The Importance of a Good Night's Sleep
If there was a supplement that improved memory, attention, energy, decreased muscle loss, hunger, stress levels and was associated with an overall decrease in chronic disease would you take it?
Chances are, it would be one of the most popular and expensive supplements on the market. But guess what? It’s free! Getting a good night’s sleep provides all of the above, and more! One of the most important things you can do to improve your health is to get a good night sleep.
What is a ‘good sleep’?
A ‘good sleep’ varies for each individual, but the average is 8 hours for optimal benefits. However, according to Public Health Canada, 50% of adults have trouble falling or staying asleep, 20% wake up unrefreshed in the morning and 33% have difficulty staying awake during the day.1
Not only can poor sleep lead to fatigue the next day but it has larger implications on our physical and mental health.
If we’re sleep deprived we have poor learning and memory formation as well as trouble making decisions and solving problems.2 Sleep also impacts our mood. Studies show that sleep depravation leads to difficulties controlling emotions and coping with changes in our environment. 3
There is also a strong correlation with sleep and depression with about 90% of depressed patients reporting sleep problems and on the other hand, those with sleep disorders have significantly higher rates of depression.3
Additionally, sleep deprivation increases our risk for chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and stroke.4 It also plays a role in obesity. Increase sleep loss has been shown to have proportional impact on weight gain; most likely because of sleep’s impact on insulin and hormones which control our hunger, as well motivation to exercise. 5
On top of muscle and tissue repair, while sleeping, our body creates and releases cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation in the body. A lack of sleep therefore can impact our immune health. One large 2-week study monitored the development of the common cold after giving people nasal drops with the cold virus.6 They found that those who slept less than 7 hours were almost 3 times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept 8 hours or more.6
So, we know sleep is a key factor in a healthy lifestyle, but what do you do if you’re struggling to fall and or stay asleep?
Get a routine.
The most important first step is setting up a bedtime routine. This could be having a shower or relaxing bath, reading a book 30 mins before bed or even taking 5 minutes to do a small mediation or breathing to allow yourself to unwind. Try to stick to a similar routine every night at the same time. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each night has be proven to have major improvements on sleep cycles. 7 When you stick to the same cycle, your circadian rhythm is more regular and is more effective at producing melatonin. This can also boost energy throughout the day. It’s also important to try and stick to this schedule even on weekends.
Ditch the electronics.
Secondly you want to try and limit or completely put away electronics 2 hours before bed. This might not be possible, so if need be turn brightness down, put your device on night mode and invest in a pair of blue blocker glasses. The exposure to a large amount of light throws off your circadian rhythm and tricks your brain into thinking it is daytime rather than night which limits the amount of melatonin produced.
Bedrooms are for sleeping.
On top of limiting your electronics, try to keep them out of your bedroom in general. Limit the work you do in your room, your brain should associate your bed with sleeping, not work emails and Instagram. Your bedroom should be a quiet relaxing dark place at night. You may want to invest in some dark curtains and some ear plugs in order to block out noise and light.
Be physically active for 30-60mins throughout the day. Exercise tires us out and helps us both fall asleep and stay asleep. Some people find exercise too stimulating late at night so a morning workout may be better if you’re still struggling with sleep.
The following supplements can be used to assist with both relaxing before bed and helping you stay asleep, however always consult a healthcare professional before stopping your medication or adding in a new medication or supplement.
- Lavender essential oil
- Lemon balm, chamomile, or passion flower tea
- Omega-3 fatty acids- specifically DHA levels are associated with better sleep, including less bedtime resistance sleep disorders and increased total sleep time.
- Walker MP, Liston C, Hobson JA, Stickgold R. Cognitive flexibility across the sleep–wake cycle: REM-sleep enhancement of anagram problem solving. Cognitive Brain Research. 2002 Nov 1;14(3):317-24.
- Tsuno N, Besset A, Ritchie K. Sleep and depression. The Journal of clinical psychiatry. 2005 Oct
- Cappuccio FP, Cooper D, D'Elia L, Strazzullo P, Miller MA. Sleep duration predicts cardiovascular outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. European heart journal. 2011 Jun 1;32(12):1484-92.
- Di Milia L, Vandelanotte C, Duncan MJ. The association between short sleep and obesity after controlling for demographic, lifestyle, work and health related factors. Sleep medicine. 2013 Apr 1;14(4):319-23.
There is so much information out there about how to improve sleep. This is a great summary of much of what I have personally found to be effective—after a lot of reading and trying many things. Getting some natural light for 15 mins shortly after waking (even in winter) and leaving three hours between dinner and bedtime would be the other things.