Why does sleep matter so much?
by Nira ter Veld of Good Life Healing House
Sleep is a complex biological process that is universal. Humans, birds, mammals, and every animal species studied to date sleeps. The total amount of sleep time is one of the main differences in how we all sleep. When we sleep, we are unconscious, but our bodies and brains remain highly active. Within the body, adequate sleep has a bounty of health benefits. Sleep helps boost our immune system, prevent infection, regulate the metabolic state, control our blood sugar, maintain a healthy gut microbiome, strengthen our cardiovascular system, detoxify our organs from accumulated heavy metals and chemicals, and, last but not least, sleep is the most powerful performance enhancer known to humankind.
Sleep is the most powerful performance enhancer known to humankind.
In the brain, sleep enriches a variety of functions, including our ability to process new information, memorize, learn, and make decisions logically. Insufficient sleep is a major contributing factor to numerous physical and mental conditions, including an impaired immune system, a higher cancer risk, blood sugar imbalances, depression, anxiety, and Alzheimer’s disease.
As for COVID-19, anything that suppresses immune response can make you more vulnerable, and sleep deprivation or not enough sleep will increase your likelihood of getting sick from common cold and flu viruses alike.
Hence, sleep is critical for every component of our wellness. However, sleep is one of the most undervalued foundations of our health. Throughout developed nations, there is a global sleep-loss epidemic. According to the National Sleep Foundation, two-thirds of adults fail to obtain the recommended eight hours of nightly sleep.
Scientists and sleep researchers such as Matthew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley, California, have started to lobby doctors to “prescribe” sleep (not sleeping pills) to their patients.
According to Professor Walker, “sleep is the most democratic, freely available, efficacious form of health insurance that we all could ever wish for.” (Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams)
12 Tips for Restorative Sleep
Now that we know the importance of sleep, let’s dive in with some practical tips we can all put into practice to improve our sleep habits and sleep quality and fall in love with sleep.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on the weekends. We all have a hard time adjusting to changes in our sleep schedule. Set a “go to bed” alarm and stick to a consistent routine.
- Avoid caffeine, or at least stop drinking caffeinated beverages by mid-day. Caffeine is a stimulant, and its effects can take as long as eight hours to fully wear off.
- Exercise daily, but not later than two to three hours before your bedtime.
- Avoid alcoholic drinks before bedtime.
- Avoid large meals late at night and try to stop eating at least two to three hours before bedtime.
- Do not take naps after 3:00 pm. Late afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night.
- Relax before bed and stick to a bedtime ritual such as mediation, deep breathing, and reading.
- Take a hot bath or warm shower before bed. Keep your bedroom temperature cool—the cooler the better. For most people, the room temperature of 65-67 degrees Fahrenheit (18-19 degrees Celsius) is ideal for cooling the body toward sleep.
- Embrace total darkness in your bedroom for high-quality sleep and invest in blackout curtains if you live in urban areas where light gets into your bedroom.
- Aim for a gadget-free bedroom. Unplug unnecessary electrical devices in your bedroom and tape over any blue LEDs with electrical tape to protect the light receptors in your eyes from blue light during sleep.
- Get at least thirty minutes of natural sunlight exposure during the day. If possible, wake up with the sun or use very bright lights in the morning. After the sunset, minimize your blue light exposure from electronic devices by wearing a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses, or install a software such as F.lux https://justgetflux.com/on your computer to adjust your monitor’s color temperature and reduce the amount of blue light. You also can install amber or red lights in your home and use them at night, or use natural beeswax candles when the sun goes down.
- Don’t lie in bed awake. If you can’t sleep within twenty minutes of going to bed, get up and do a relaxing activity. Seek advice from an expert if you have continued trouble sleeping. You may have a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, which needs to be addressed properly.
- “A Good Night’s Sleep.” National Institute on Aging. Reviewed May 1, 2016. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/good-nights-sleep
- Breus, Michael. “The 10 Simple Sleep Tips Guide To Better Sleep Tonight.” The Sleep Doctor. June 6, 2020.
- Fiorenzi, Michael. “How to Start Sleeping Better.” Start Sleeping. Updated May 31, 2020. https://startsleeping.org/sleep-tips/#health
- “Healthy Sleep.” MedlinePlus. Updated April 20, 2020. https://medlineplus.gov/healthysleep.html
- Walker, Matt. “Sleep is Your Superpower.” TED Video, April 2019. https://www.ted.com/talks/matt_walker_sleep_is_your_superpower?language=en
- Walker, Matthew. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. New York: Scribner, October 3, 2017. https://www.amazon.com/Why-We-Sleep-Unlocking-Dreams/dp/1501144316
Nira welcomes your questions!
Nira ter Veld, Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach (CHHC)