Did you know that May is Better Sleep Month? We all know that lack of sleep can make us grumpy, but it can also play a role in accidents, heart disease, high blood pressure, and low libido. And if that isn’t bad enough, aging, depression, and forgetfulness are all exacerbated by lack of sleep. Optimizing sleep-wake rhythms ranks high on the list of health-promoting activities, and good sleep doesn’t cost anything. Seriously, this can change your health and change your life.
Here are my best tips for a good night’s sleep:
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Why? This will increase your body’s ability to distinguish night from day. This sounds simple, but it’s not intuitive for our bodies when our environments include artificial light, computers, television, cell phones, etc. Our bodies are confused. Instilling a routine in our sleep-wake cycle helps to clarify our need for true rest.
The Role of Cortisol in Sleep
When we get good sleep, our bodies rest and repair. How does that work? Cortisol, our stress hormone, decreases, allowing growth hormone to rise. Those two hormones are inversely related, meaning that when one is low the other is high. A sleep-wake routine that is the same every night lets the body know it’s time to rest, and time to decrease cortisol. As growth hormone rises, your body can discharge stress and allow any physical damage that’s occurred during the day to heal. There is no shortcut; you have to sleep! Now, what if you work nights? No problem, but you do need to go to bed and wake up at the same time of day, seven days a week. If you work multiple shifts, try to work toward a schedule that will give you the same shift daily, even if it’s nights.
Now of course we all have occasional events—a late night, an early meeting, a child who is sick—that will throw off our sleep-wake cycle. Just get back to it ASAP. Let that growth hormone get high at night, allowing your body to repair itself.
“Shut it Down” for 7-8 Hours
And for goodness sake, don’t let your cell phone, TV, or computer rob you of sleep. You deserve more than that. You deserve to get the rest and repair you need to live your best life. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep a night. Yup, seven. And eight would be even better. Shut down electronics an hour before sleep to allow your brain to power into rest mode. Seriously, so many chronic health issues are connected to not getting enough good sleep. Start thinking about small changes you can make to get there.
Sleep in Total Darkness
Did you know that your pineal gland, which controls your sleep-wake rhythms, is sensitive to even the smallest amount of light? So if you sleep with any light in your bedroom—from electronic devices, for example — you are causing confusion for your body and brain about when to sleep. Sleeping in total darkness tells your body and brain that it’s time for good, restful, restorative sleep. Blocking out light from all light sources—nightlights, clocks, smoke detectors—is essential for good health. Wear a sleep mask or block out light by covering all light sources in your bedroom. Allowing your body to truly rest at night can enhance energy, concentration and libido, as well as prevent premature aging.