In our fast-paced, competitive and often over-scheduled world, sleep is often the main thing that gets compromised. However, it may be the most important thing when it comes to healing and overall well-being. The data tells us that over 60% of Americans are getting less than the minimum recommended number of hours of sleep per day, which is 7-8 hours. If we even get one hour less than that per day, over the course of a week, that’s an entire night’s worth of lost sleep. And, contrary to popular belief, sleep cannot be made up.
Sleep is Healing
The lack of sleep compromises the immune system and can have a significant effect on tissue healing. Cellular repair occurs in deeper stages of sleep which cannot be attained if sleep is disrupted throughout the night or is shorter than it needs to be. Sleep deprivation has been shown to increase local pain sensitivity as well as general nervous system sensitivity for those dealing with persistent pain.
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead!”
That’s just a line for the movies. And while I don’t want to be accused of fear-mongering, this very lack of sleep has been linked to many acquired “lifestyle” diseases that may lead to an early death, including high blood pressure, cardiac issues, stroke, and cancer. It is also associated with reduced cognitive abilities, memory, and poor decision making.
While many people and physicians would prefer to not take medicine, sleep experts often advocate that for people who have had trouble sleeping for a while, a non-addictive sleep medication maybe helpful to initially help get you back on track. However, this is something to discuss with your personal physician.
In the meantime, here are some simple strategies that you can start to employ to help improve your sleep right away:
- Know your optimal needs
- how many hours is ideal for you?
- can you wake up without an alarm clock
- do you feel rested when you wake?
- Caffeine intake
- drinking caffeine too late in the day can make it harder to fall asleep at night, so figure out when you should or shouldn’t have that last cup of coffee
- Even though it’s a depressant, drinking alcohol too late in the evening can impair your ability to get into the deep, restorative sleep that we need
- being adequately hydrated throughout the day is important but drinking too much liquid late can cause you to have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, disrupting a restorative sleep
- Limit blue light exposure 1 hour before bedtime
- computers, tablets, cell phones
- blue light blocks the action of melatonin, which is important for helping induce sleep
- Create a “power-down hour” routine for yourself
- hot bath/shower
- stretching, foam-rolling
- deep diaphragmatic breathing/meditation
- Some sleep experts like Dr. Michael Breus argue that TV may be okay for some people because it is usually located across the room so the blue light exposure isn’t as intense as using something close up like a computer, tablet, or phone. But he does advocate for not watching anything too intense since you don’t want to elevate your heart rate too high.
The Secret Strategy That All Infants Know
Life happens. There are deadlines, family issues, accidents, delayed flights, and work or school projects. We may have a night or two during the week where we are unable to get that 7-8 hours. But before you get dismayed about missing out on a good night’s sleep, there’s one more thing to consider- the all powerful nap.
20-25 minutes is the ideal maximum time for a mid-day nap. Going too long can actually put you into a deeper sleep and can be harder to come out of and you can often feel more groggy and not as rested.
However, you don’t want napping to become a habit- it is an effective tool to use when needed, but is not really a replacement for good quality nightly sleep.
Bottom line, whether you’re recovering from injury, dealing with persistent pain, or handling a lot of stress in your life, make sleep a priority, just as you would exercise and brushing your teeth. Not only will you feel better in the short term- more alert, energetic, and productive, but you will be taking steps towards improving your long-term health as well.
To your health,