- - Monday, March 7, 2016

Adequate, quality sleep is vital to our health and well-being. People generally understand sleep makes them feel better but don’t fully understand that its depth and breadth of importance goes way beyond a better mood or removing dark circles under eyes.

My hope is that you understand how vital quality sleep is to help protect you (and yours) physically, mentally as well as for your quality of life and overall safety. Adequate sleep is important for every one of us during all ages (no exclusions), greatly benefitting our heart, brain, immune system, hormones, weight, daily output, balance, relationships and more.

There is no substitute for sufficient sleep and as our nation observes Sleep Awareness Week beginning March 6th my hope is this information will help to provide understandings on how the lack of sleep undermines the quality of our lives and makes us more vulnerable to illness. Furthermore, what actions to take to help break some unhealthy habits and gain control for the healthy recuperative (and redemptive) effects of quality, sufficient sleep and rest.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Getting A Good Night of Sleep

Electronic Devices
The screens on smart phones, televisions, computers, and tablets emit light that can impair the production of our body’s sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Melatonin is often referred to as the “Dracula” hormone because it is only released when it is dark. And this was clever in design: we want to be asleep at night and be awake during the day when it is light.

Experts recommend powering down and unplugging at least thirty minutes before sleep time (some even recommend 2 hours!). However, this may prove challenging to the vast majority of us. One study revealed that up to 90 percent of adults use their phone or check emails before going to sleep. If this is you, continue to make efforts to curb usage for non-essential communication while turning down the brightness and positioning it at least 12-inches away from your eyes.

Be Cautious of Caffeinated Drinks and Food Items
Caffeine is a stimulant and one of the many reasons we enjoy savoring a cup or two of coffee in the morning—it can help to jumpstart our day. However, for those with sleep disturbances, drinking coffee—or other caffeinated drinks such as tea, soda, or consuming chocolate—as the day progresses, can contribute to difficulty falling asleep.

It takes our liver approximately 5-7 hours to clear out half of the caffeine and 8-10 hours to clear out seventy-five percent from our body. What this translates to is that half of the caffeine from an espresso at noon will be lingering in our systems at 5 to 7 pm (and a quarter of the caffeine will still be present in our body at 8 to 10 pm).

What About Alcohol?
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and can help people doze off to sleep. However, it can interfere with staying asleep. Studies have shown that it disrupts the important rapid eye movement sleep stage, known as REM, which starts approximately 90 minutes into our slumber. The REM sleep stage is restorative, a time where we dream and memories are consolidated. There is some evidence to suggest that poor REM quality can cause an inability to notice mistakes, result in poor impulse control (food cravings, aggression), and an inability to properly concentrate. And, too, many antidepressants and heavy smoking can also interfere with REM sleep. If you choose to have an alcoholic beverage near bedtime, try limiting it to one drink.

Feast smartly
The sound of our stomach growling can prevent us from falling asleep and may even wake us up from our sleep. So how do we balance silencing our hunger without the ill-effects of a late night snack or meal (acid reflux, weight gain, nightmares)? The key is to choose foods with vitamins, minerals, and other contents that can aid our sleep while keeping it less than 200 calories. Some suggestions include lean proteins, nuts, cheese, a glass of milk, and foods with complex carbohydrates while avoiding sugary and fatty items.

Learn to Sleep Like A Baby By Creating Routines
For many of us, falling asleep does not come with an on and off button. By creating a soothing, pre-sleep routine, we can achieve a smooth transition or continuum, similar to how we create for our children (dimming the lights, playing soft music, reading, and warm baths).

Take the time to find and engage in enjoyable and relaxing activities in the hour before it is time to doze. Examples include those mentioned above for our children, and, too, reading, meditating, spending quality time with loved ones, praying, or doing yoga. Make sure to avoid ones that can stimulate us such as arguing, work, or heavy exercise prior to bedtime.

And it is important to note that deviations from our sleep routine—time we go to sleep, wake up, napping—can confuse our body’s internal clock. Sleep experts recommend that we avoid sleeping in on the weekends or staying up way too late (or any day of the week) and long naps (particularly late in the day).

Putting our worries to rest
Worries about money, work, relationships, and health concerns can race through our heads and prevent us from getting a good night of sleep. One technique that experts recommend to put our worries to rest—so we can get our rest—is to write them down. Penning our thoughts can help us process our emotions, solve problems, mentally prepare for the following day, plan, and remove negative thoughts so sleep does not evade us.

Our bodies need sleep – and lots of it – about 8 hours per day. Yet, on average, Americans get in about 6.5. We sacrifice sleep in order to squeeze more in, to have more time doing what we want to do, or to “get more done.” But as experts point out …it’s not working. It’s actually making us less productive. And our health is suffering because of it. We’ve become increasingly more dependent on caffeine and sugar to keep us going. It’s a vicious cycle when what our body needs is good rest and quality sleep.

There is no substitute for refreshing sleep – and sufficient sleep is definitely not wasted time. It’s a foundational building block for you to have a more healthy, productive, balanced life. Let’s do it — let’s make sleep a priority – let’s live healthier, everyday! Carpe diem.

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