Sleep is the most crucial factor for determining health, brain function (memory, creativity, learning), recovery, hormone function, body fat levels, inflammation and immune system.  Everyone knows sleep is important- in fact it has a bigger impact on health and aging than what you eat, how much you eat or how much you exercise. However, 35% of Americans are still not getting enough sleep. Among many other factors, this issue can be attributed to our fast-past lifestyles, constant to do’s, and advances in technology.
What is sleep?
Sleep is a period of time that every person experiences each day. In fact, 1/3 of our lives is spent sleeping. It is a time that can be characterized by altered physiological states, like brain wave activity, breathing, heart, rate and body temperature changes. A good way to think of sleep is like a house cleaner, who’s role it is to remove toxins in the brain.
Why do we sleep?
There are many theories that exist to why we sleep but the answer remains to be elusive. What we do know is that sleep is incredibly important, effecting stem cells, immune function, metabolism, memory and learning, metabolism as well as cell cycle function. Why is this? In regard to memory, research shows that neurons actually fire in reverse, which seems to reset cells, clearing unimportant information, and allowing for future memories and learning.
What happens during sleep?
Many people think that sleep is a time for the body to shut down. However, this is not the case, and in fact, sleep is a very dynamic process that follows distinct stages. These sleep stages are characterized by different physiological changes and electrical activities in the brain, eyes and muscles that can be tracked. Scientists study sleep using electroencephalograms (EEG’s), electrooculograms (EOG’s) and electromyograms (EMG’s). EEG’s measure voltages of brain activity, EOG’s measure voltage changes when the eye rotates, and EMG’s measure electrical activity associated with muscles.
With this being said, there are two main stages of sleep non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM).
NREM can be divided into 4 different stages based on the frequency of brainwaves.
REM is a fascinating time. It sleep occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and EEG scans show brain activity that is similar to when we are awake. This time it is characterized by dreaming, rapid bursts of eye movement, and almost complete paralysis to inhibit us from acting out our dreams. During this time brain activity is very similar to when we are awake, while heart rate, blood pressure increases.
Great. So, we know how important sleep is. Now what can we do to improve sleep? First, ask yourself, “Am I getting enough sleep?”.
To determine the answer, answer the following questions:
  • After waking up, could I fall back asleep around 10 am or 11 am.
  • I able to go through my morning, functioning normally, without caffeine until noon.
  • Every morning I have to press snooze multiple times.
    • If you answered yes to any of the previous questions you probably are not getting enough sleep
Tips for better sleep
  • Stick to consistent routine 365 days a year!
    • If your scheduled to wake up at 6am, then 365 days a year you should be rising within 30 minutes of that time. For instance, on the weekends make it a habit to never sleep in past 6:30am.
  • Align sleep pattern with nature.
    • Light plays a major component in optimal sleep. In order to maximize sleep scheduling, we need to align our sleep patterns with nature and the light schedules. Thus, the ideal time to sleep is between 10pm and 6am.
  • Align with temperature fluctuations
    • Body temperature fluctuates throughout the day and follows a similar pattern that nature does. Circadian rhythm regulates core body temperature. Typically, the highest body temperature peaks around 7:00pm and thereafter starts to decline until about 4:00am and begins to rise again (10). To help align your body’s natural temperature fluctuations try to have a schedule that compliments it. For example, make sure to not workout right before bed (working out raises core temperature), instead try to end your workout before 7:00 pm. Also take a warm shower or sauna before bed. Since your body temperature naturally drops before going to sleep, a warm shower or sauna will increase core temperature and will decrease after, signaling your body it’s time for bed. However, the shower should not be too cold- if the shower is too cold your body will try to raise its core temperature following the surprise of cold water (11).
  • Keep room cool
    • The ideal room temperature is between 67-69 degrees
  • Align light exposure with nature
    • light frequencies change depending on the time of day. Thus, make it a habit to get early morning sunshine exposure (5-20 minutes) every day, and eliminate blue light exposure from screens/ TV in the evenings!
  • Lastly create a sleep sanctuary!
    • Sleep in the pitch black
    • Use breathable sheets and covers
    • Make your room electronic free- get rid of the television in your bedroom.
    • Keep your phone and all electronic devices away from you at night- putting them on airplane mode
Nutrition tips
  • Avoid large meals before bed
  • Stop eating 2-3 hours prior to bed
  • Avoid caffeine late in day- cut off before 1pm
  • Avoid alcohol- make you drowsy but prohibits deeper stages of REM sleep
  • Avoid fluids 2 hours prior to bed
Sleep is critical and is the foundation of living a healthy life, and as we stated is more important that any diet regime, or exercise program. But, with these tips you should be equipped to get your best night’s rest!

You May Also Like