up to pee in the middle of the night…
- Lighten Up on Evening Meals. They can be stimulating, and the need to digest a big meal can lead to an upset stomach. Eat your bigger meals at breakfast and lunch.
- Get Proper Nutrition. If you’re not getting enough fiber, or essential minerals, that’ll mess up your system too. And too much of the bad stuff can mean you need more sleep than you think to recover.
- Take probiotics. They’ll help your digestion, which will help your sleep.
- Detoxify with fresh juice, turmeric, seaweed. Getting out the bad stuff reduces the need for regeneration.
STEP 4: EXERCISE
- Promotes restful sleep.
- But… cortisol activates the alerting mechanism in the brain. Exercise almost every day, but do it earlier in the day – at least three hours before bed.
- Nap Early—Or Not at All. If you nap too late in the day, or nap too long (an hour or more) it robs your ability to sleep later. Keep your naps short, or wait and give yourself a better chance of sleeping later.
STEP 5: POWER Down
- Reduce screen time before bed. Your TV, laptop, tablet and smart phone send a lot of information per square inch into your brain. A lot more than you can process, often. It’s very active information. Declare a curfew on screen time, at least one hour before bed. Read a book, listen to music, do a puzzle. Something in the real world.
- Reduce electromagnetic exposure. This sounds a little crazy, but think about it. Your wireless network, your cell phone, your cordless phone – they’re all throwing out electromagnetic waves all over your sleep space. We don’t know for sure that they are screwing with our heads, but we don’t know for sure they are not. If you having troubles sleeping, what have you got to lose? Turn ’em off for a few nights and see what happens.
- Look for “leaking” lights. Those twisty florescent bulbs are especially leaky. Take them out and use LED lights, and see if that helps.
And a special Bonus Step….
- Stick With It!
- If at First You Don’t Succeed…
- Not all sleep problems are easily treated – for example apnea, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy.
- If your sleep difficulties don’t improve, consult a doctor or a sleep specialist
Sleep Resources — don’t just take my word for it, consult the experts.
- Mayo Clinic
- University of Maryland Medical Center
- Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School
I hope this helps! Please let me know if you’d like help getting better sleep. I’d love to work with you.
Rest well, lovely readers.
* Though to be fair, I found all the advice on the internet and just organized it in a snazzy 5 steps.