Foundations of Health Part 3: Beds are Only for Sleep and Sex
Welcome to Part 3 of Whole and Holistic’s Foundations of Health Series! This week’s topic is on sleep.
Optimal quality and quantity of sleep is an absolutely fundamental building block of health and unless you are the under the age of 10 I don’t have to convince you otherwise. What you may not know is, beyond boosting energy and brain power, sleep also regulates our hormonal pathways, our metabolism, restores our immunity and helps repair any damage to our bodies.
Pay special attention to this paragraph if your new years resolution is weight loss! For every one hour of sleep lost there is an associated 0.35 kg/m2 increase in your BMI. That is a gain of about 3 lbs for someone who is 5 ft 10. Sleep deprivation can also decrease insulin sensitivity further increasing the risk of metabolic syndromes like diabetes and heart disease. Thus, even slight sleep deprivation can reck havoc on your body which can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you are working hard to keep it healthy.
All the chronically tired parents, students, worker-bees, and insomniacs out there will probably answer too much is never enough. We live in the day and age where overworking is highly valued and there never is enough hours in the day to get sh*t done (am I right?!). Something has to give and that’s usually sleep. As you get less and less sleep, whether this is willfully or forced (3 am feedings anyone?), your overall performance suffers. One study showed when getting only 4-6 hours of sleep there is a decline in cognitive function, motor skills, and attention. Participants in this study also incorrectly guessed just how much the lack of sleep was negatively influencing their performance. Ie. they performed even worse than they felt. So how much sleep should you aim for? The National Foundation of Sleep recommends that adults get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.
Clean Up Your Sleep
Now I know exactly what you’re thinking. Yes Sarah, I understand that sleeping is important. I love it and we all know this. But how do you manage when you just can’t fall asleep? Or wake up a million and one times in the night? Or you sleep all night and still don’t feel refreshed in the morning? Everyone has individual factors contributing to why this is happens (a good reason to make a visit to your ND ;)). A great place to start optimizing your sleep is by cleaning up your “sleep hygiene”.
Sleep hygiene is a term used to describe good sleep habits and recommendations around this have been highly researched to help YOU optimize your sleep. Sleep hygiene can be done whether you are just trying to improve sleep quality and quantity or along side other strategies like medication or cognitive therapy. Here are my top five favourite (and free) sleep hygiene habits to train your body to sleep better.
Snooze Down – You need time to transition from your busy life and let go of daily stressors. This lets your body shut off rather than staying in hyper drive mode. You can do this by picking a space in your house, the same space every time, and actively let go of your day through deep breathing, mediation, or journaling. Anything that will remind your body to switch into that parasympathetic system that’s in charge of rest. By using the same space, you are training your body to associate it with relaxation and overtime this exercise will become passive rather than active.
Sleepy Ritual – Remember when your parents made you have a bedtime routine? We fall out of this as adults but as much as we like to deny it, our parents really do know best. This can look like anything you want but should start at least a half hour before the time you go to bed and should be the same every night. The sleepy ritual signals the body to start getting sleepy. My sleepy ritual (on the ideal day…) includes turning on my salt rock lamp, making a sleepy time tea, and reading a book.
Somber Space – The ideal sleeping space shouldn’t have any noises that wake us and should be completely dark (dark enough that you can’t see your hand in front of you). You may feel as if the light entering your room isn’t effecting your sleep but it actually disrupts your circadian rhythm (controlling sleep/wake cycles) and other hormonal regulation. If you can’t make your room completely dark and quiet you can use eye masks and/or ear plugs to drown it all out. They even make lavender scented eye masks for extra relaxation ;)
Spend Energy – We may be mentally tired but failing to exhaust our bodies physically can prevent us from entering a deep sleep. You can test this out by increasing the duration and intensity of your work outs along with monitoring your sleep. However, avoid strenuous workouts right before bed. Also, avoid napping as much as possible. If you have to nap, which I love to do (Dr. Margot may be the nap queen, but I am the nap princess), try to keep it under an hour and before 3 pm.
Solely Sex and Sleeping – If you do things such as answer emails, study, or pay your bills from bed you actually train your body to associate this space with these activities. You don’t want your body to connect your bed with anything other than rest so leave the bedroom to solely sleep and sex.
Weekly Challenge – This week’s challenge is going to help you start creating a successful sleepy ritual. For one week we’re going to turn off all electronics half an hour before bed. This is to avoid the blue light electronics emit that disrupts the release of melatonin, our sleepy hormone. This also acts to minimize the amount of stimulation to your brain before bed. Some of you may have apps that change the hue of light from blue to orange, which definitely helps, but exposure to our devices is still very stimulating. Set a timer half an hour before you normally go to bed to remind yourself to start your sleepy ritual and “shut off the world”.
Nighty night xo