Our Lifestyle Medicine Spotlight this week is on the importance of sleep and how our perceived stress levels and disruptive lifestyle habits during the day affect how well we sleep at night.
The Science of Restorative Sleep
Everyone sleeps, right?
But are we aware of the importance of how we sleep and the effect on our physical, emotional, and mental health?
Many discussions of sleep are centered around how many hours a person clocks each night.
“We have 50 years of data showing that people who sleep between seven and eight hours live the longest. That relationship doesn’t seem to change too much with age,” says psychologist Michael Grandner, PhD, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona.
But the quality of the sleep you get is just as important as the quantity, if not more so, sleep experts say. “Lower-quality sleep is associated with cognitive problems, as well as a whole host of physical problems,” says Thomas Neylan, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies sleep’s role in metabolic health, cognitive function and neurodegenerative disorders. ⁴
Neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker Ph.D., and author of the excellent book ’Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams’ shares that after thirty years of intensive research, we can now answer many of the questions posed earlier.
“The recycle rate of a human being is around sixteen hours. After sixteen hours of being awake, the brain begins to fail. Humans need more than seven hours of sleep each night to maintain cognitive performance. After ten days of just seven hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for twenty-four hours.
Three full nights of recovery sleep (i.e., more nights than a weekend) are insufficient to restore performance back to normal levels after a week of short sleeping. Finally, the human mind cannot accurately sense how sleep-deprived it is when sleep-deprived.” ²
Dr. Michael Breus, who’s called The Sleep Doctor says:
“Chronic stress causes dysregulation of the sleep-wake cycle, the internal clock that tells the body when it is time to sleep and when it is time to be alert. When people experience stress during the day, they are more likely to have trouble falling asleep and report poor sleep quality that night.
Stress may reduce deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, both of which are important for mental and physical health. Stress can color the patterns and emotional content of dreams.” ³
Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day.
For example, Caffeine has an average half-life of five to seven hours. Let’s say that you have a cup of coffee after your evening dinner, around 7:30 p.m. This means that by 1:30 a.m., 50 percent of that caffeine may still be active and circulating throughout your brain tissue. In other words, by 1:30 a.m., you’re only halfway to completing the job of cleansing your brain of the caffeine you drank after dinner. ¹
Restorative sleep is absolutely essential because evolutionarily it’s the most important time of the day when we put ourselves in a state of complete unconsciousness.
Two very important things happen when we sleep: Firstly, cleansing of the brain, secondly, memory consolidation and organization.
- Brain cleansing happens through a dedicated janitorial system, which includes the lymphatic system and the microglia (a type of brain cell that picks up the debris and throws it out of the body).
- Memory consolidation is defined as a time-dependent process by which recent learned experiences are transformed into long-term memory, presumably by structural and chemical changes in the nervous system (e.g., the strengthening of synaptic connections between neurons).
6 HealthiWealthi™ Better Sleep Solutions
Many factors can interfere with a good night’s sleep — from work stress and family responsibilities to illnesses. Start by adopting these sleep-improving habits today:
- Stick to a sleep schedule
Set aside 7-8 hours of sleep. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Be consistent. If needed, read or listen to soothing music.
- Pay attention to what you eat and drink
Don’t go to bed hungry, stuffed, or intoxicated. Avoid heavy or large meals within 2-3 hours of bedtime.
- Create a restful environment
Keep your room cool, dark, quiet, and distraction-less. No light-emitting screens within 1 hour before bedtime. Take a shower, practice yoga, meditate, and prepare for sleep as you prepare for work.
- Limit daytime naps
Avoid long daytime naps. Short power naps are fine. If you work nights, nap late in the day before work to help make up your sleep debt.
- Include physical activity in your daily routine
Regular physical activity can promote better sleep. However, avoid being active too close to bedtime. Spend time in nature; breath in these negative ions.
- Manage worries
Let go of worries and psychosocial stress before sleep. Write down what’s on your mind. Start with basics, get organized, set priorities, and delegate tasks. Use Meditation also can ease anxiety. ¹
Don’t underestimate the good old night of sleep.
Start with one of the above habits and pay attention to small improvements in your energy level, mental focus, and mood. Measure your sleep quality using the SUD (Subjective Units of Distress) rating it every morning from 0-10.
How do you prepare for tonight’s sleep?
Get ready now!
¹ Johannes R. Fisslinger, HealthiWealthi™ Solutions – Health Coaching for everyone and how to get “paid” to live healthier, happier, longer, and richer.
² Matthew Walker Ph.D., Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
³ Dr. Michael Breus https://thesleepdoctor.com/mental-health/stress-and-sleep