“…sleep? Nah, I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” I’m sure you’ve heard someone say that before. Just be careful what you wish for.
For years, sleep-deprived people tended to wear their exhaustion as a badge of honor that would portend, such a busy lifestyle, that the rest of us could only dream of being so busy (and presumably, so important.)Thankfully, we’ve gotten wiser. When it comes to foundational health, sleep “hygiene” is finally getting the attention it deserves. Yes, now that the Western world is, (excuse the pun), waking up, to the critical role sleep plays in foundational health, it’s worth understanding the basics of sleep hygiene so that you can make the most of your time between the sheets.
Humans and Other Animals
Many animal species are nocturnal; awake and alert after sundown and mostly asleep during daylight hours. Human beings are diurnal. That is, we are active during the daytime, and are inactive or asleep at night. Healthy sleep patterns for humans are based on circadian rhythms. In earlier generations, when America was more of an agrarian society, circadian rhythms followed a “sunup to sundown” cycle. Farmers arose with the sun and went to sleep when the sunset -or shortly thereafter.
Circadian rhythms are part of a twenty-four-hour cycle that includes physical and mental patterns as well as behavioral patterns. These natural processes act on daylight and darkness and affect most living things; even the microbes that populate the gut microbiome (so best to take your probiotic during the daytime.) Modern life has required many people to adapt to schedules that don’t quite fit the sunup to sundown profile. For example, workers that are required to work graveyard shifts, or those employed as police officers, firefighters, nurses, doctors, pilots, bartenders, truck drivers, and others with non-conventional work hours, do adapt to their lifestyles -but this typically comes at a cost to their health.
Graveyard shift and other workers with unconventional schedules may be at increased risk for:
- Breast cancer
- Heart disease
- Workplace injuries
- Disruption to metabolism
- Obesity and Diabetes.
Circadian rhythms are natural, physiological processes that affect how the body functions. They are as critical to health as the need for food and water. Disturbing circadian rhythms can have serious health consequences for the cardiovascular system, metabolism, digestive system, immune system, and hormonal balance.
Under normal conditions, the brain processes new information and disposes of waste as we sleep, while nerve cells communicate and regroup in order to support healthy brain function during the night. There are functions the body in general, only performs during this time. The repairing of cells, restoring of energy, and the secretion of specific hormones and proteins primarily takes place during the hours we’re asleep.
Sleep deprivation or, inadequate sleep in general, interferes with these critical functions. Everyone has experienced the occasional poor night’s sleep due to any number of factors, from having a new baby in the house to experiencing physical pain or feeling anxious about something that will take place the next day. But when difficulty sleeping becomes the norm, it’s called insomnia.
Trouble sleeping tends to fall into one of three categories: problems falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, or waking up too early. Insomnia can be the result of hormonal, or other chemical imbalances within the body, physical pain, respiratory problems, even hunger. But psychological stress (mental/emotional concerns), is the most common reason people give for being sleep deprived (more on this below.)
Respiratory issues like sleep apnea, asthma, or similar breathing problems [i.e., a deviated septum in the nasal passage(s)] can all lead to difficulty breathing and can disturb sleep. Sleep apnea, when a person repeatedly stops breathing throughout the night leaving them exhausted the following day, can be the most serious respiratory issue. Strategies for treating sleep apnea range from weight loss to use of a dental appliance (used to open your upper airway by repositioning your jaw or tongue), surgery (called a tracheostomy to put a permanent opening in your neck to your windpipe), or using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. Best to discuss these options with your doctor who may recommend running a clinical sleep test if he/she suspects your insomnia is rooted in a respiratory condition.
Sleep and Mood
When sleep-deprived, you may notice that you’re more irritable, have a shorter fuse, and less tolerance for stress. But once you’ve had a good night’s sleep, your mood will likely return to normal. A decrease of even an hour or two of less sleep can have a significant effect on mood. An older study from 1997 found that when participants were limited to only four and half hours of sleep per night, for one week, they described feeling increased stress, anger, sadness, and mental exhaustion. When they returned to their normal sleep patterns, they reported a remarkable improvement in mood.
Sleep affects mood but mood, also affects sleep. Anxiety has the effect of making one awake and alert which can create feelings of agitation and stimulation, making it harder to sleep. Day to day life imposes many stressors on the average person. From traffic to relationship problems, trouble at work or school; stress can seem omnipresent. When under constant stress, most people will tend to have trouble falling or staying sleeping.
Those with depression or anxiety often have trouble sleeping. In fact, difficulty sleeping can be the first symptom of depression. The reverse can also be true. Sleep problems can play a role in mental issues. Chronic insomnia, for example, may increase an individual’s risk of developing a mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety. Lack of sleep can be a significant risk factor for anxiety as well. Anxiety causes a state of “hyper” alertness accompanied by worry, often about the future. Scientists have recognized anxiety as being highly correlated with insomnia.
The Science Behind Sleep
Medical science has determined an adult human needs seven or more hours of good quality sleep per night. Teenagers tend to need closer to eight to ten hours and older people tend to require a bit less sleep. Our bodies were meant to handle stress in brief, intermittent bouts. But in the modern era, stressors, even those that aren’t life-threatening like traffic or worrying about passing an exam, can be seemingly constant, without reprieve, even though they are not life-threatening. Continuous, low-grade stress can take a toll on quality of life. There are strategies that can help calm these stressors to promote good health through a good night’s sleep. Effective supplementation in ideal proportions can make a significant difference in sleep quality. MaxLiving’s Sleep and Mood Formula provides key ingredients that promote restful sleep from multiple approaches, including stabilizing mood.
Solutions For Healthier Sleep
The body’s sleep/wake cycle is also known as the circadian rhythm. The hormones melatonin, and cortisol control this cycle. Sleep and Mood Formula contains melatonin which is produced at night to induce sleep. Cortisol counters melatonin in the morning to start the day. An imbalance in either hormone contributes to sleep disturbances.
MaxLiving Sleep and Mood Formula contains a powerful combination of mood-supporting nutrients to encourage emotional stability while promoting restful sleep at the same time.
A power-down hour can help relax the body and mind in preparation for sleep.
Tips for an effective power-down hour:
Beginning about an hour before bedtime:
- Turn off all electronics. The blue light emitted from the screens of devices keeps us stimulated and alert. Pick up an inexpensive pair of amber-tinted glasses to wear as bedtime approaches. The amber lenses will filter out much of the blue light signaling to your brain that it’s time to relax.
- Your body absorbs magnesium in multiple ways, including through the skin. Take an Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) bath, adding magnesium chloride flakes, if possible, for maximum relaxation.
- Fall asleep listening to a guided mediation through earphones. This will allow the recording to relax you without effort on your part.
- Diffuse relaxing essential oils like lavender, chamomile, or bergamot, just before bed, to relax your senses in preparation for sleep.
- Play music you know to be relaxing to you. Playlists can be found online to introduce you to some new, relaxing, rather than stimulating, music.
Good quality sleep is crucial to good health. Understanding how to be proactive in managing stress is something to investigate as the preferred strategies can vary from person to person. Also, consider adding some of the strategies we shared above to enjoy a restful night’s sleep -and be ready to take on the day!
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 of 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.