According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night, but 35.2% of adults in the U.S. report sleeping less than 7 hours. Why is it so critical to get a full night’s rest, though? Can it really be so bad to shave a few hours off of sleeping each night?
Well, sleep deprivation has been linked to disorders like anxiety, depression, paranoia, and chronic conditions, such as diabetes mellitus and heart disease. Sleep deprivation can also affect your ability to lose weight and can increase your risk for obesity, because two important hunger hormones, leptin, and ghrelin, are regulated during sleep. When you suffer from sleep deprivation, your body doesn’t produce enough leptin, the hormone that tells you that you are full, and instead produces more ghrelin, the hormone that produces the feeling of hunger, causing you to overeat.
But sleep quality is just as important as quantity, because if you are waking up every few hours, you may be missing out on one of sleep’s greatest benefits: REM sleep. REM sleep is the 5th stage of sleep and typically occurs for the first time 90 minutes after you fall asleep, and then several times throughout the night as your sleep cycle repeats.
During REM sleep, your glucose metabolism in the brain speeds up, which is thought to improve long-term and short-term memory, as well as improve overall learning. REM sleep is also an important time for hormone release, making it vital for growth and development, making proper sleep vital for growing children and young adults. REM sleep has also been shown to help with overall energy, tissue and bone repair, cell regeneration, and immune system function.
How can you ensure you are getting the 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep your body needs to function its best? Follow these 8 tips to get your sleep hygiene (the term for sleep habits) up to par:
1. Get blackout curtains or shades.
Your brain’s sleep-wake system relies on your eyes taking in light to tell it when it is daytime and nighttime. The presence of light at nighttime can prevent your brain from producing the natural hormone melatonin, which helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. Blackout curtains block 80-100% of visible light, allowing you to have a dark environment, unaffected by the streetlight outside your window.
2. Get a white noise machine.
White noise machines produce a sound that is made of every frequency of sound you can hear playing randomly at the same volume. This “blanket” of sound helps your brain avoid waking up to sudden sounds, like a door closing roughly, and may help you fall asleep faster, as it masks ambient sounds, like the whirring of an A/C unit, which may prevent you from falling asleep.
3. Make a bedtime routine.
While this may seem like a silly suggestion aimed at children, adults can benefit from a bedtime routine as much as children. Your brain’s sleep/wake system runs circularly with your circadian rhythm, which controls when you feel sleepy and when you do not. Your circadian rhythm, also known as your biological clock, is more consistent when you are more consistent, making routine your friend when trying to improve sleep.
A good routine focuses on putting you into the mindset for sleep by reducing stress and promoting relaxation. A nighttime routine may look like putting on pajamas, brushing your teeth, washing your face, then listening to relaxing music. What you decide to add to your routine matters less than consistency, so pick relaxing things that you know you will stick to.
4. Turn off electronics or use blue-light reducing technology (blue light glasses, night-shifting technology).
Different colors of light have different wavelengths, which affects how your body reacts to each color of light. The wavelengths that are in blue light have certain benefits during the day, such as boosting attention, reaction time, and mood, but are highly disruptive at night. While light exposure of any kind can disrupt the release of the natural hormone melatonin, which as mentioned, helps you fall asleep and stay asleep, blue light seems to be worse than other wavelengths, disrupting melatonin release for twice as long as other colors like, green light.
Avoiding blue light can be as simple as putting the electronics away and setting them outside your bedroom or placing them in “do not disturb” or “bedtime” mode, so you can silence all non-emergency calls, texts, or notifications until morning. If switching your phone into silent is not an option, consider checking to see if your phone has a “night” mode where the screen shifts to predominately black backgrounds and reduces blue-light while leaving other colors of light, which has been shown to have less drastic effects on melatonin release.
5. Keep your bedroom reserved for sleep.
Get out of bed in the morning, go to bed at night and avoid spending hours of your day in or next to your bed. This helps to condition your brain into the mindset that your bedroom is a place of sleep, rather than a place for watching TV or working. While this may be difficult for those who work from home and do not have a home office, consider working in areas where your bed is at least not in your line of sight. This may not only improve your sleep but your productivity when working by making separate spaces for each activity.
6. Try meditation or yoga relaxation and calming techniques.
If you’re having difficulty falling asleep, mindfulness mediation or yoga relaxation techniques may be helpful. The process of mindfulness meditation is rather simple: you put yourself into the mindset to relax by focusing on your breathing and the present moment. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to be better at reducing insomnia and fatigue than sleep education alone.
7. Check your diet at dinnertime and avoid late-night snacks.
Late-night snacks and carbohydrate-heavy dinners can alter blood-sugar levels, affecting many processes throughout the body, including sleep. Avoid energy-spiking foods and drinks, like caffeinated coffee or tea, and even chocolate, after 3-5 PM. This will help prevent the effects of caffeine from affecting your sleep. Try to replace your warm drink at bedtime with chamomile tea, which may help sleepiness and improve sleep quality.
8. Try MaxLiving’s Sleep + Mood Formula.
When you’re not sleeping well and the above tips simply aren’t enough, several natural supplements can help induce sleepiness and promote more restful sleep by providing your body with key sleep nutrients. MaxLiving has brought these nutrients together into one easy-to-take capsule in their Sleep + Mood Formula.
This MaxLiving supplement utilizes L-5-hydroxytryptophan (L-5HTP– a precursor to the “happy hormone” serotonin) derived naturally from the seed of the Griffonia plant, and pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P-5-P), the bioactive form of vitamin B6, which helps convert L-5HTP into serotonin. Serotonin is important in the sleep cycle in its own right, but it is also the precursor to melatonin, meaning you must have sufficient serotonin levels to produce melatonin, which is the hormone that will make you sleepy.
MaxLiving’s Sleep + Mood Formula also contains inositol, which has been shown to positively affect serotonin levels and have a relaxing effect, both helpful when trying to get restful sleep. The Sleep + Mood Formula also contains melatonin, which as previously mentioned, plays an important role in inducing sleepiness and improving the quality of sleep.
About the Author
Jini Cicero is a Los Angeles-based Strength and Conditioning Specialist with a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology. With over 20 years experience as a health, fitness, and nutraceutical professional, Jini is passionate about advancing natural medicine and optimal health. Whether she’s working with Hollywood celebrities or cancer patients, Jini uniquely combines exercise science, sports nutrition, and corrective exercise. As a speaker, presenter, and writer, her work has been featured in numerous publications, such as Shape, MindBodyGreen, and The L.A. Daily News.