Is Sleep the Forgotten Part of Your Perfect Health Routine?
Getting enough quality sleep each night is essential for the health of our body and mind. We’re all familiar with the fatigue, irritability, and poor productivity the day after a late night or when we haven’t slept well. However, chronic lack of sleep has other negative health consequences.
When we are in a state of deep sleep, the body can rest, repair and heal. Sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality have been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, memory loss, type-2 diabetes, low-immunity and poor wound healing as well as anxiety and depression.
A chronic lack of sleep is also associated with increased production of the hunger hormone ghrelin and impaired insulin sensitivity. This results in poor blood sugar control, weight gain and difficulty losing weight despite dieting and exercising.
Chronic poor sleep has also been associated with many health diseases; Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD), T2 Diabetes, Cancer as well as increased risk to Dementia.
No matter how well you eat or exercise, if you aren’t getting quality sleep none of this will matter and your health will suffer. There are many lifestyle and dietary factors that we know can impact our quality of sleep. Eating late, drinking alcohol and caffeine as well as smoking can all impact sleep quality and quantity.
By addressing these habits and focusing on good sleep hygiene protocols we can improve the length and quality of sleep that has lasting benefits throughout our life.
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is a collection of good habits that we should use in the time leading up to bedtime. Recommendations include; avoiding caffeine and nicotine especially in the evening, reducing alcohol intake (a sign of over drinking is waking in the middle of the night), setting up a regular sleep time and rising at the same time most days of the week. Elimination of noise and distraction in the bedroom are also essential for quality sleep.
How Blue Light Disrupts Sleep Hygiene
One of the major disruptors of sleep hygiene is our ever-increasing exposure to artificial blue light, a powerful light wavelength that indicates to the brain that it’s daytime.
As the daylight wanes each evening, the pineal gland in the brain should release a hormone called melatonin which prepares the body for sleep. However, electronic devices like TVs, smartphones, tablets, Kindles, computers and artificial lights all emit blue light which mistakes our brain into thinking it is daytime, reduces our body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin and encourages wakefulness.
The good news is there are easy ways to reduce this risk to our sleep hygiene.
1. Get some natural sunlight.
Bright sunlight exposure during the day can regulate your internal body clock, the circadian rhythm, and improve sleep quality and length. One study found that office workers who were exposed to high levels of light in the morning had better sleep quality and fell asleep faster compared to those who had less light exposure in the morning. Workers with greater light exposure during the whole day also had improved sleep quality.
If you go to work in the dark and come home in the dark, it is essential that you get some sunlight exposure during the day. May sure you take a lunch break and get outside. Invest in day light that you can use at your desk during the morning that mimics natural daylight. You can improve your sleep by getting outside (even if it is overcast) within an hour of waking up. Stretch outdoors in the morning, eat breakfast on the patio, go for a morning walk, and sit outside during your coffee or lunch break.
2. Exercise regularly.
Studies have shown that exercise is one of the best ways to reduce insomnia and get better sleep. To improve your sleep hygiene, engage in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise like swimming or brisk walking for at least 30 minutes per day. If possible, exercise is best done before 4pm in the afternoon to ensure a drop in your cortisol production.
3. Keep your bedroom dark, cool, quiet and comfortable.
These are simple things you can do to make sure that your bedroom is the perfect environment for sleep. Remove all light emitting devices from the bedroom and invest in some black-out curtains or use an eye mask to reduce as much light exposure as possible.
If you live in a noisy house or neighbourhood, get a pair of comfortable earplugs. On that note, it’s best to keep your animals out of the room at night as they can wake you up by making a noise, scratching and climbing over you.
You should also keep your room cool at night to encourage sleep. Our body temperature naturally drops when we fall asleep, so if we’re too hot our body raises our cortisol levels and we’ll struggle to stay asleep.
4. Use blue light blocking glasses.
While it’s beneficial to avoid blue light for 1-2 hours before bed, there is no need to throw out your TV, smartphone and electronics! You can buy blue-light blocking glasses that are amber or red tinted and will make sure you still produce enough sleep hormone at night. A study found that people using blue light blocking glasses at night - while exposed to bright light produced more melatonin than those using the grey control glasses.
5. Remove distractions from the bedroom.
Stimulation from using computers, smartphones and gaming devices before bed can impair the body’s ability to transition into sleep. You can avoid this trap by making sure your bedroom is a sacred space for sleep and intimacy only.
Remove all distractions such as the TV, computer, tablet, smartphone, landline phone, gaming devices and light emitting clocks. If you normally exercise or work in your bedroom, move your exercise equipment, desk and laptop to another room. This will encourage an association in your brain between the bedroom and sleep, instead of alertness.
6. Create a regular sleep and wake schedule.
Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day is an important habit that will reduce insomnia and re-train your circadian rhythm. One study found that having a consistent sleep and wake schedule resulted in better sleep onset and maintenance during the night. Since adults need about 7-8 hours of sleep per night, make sure you leave enough time to achieve this. For example, if you need to wake up at 6 am, use a battery-operated alarm clock and set it for 9 pm to remind you to begin your night time routine, as well as for when you need to wake in the morning.
7. Have some wind-down time.
A bedtime routine isn’t just for kids. Having a relaxing routine an hour before bed can help to calm down the mind, create a habit and signal to the brain that it’s time for sleep.
Your bedtime routine may look like this:
One hour before bedtime turn off the TV and computer, put all work away, and switch off your smartphone.
Have a 10-minute warm bath or a shower, making sure your bathroom has amber light bulbs.
Do 10 minutes of gentle yoga or stretching with soothing music playing in the background.
Read for 30 minutes under a amber light, listen to an audiobook, or meditate and focus on your breathing.
Here is a link to YouTube on alternate nostril breathing that you may like to use https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VwufJrUhic
8. Replace the light bulbs in your home.
Bright white and yellow lights in the home emit very high amounts of blue light and keeping the lights on until we’re ready to go to sleep can disrupt sleep length and quality.
You can improve your sleep hygiene by replacing regular light bulbs around the house with warm amber bulbs that don’t emit blue light. These bulbs provide enough light to read and do all your evening activities, while not suppressing melatonin and preparing you for a good night’s sleep.
You may like to use a night light in the bathroom if you are prone to getting up. This will stop the need to turn on bright lights and reducing your ability in getting back to sleep.
9. Avoid coffee and alcohol in the evening.
You may find that drinking at night helps you to nod off, but the truth is that alcohol disrupts the deep reparative stage of sleep known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
Avoiding alcohol in the three hours leading up to bedtime will go a long way to improving your shut-eye. Coffee contains the stimulant caffeine that crosses the blood-brain-barrier and encourages wakefulness and nervous energy by blocking the effects of the neurotransmitter adenosine.
Caffeine’s half-life (the time taken to eliminate half the caffeine from the body) is variable in everyone based on your genetics. Some people may still feel the impact of that PM coffee up to 8 hours after having it. This may mean you are waking at 2 to 3 AM and will have trouble getting back to sleep.
10. Supplements that improve your sleep.
There are several Nutritional Supplements and Herbal remedies that have been shown to help improve sleep quality.
Whilst most are harmless, herbal supplements should only be used under the guidance of a qualified Herbal Practitioner. These include; magnesium, gaba, glycine, zinc, B6 and herbal remedies such as Withania (Ashwagandha), Passiflora, Magnolia, Hops, Valerian and Kava.
It may take some time for new habits and sleep patterns to return but it is worth the perseverance to ensure your sleep quality is a part of your health plan. When you see the amazing benefits that you will gain from a good night’s sleep, you’ll be grateful that you didn’t give up.