At the end of a difficult day, sleep is a welcome release. Ever wonder why babies sleep so much? I always thought it was because they don’t have a job. Reality is that sleep is vital to growth and development. The value of sleep continues in adulthood. A good night’s sleep is credited with restoring healthy brain function and physical well-being. Basically, the way you feel when you’re awake depends on how well you sleep. Disturbed sleep is often due to various stressors with the most common reported being persistent pain, depression, and/or anxiety. In fact, a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found more than 35% of adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommends that adults sleep at least 7 hours each night to promote optimal health and well-being. Sleeping less than 7 hours is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress.
Sleep activates the human body mechanic. A study of sleep disturbance among chronic pain patients found greater self-reported pain intensity among those patients who rated themselves as poor sleepers (Morin 1998). It could be argued that more pain means less sleep, but the evidence points in the opposite direction. Experimental studies of healthy subjects suggest that poor sleep further exacerbates pain (Smith 2004). Sleep triggers healing and enhances tissue nutrition. Sleep helps restore balance to hormone levels, which keeps your appetite in check and strengthens the immune system. Sleep helps your brain form new pathways to learn skills and remember information, thus causing less stress. Sleep helps you make better decisions and improves your problem-solving skills. It sets the stage for improved mood and a positive outlook, so long as you wake with a good cup of coffee.
Sleep is a behavior, not an identity. Most of us have experienced some sleepless nights, but it is important not to accept disturbed sleep as the norm. My favorite quote from Plato: The cure of the part should not be attempted without treatment of the whole. Whether it’s recovery from surgery or healing from a chronic injury, sleep is a necessary element of the healing process. Once we have emerged alive and awake from the tissue trauma, the long journey ahead is far less difficult if we develop good sleep behaviors.
Tip 1: Sleep strategy
Establish a routine and stay on track. Go to bed at a reasonable time and make sure to set an alarm. Set two alarms if necessary, whatever it takes to prevent the worry of waking on time. Keep the bedroom cool and stay warm by slipping on a pair of socks & gloves. Sounds strange, but having warm extremities tends to help people fall asleep faster. Keep your bedroom dark and turn the cellphone off. Texting in bed is only for reality stars.
Tip 2: Reconnect sleep with the bedroom
Don’t do anything in bed except sleep and that other thing. The bed is not a place to think about the next day or plan your events. It is not a library or a theatre. The bed is a resting place. If you are not resting than get out of bed. Jot down your concerns, ideas or emotions then return to bed only when ready to rest. This is likely the most important and difficult step so be patient.
Tip 3: Regular exercise regulates sleep
It’s tough to sleep if you’re not tired. Work up a sweat at least 10-15 minutes every day. Let’s do the math – you need 7 hours of sleep each night, so that leaves over 1,200 minutes of being wide eyed awake. No excuses. You can easily dedicate at least 1% of your day to aerobic exercise.
Tip 4: Nightcaps go to your head
Drugs such as alcohol and opiates are depressants. They will make you drowsy but the effect is restlessness and disturbed sleep. If you rely on any substance to sleep, consider trying some natural methods. A glass of tart juice or some chamomile tea will help relax you before bedtime. The use of aroma sticks with lavender oil has been shown to improve sleep quality in a recent study on sleep problems in cancer patients (Dyer 2016).
Tip 5: Eat well, sleep well
Balanced nutrition is important to physical health and improved sleep. Turkey isn’t the only food capable of making us sleep better. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid needed for general health and development, producing niacin and creating serotonin in the body. A diet rich in calcium and serotonin producing foods will foster more restful sleep.
Here’s an example (not a complete list and don’t forget your colorful fruits & vegetables):
Breakfast: Oats & Eggs
Treats: Seeds & Nuts (Pumpkin, Chia, Sunflower, Cashews, Almonds)
Snacks: Tofu & Cheese (Cheddar)
Meals: Poultry & Fish with plenty of beans (white). Remember, beans are the magical fruit. The more you eat, the more you ….