This article first appeared on drcarp.com.
If there is one thing our busy, 24/7 culture often neglects, it’s sleep. What’s worse, workaholics and social butterflies seem to glorify sleep deprivation. What’s alarming here is insufficient sleep has become a public health problem, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms. The American Sleep Association reports that around 50 to 70 million Americans already have a sleep disorder.
You will find in many of my videos and articles that I talk about sleep a lot, but this article will focus on sleep alone. This will cover everything you need to know about sleep: the risks or poor sleep, the causes of poor sleep, sleep hygiene, herbal remedies for sleep and the vitamins and minerals that can also help you get the sleep you need.
Risks of Poor Sleep
Poor sleep raises your cortisol, the stress hormone. This can lead to weight gain, lowered immunity and increased diabetes risk. In fact, just one night interrupted sleep can actually affect your blood sugar for 48 hours.
Cortisol also makes the fat cells get bigger. When this happens, you’ll get increased inflammation, there’s heightened pain sensitivity, as well as increased risk of stroke.
Have you also noticed how you tend to overeat or crave more food when you’re sleep deprived? That’s because sleep directly affects leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that tell you when you feel hungry or full.
Chronic sleep loss and sleep disorders have been associated with increased risk of depression, obesity, hypertension, heart attack, and stroke. It has also been linked to increased accident risk and impaired cognitive performance.
Why You Can’t Get a Good Night’s Sleep
There are many reasons why you can’t sleep:
Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. All of these stimulate the dopamine receptors in the brain, which lead to a form of excitability. Don’t be fooled into thinking that alcohol is a sedative that will help you fall sleep; it will often do just the opposite.
Shift work. Work nights or rotating shifts can lead to poor sleep because these disrupt your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm. The National Sleep Foundation compares this to having a continual jetlag where the circadian system doesn’t get the chance to fully adjust or catch up.
Repression of feelings. Repressed feelings and thoughts can keep you awake at night. Not surprisingly, excessive worrying and anxiety are also causes of poor sleep.
Medications. Decongestants, MOA inhibitors, SSRIs, steroids, chemotherapy, calcium channel blockers, beta-agonists, and theophylline can also cause you to have interrupted sleep. If you’re on one of these medications, talk to your doctor about it if it’s affecting your sleep.
Sleep hygiene is the concept of making sure you’re putting yourself, your environment, your mental state, and everything else around you in the position for you to have a good night sleep. These counts environmental factors like noise, temperature, and light.
Here are the things that you can do to improve sleep hygiene:
Avoid screen time a few hours before going to bed. Exposure to blue light from screens, from just a couple of hours before sleep, can affect your sleep cycles. There are people out there now who wear blue-blocker sunglasses at nighttime to prevent the blue light even from certain types of light bulbs to get into their eyes because it can affect their sleep. Avoid TV screens, computer screens, cellphone screens for at least a few hours before going to sleep.
Avoid large meals and exercise before you go to sleep. There are only two activities that you should be doing in bed and one is sleep. I think you probably know what the other one is. Nothing else besides those two. That means no snacking and no watching TV in bed, especially if you’re having trouble sleeping. Reserve your bed for sleep so that when you get into bed, it triggers a mental association with sleep and you’re programmed to doze off when you see your bed.
Get everything out of your head onto paper. This suggestion came from Brian Tracy who is a business coach as well as an efficiency expert. Make lists before you go to sleep, so you don’t go to bed thinking and worrying about what you need to do the following day.
Think about this step as handing everything over to the paper. If you are practicing a religion, then hand it over to God. In fact, as you’re falling asleep, feel like you are giving all these problems over to God and get them out of your head. That’s the most important thing and getting them onto paper is liberating. Journaling also helps.
Develop a sleep ritual. Establish relaxing routines that you can do each day before going to bed. An example would be to take a shower, and then to read a book, and then to enjoy some herbal tea, and then to show love to your loved ones. Make it a sequence of events and follow it every time you go to sleep. This will program your body and your mind to get into that sleep-inducing state, so you can get the rest you need.
Herbs, Minerals, and Vitamins
Several herbs, minerals, and vitamins have been reported to help with sleep. These are:
Melatonin. You’ve probably heard that melatonin and L-tryptophan, which is a pre-cursor of melatonin, are beneficial for sleep . You have also probably been told that when you eat a lot of turkey, you get sleepy because of L-tryptophan. That’s because melatonin regulates your sleep and wake cycles.
Magnesium. Unfortunately, almost everyone is magnesium-deficient. It is one of the supplements that I recommend everyone to take. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep or you’re trying to optimize your sleep, magnesium three and eight is the one that you should get. This allows the magnesium to penetrate the blood brain barrier and to get into the brain.
Zinc. Zinc has been found to have antidepressant and calming effects, which can help you sleep better.
Herbs. The following herbs are great for sleep: Valerian, chamomile that you can take as a tea, passion flower, lemon balm, lavender as oil aromatherapy, and bioactive milk peptides. The Life Extension Foundation provides information on herbs that will help with sleep.
This is a short tutorial on how to improve your sleep. I have mentioned before and I’ll mention again how it’s important for all of us to be continually optimizing and improving factors that affect our health. In terms of nutrition for example, we should always be choosing higher quality ingredients. The same thing goes for sleep, we should make it a priority and continuously improve it.
Sleep is something that we often ignore, but it’s important that we look at sleep from an objective perspective.
From a physical perspective, we need it for our bodies to completely be rested. From an emotional perspective, when we are stressed and when we’re not getting enough sleep, we’re not able to handle emotional crisis the way we normally would.
Intellectually, our brains are able to focus and think clearer when we’re getting quality sleep. And then spiritually speaking, we have to realize that this regeneration of our body and our mind that happens when we sleep is important for our spiritual growth, because it allows us to be able to connect in a way that is easier because we are not stressed. Take a look at sleep from all these different perspectives.
A lot of the information here were taken from the Life Extension Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to “radically extending human lifespan by discovering scientific methods to control aging and eradicate disease.” Visit their website if you want to get more information, especially on insomnia.