By Betsy Bartlett
Oh, the irony! March is National Sleep Awareness Month and March 6th-13th is National Sleep awareness week. But, we set our clocks ahead for daylight savings and lost an hour of sleep on March 11th!
Sleep is one of the important pillars of good health; equally important as healthy food, pure water, and exercise. An increasing number of studies demonstrate how sleep relates to your sleep-wake cycles and plays a central role in multiple processes that are key to your health. Fifty to seventy million US adults have a sleep disorder with 37.9% of adults report unintentionally falling asleep during the day and 4.7% reported nodding off or falling asleep while driving!1 Even if neither of those things has ever happened to you, you’ve most likely noticed suffering from bad moods and poor energy levels from lack of sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation can also lead to depression, weight gain, an increased risk of diabetes and cancer. A lack of sleep may also increase your risk for dementia. Researchers from University of California Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab discovered that a lack of sleep leaves your brain more vulnerable to proteins believed to trigger dementia.2
So, how do we get enough quality sleep? Especially when it seems like there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done.
Can I get an AMEN to that?
Even with extra hours in the day, we’d still be taking hours off our lives if we don’t get good, quality sleep. Here are a few things to try:
Set A Schedule:
You need to go to bed and wake up at the same times every day, your body becomes accustomed to the routine. This helps regulate your circadian clock so you fall asleep and stay asleep all night. Keep this routine even on the weekends.3
Get Some Light:
Get plenty of bright sunlight exposure in the morning and at noon. Exposure to the bright light first thing in the morning stops production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and signals to your body that it’s time to wake up. Outdoor sunlight is best, so you might even want to take a quick walk outside. Not only will this increase in physical activity help you sleep later, but taking your walk outdoors — either first thing in the morning or around noon when the sun high — gives you more exposure to bright sunlight. Light intensity is measured in lux units, and on any given day, the outdoor lux units will be around 100,000 at noon. Indoors, the typical average is somewhere between 100 to 2,000 lux units, about two orders of magnitude less.3
Your body thrives on exercise and movement. It not only reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders, but exercise will help you get to sleep more easily and sleep more soundly. However, your body also releases cortisol during exercise, which may reduce your melatonin secretion. Exercise at least three hours before bed, and earlier if you can.4
The foods you eat and nutrients you absorb can positively affect your sleep. A study published in Sports Medicine out of France was conducted to help better understand ways to improve the sleep of elite soccer players given their chaotic schedules, late-night games and need for recovery through a good night of sleep. The study found that by consuming carbohydrates — such as honey and whole grain bread — and some forms of protein, especially those that contain serotonin-producing tryptophan like turkey, nuts and seeds, it helped promote restorative sleep.5 According to the European Neurology Journal, calcium levels are at their highest during our deep rapid eye movement (REM) sleep periods. What this means is that if you never get to the REM sleep phase or if it’s limited, it could be related to a calcium deficiency. Researchers indicate that the calcium is important because it helps the cells in the brain use the tryptophan to create melatonin, a natural body-producing sleep aid.6
And lastly, even though I could go on for pages, there is Magnesium. Studies have shown that higher magnesium levels can help induce a deeper sleep, and as I noted, this is especially true when taken together with calcium for better absorption. Research from the Biochemistry and Neurophysiology Unit at the University of Geneva’s Department of Psychiatry indicate that higher levels of magnesium actually helped provide better, more consistent sleep since magnesium is a calming nutrient.7
Like I said, March is National Sleep Awareness Month, so make it a point this month to start some of these habits to work towards a more quality night of sleep. And don’t forget to set your clocks ahead!
- Lack of Sleep May Lead to Dementia: New Research Finds It Makes Brain Vulnerable. (2016). Cal Alumni Association.
- Healthy Sleep Tips. (2016). Sleepfoundation.org. Retrieved 22 June 2016
- Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep | Healthy Sleep. (2016).