In a perfect world we would all get 8 to 10 hours of uninterrupted deep sleep every night but that’s not the reality for most of us with jobs, deadlines and families. Quality rest has a bigger impact on our overall health than we realize; it is far more impactful than just energizing us for the next morning. Even if a large quantity of sleep isn’t possible, you can make the hours you do get count and reap all the benefits of quality sleep.
Why sleep is important:
It’s not just about being well rested; sleep provides an array of benefits. As you sleep, your brain is preparing for tomorrow. A good night’s sleep improves learning, problem solving and helps you make better decisions.National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Why is Sleep Important? Accessed on 2/22/16 from: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why
Stages of sleep
Quality really matters when it comes to getting shut-eye. Have you ever slept 8 hours and not felt refreshed or took a 20 minute power nap and felt great? It all has to do with which stage of sleep you are able to achieve. Here’s how to tell what stage of sleep you are in:
- Stage 1: Relaxed wakefulness.
- Stage 2: Easily awakened, dreaming is rare.
- Stage 3: Deep delta sleep, transition between light and deep sleep.
- Stage 4: Deep sleep. Bodily repair and cellular restoration. Builds and repairs our bodies.
- Stage 5: Dreaming state. (REM)
During sleep, you usually pass through five phases of sleep.National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. Accessed on 3/7/16 from: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/understanding_sleep.htm Not cycling through all stages can leave you feeling not as rested.
Simple ways that can help you sleep
- Sleeping Mask: This is one of my favorite tools, as it is cost-effective, great for travel and works wonders. I like a mask with a little bit of weight to it; it feels very calming and blocks out the light that may interfere with your sleep.
In fact, light is one of the most important external factors getting in our way of rest because it interferes with our internal clock.Harvard Medical School. (2015). Blue light has a dark side. Harvard Health Publications. Accessed 1/18/16 from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side This can be from sunlight if you are trying to catch a nap during the day, or artificial light, if your partner is watching TV when you’re trying to catch shut-eye, or light pollution for us city dwellers.
- Blackout Curtains: Another cost effective option is blackout curtains for the bed room. If you need or want to sleep after sunrise they are totally worth it. Don’t worry, many companies make very fashionable options for every décor, they don’t actually have to be black.
- Sleep Aid App: There is an app for everything, including helping you to fall asleep. I use one almost every night that helps me relax. A quick search will bring up a variety of options like soothing sounds, calming music or breathing exercises that help lull you.
- No Screens Before Bed: Watching TV or using a mobile device is a huge no-no when trying to get to the delta stage. The blue light these devices give off can suppress the hormone that helps us sleep, melatonin, which may interfere with our circadian rhythms.Harvard Medical School. (2007) External Factors that Influence Sleep. Accessed 1/18/16 from: http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/science/how/external-factors Harvard Medical School. (2015). Blue light has a dark side. Harvard Health Publications. Accessed 1/18/16 from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
If possible, try not to watch TV, use smart phones or tablets, within an hour of going to bed. This may be a hard habit to break (trust me, I’ve tried to use Pinterest and Facebook scrolling as a sleep aid but we all know how that goes). Try your best to kick this pesky habit. But in the meantime you can wean yourself off with some functional night time glasses that have a red tint to block out the blue called blublockers. Another great option is getting an app for your smartphone or tablet that act the same way as the blublocker glasses. They operate on a timer and naturally change the screen during nighttime hours. Harvard Medical School. (2015). Blue light has a dark side. Harvard Health Publications. Accessed 1/18/16 from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
- Bedtime snacks: You’ve probably heard its best to have your last meal at least 3 hours before bed, which is true. However, if you feel you have to have a snack before bed here are a few options that may not feel so heavy.
These recipes by Brendan Brazier are some of my favorite pre-sleep treats:
- 1/3 cup raw, rolled oats
- 1 date
- 1 teaspoon almond butter
- Cinnamon, to taste
Combine ingredients in a food processor and pulse until a smooth paste is created. Roll into little balls and start munching.
Tart Cherry Balls
- ½ cup tart cherries, dried unsweetened
- ½ cup almonds
- 3 Medjool dates
In a food processor, pulse cherries, almonds, and dates until they create a fine paste. Roll into quarter size balls.
We don’t always have control over the amount of rest we are able to get each night but we sure can take these easy steps to make it count. Give these tips a try and comment below on what works for you.