Are You Getting Enough Sleep and Is It The Right Quality?
Firstly, what is the right amount of sleep? Well researchers quote between 7-9 hours sleep a night. It is down to the individual to you to decide whether you can function well on 7, 8 or 9 hours. Which amount of sleep leaves you ready to spring out of bed in the morning? If the answer is “no amount of sleep leaves me springing out of bed” then read on, as I explore how sleep quality is just as important as duration.
Importance of both the Right Amount of Sleep and the Right Quality of Sleep
Researchers have found that skimping on sleep, and also have over 9 hours sleep, can both increase your chances of getting Type II Diabetes. Lack of sleep or disrupted sleep quality can also increase inflammation, affect your heart health and blood pressure, cause you to go into fight or flight mode (which means your body cannot digest, your brain cannot process as effectively and your body can’t repair), cause weight gain due to disruption to the hormones which signal to your brain that you are full after eating and even increase your chances of colorectal cancer or all-cause mortality!
So what do we mean by quality of sleep?
Well a good night’s sleep should leave you feeling refreshed the next morning. During the night our body uses sleep to repair and detoxify and we actually carry out the most detoxification between the hours of 10pm and 12pm, so I advise all my clients to have their head on the pillow by 10pm, something for all you night owls to consider.
For those of you with adrenal issues, you may find that you have something called “day night reversal” where you have more energy at night. This is because your cortisol levels are dysregulated. Cortisol is the hormone that wakes you up in the morning and should lower throughout the day so that you can sleep at night. Often people with adrenal dysregulation get a second wind around 11pm so ideally you want to try and get to sleep before then if at all possible. But, as always, with adrenal dysregulation you do need to look at addressing the root causes, of which there can be many. There is a great app called Sleep Cycle which you can use to monitor how deeply you are sleeping https://www.sleepcycle.com/how-it-works/
Hints and Tips to Improve Sleep
So how do we go about improving our sleep?
Caffeine, which is found in tea, coffee and chocolate, can affect your sleep quality for over 6-8 hours so I always recommend steering clear of anything with caffeine in from at least 2pm in the afternoon. This is true of other stimulants as well, such as tobacco.
Alcohol may seem like it’s getting you off to sleep but the actual quality of sleep after alcohol is poor. Not only is it a diuretic, dehydrating and toxic to the brain, but it also switches off REM sleep, the most restorative type of sleep, so steering clear of alcohol a good few hours before bed if not altogether can help improve sleep quality.
Staying away from food for up to 4 hours before sleeping can help us sleep more deeply as our body is not busy trying to digest food, which is a big stress on the body. The caveat to this is those with blood sugar dysregulation, who would do well to have a little resistant starch before bed to stop their cortisol spiking throughout the night and waking them up. However, as usual, looking at ways of addressing blood sugar issues is an even more effective strategy, which a naturopathic nutritionist can help you with.
Light after Sunset
You may well have heard about the effects of blue light on melatonin production, the hormone that assists us, amongst other things, to sleep deeply. Blue light emits from electrical devices such as computers, smart phones, digital displays on clocks or radios, etc. There are a number of apps out there such as F.lux which you can download onto your computer to enable it to dim the blue light emitting from the screen and later smartphones tend to have built in blue light dimmers that you can switch on in their settings.
For those devices where you cannot dim the blue light, the answer is simple – blue light blocking glasses such as Blu Blockers that you wear after the sun goes down. These are ideal, as it’s not just blue light but also strip lighting, lightbulbs, the light in the fridge, in fact any type of lighting that can upset the body’s melatonin production other than orange or red lighting. So another helpful tip is to change your lightbulbs to orange or red ones wherever possible.
Electronics emit frequencies that can interfere with your sleep. Even when you put your smartphone on airplane mode, it is still emitting, so switch everything off (including switching stuff off at the plug) and position your bed away from any electrical cables or plug sockets.
Wi-fi signals have been shown in research studies to significantly affect the quality of our sleep as well as our overall health. Whilst we may be surrounded by wi-fi from our neighbours, we can ensure that we reduce our exposure by turning our own wi-fi off before sleep or, even better, hard wire our devices and switch the wi-fi in your home off permanently.
Darkness in the Bedroom
How dark is your bedroom? If there is light coming into the room from devices or seeping through the window from street lights, that can all affect your sleep quality. Practical solutions include black out blinds or eye masks.
Your Body Clock
Getting up and going to bed at the same every day sets your body clock. Lying in at weekends completely disrupts your body clock, so come Monday morning your body is expecting to lie in again, so regular waking up and sleeping times will help immensely.
Regular moderate exercise at least 4 hours away from sleep, if not more, will also help improve sleep quality. Beware of overtraining as this can actually spike your cortisol levels and lead to adrenal dysregulation.
You might be surprised to hear that it’s not just the lighting at night but also the light that you take directly through your retinas first thing in the morning that can help to reset our sleep / wake rhythms. Try getting 20 minutes of either direct sunlight or full spectrum daylight directly into your retinas (without glasses or contact lenses) every morning.
Hydration can hugely impact on the quality of your sleep. I was on sleeping pills for years and still only getting 3 hours of sleep a night, but when I started to hydrate I never had a problem with insomnia again and was able to come off the sleeping pills. We lose water naturally even when sleeping as we lose it through our breath. So check out my blog on hydration to read more about how to keep hydrated.
According to the Sleep Council, “hot, cold and draughty rooms can seriously impact on your sleep.” They suggest that the ideal room temperature for a good night sleep should be between 16 to 18°C (60 to 65°F).
Relaxation v. Stimulation
Switching off stimulation 2 hours before bed can help our brain settle down in preparation for sleep. Stimulation can take the form of work, study or even stimulating TV programmes. If you can do anything to actually slow your brain waves down, such as alternate nostril breathing or using apps such as Heartmath, that can also be a great help.
Magnesium levels can also impact how well you are able to relax. Naturopathic techniques such as Epsom salt baths and footbaths or taking magnesium citrate can all help, as can techniques that redirect blood flow away from the brain to the feet.