While adequate sleep is crucial for our health and well-being, one in three Americans are lacking. Let’s explore some of the issues and solutions for a good night’s sleep.
Sleep is Essential
Nearly every system in the body is dependent upon deep sleep for recovery and growth. Without adequate sleep, we simply cannot function.
Adults aged 18-60 require 7-9 hours of adequate sleep per night.
Even though adults aged 18-60 require 7-9 hours of adequate sleep per night, more than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Lack of Sleep Causes Many Health Issues
Sleep debt, deprivation or deficiency is defined as “the condition that occurs if you don’t get enough sleep.” It’s associated with problems including fatigue, headaches, reduced productivity, mood and relationship issues, weight gain and higher risk for many chronic diseases: obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression, cancer and overall mortality.
“If you’re someone who regularly gets less than the recommended amount of sleep, you’re at a higher risk for many different health problems.” – Dr. Axe
Do You Have Sleep-Related Weight Issues?
Inadequate sleep can increase the hormone ghrelin, which is associated with hunger and cravings. Often, people who feel tired, crave calorie-rich foods for energy. Both these factors compound the other and contribute to obesity.
People who lack sleep report feeling more “cranky,” overwhelmed, angry, frustrated and worried. – Dr. Axe
What Constitutes Adequate Sleep?
Components of sleep include: sleep duration, sleep quality, and circadian rhythm.
People who sleep less than six hours per night have a higher risk of cancer and death from any cause. Insufficient sleep contributes to: greater “wear and tear” on cells, DNA damage and cancer; and immune system issues that lead to chronic inflammation and subsequent cancer risk.
While sleeping, we typically cycle through multiple sleep stages multiple times.
Source: Sleep Foundation
While we typically spend about 50% of our sleep in stage 2, it is in stage 3 where the brain experiences delta waves, delta sleep or slow-wave sleep (SWS). We spend about 25% of our sleeping in stage 3, mostly in the first half of the night.
Experts believe that this stage is critical to restorative sleep, allowing for bodily recovery and growth.
Healthy adults go through ~3-5 REM cycles per night, totaling around 90 minutes a night. It is known as the “mentally restorative” stage of sleep when the brain is very active, converting short-term memories into long-term ones. When people are deprived of REM sleep they have trouble recollecting things.
Failure to obtain enough of both deep sleep and REM sleep may explain some of the profound consequences on thinking, emotions, and physical health.
Our circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock covering each 24-hour day. Our brain sends signals throughout the body to optimize activity based on the time of day and changes in light and dark.
Darkness is an important contributor to circadian rhythm; it induces the pineal gland to produce melatonin. Melatonin is a key sleep hormone that tells the brain when it’s time to relax and head to bed. In addition, melatonin reduces cell proliferation and inhibits cancer growth.
Deficient levels of melatonin can contribute to (breast) cancer. Among other things, alcohol consumption, the use of beta-blockers to treat high blood pressure, and exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) negatively impact melatonin levels.
Melatonin peaks in the bloodstream between 2:00 am to 5:00 am. Those who work the night shift or irregular shifts experience irregular melatonin levels and are at higher risk of cancer. The Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has deemed shift work as “probably carcinogenic.”
Why Are We Sleeping Less?
In today’s society, generally speaking, stress levels are on the rise, we are spending more time with our electronic devices than with natural sunlight outdoors, we live increasingly sedentary lives and consume more sugary processed foods and stimulants. These factors, among others, are impacting our sleep.
In addition, people with intense anxiety, acid reflux/GERD, insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, night time pain, respiratory problems, frequent need to urinate may not properly cycle into deeper sleep stages or get enough total sleep to accumulate adequate time in each sleep stage. While these individuals may require medical evaluation and treatment, many of us can self-improve our sleep.
Solutions for a Good Night’s Rest
From Wayne Giles, M.D., director of CDC’s Division of Population Health, “Lifestyle changes such as going to bed at the same time each night; rising at the same time each morning; and turning off or removing televisions, computers, mobile devices from the bedroom, can help people get the healthy sleep they need.”
From Dr. Axe: Natural ways to prevent or treat sleep deprivation include managing your schedule and stress load, adjusting your diet and stimulant intake, exercising, spending more time outside, and creating a “nighttime routine” to help you wind down.
Since “you get what you measure,” consider body metrics devices like the Oura Ring to measure your sleep stages and cycles, steps walked, exercise goals, and more.
Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep
Regular daytime exercise, especially outdoors in natural sunlight, is one of the best ways to ensure a good night’s sleep.
Just 30 minutes a day, or 3.5 hours a week, can make it easier to fall asleep.
Don’t exercise close to sleeptime; it can be stimulating.
Manage light to manage melatonin
Get sunlight or bright light exposure during the day.
Keep it dark at night; turn off the light, television and electronics (blue light sources).
Create a physical space conducive for sleep
Remove electronics, communication and work related devices.
Make it comfortable: cozy bed items; quiet, dark and cool space.
Develop a sleep routine conducive to your circadian rhythm
Try to go to sleep and wake up at consistent times.
Avoid/minimize daytime naps.
Set a time and method to wind down, i.e. Sleepytime tea, reading, writing, meditating, praying, bathing, deep breathing, listening to calm music/tones.
Eat and drink smart in the hours before sleeptime
Avoid big meals within two to three hours of sleeptime.
Avoid acidifying foods and drinks and spices as they can cause heartburn/reflux.
Avoid alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, sugars and other stimulants that increase blood sugar levels.
Consider a small protein snack (perhaps with fiber and fats/oils but not sugar) to stabilize and maintain level blood sugar levels into the night.
Reduce fluid intake before sleeptime and try to urinate right before sleeptime.
Consider supplements 30-60 minutes before sleeptime, i.e.
Magnesium (ie threonate or glycinate)