You might look a little haggard after a night of burning the midnight oil, but did you know that skimping on sleep depletes your your anti-aging hormones?
You’ve heard that adequate sleep is important for optimum health, memory retention and brain function, but perhaps like me you’ve reasoned that you’re different – that you can get by on a lot less sleep than others.
This eight hours a night stuff isn’t for you. After all you make up for any lacks on the weekend.
If this is you, welcome to the club! I spent years believing it was fine to squeeze in 5 or 6 hours a night.
Lately I’ve begun to question my hubris on this one. It’s not just the 3 p.m. dip that gets me reaching for that second cup of coffee. It’s the frustration I often feel at day’s end – why wasn’t I more focused? Why couldn’t I remember all the little pieces of the my project and so had to waste time looking back at notes, searching for information?
The answer, I’m realizing, might lie in my refusal to grant myself enough sleep.
Stay Slender And Young With Adequate Sleep
Here’s a mistake I used to make: for years I set my alarm at 5 so I could work out at the gym at 6 a.m. Then it was rush home, fix breakfast and lunches for the kids, get them off to school, then race off for a full day of work.
It was a rare evening that I crawled into bed before 11, and then I’d usually read, often ending up with less than six hours of precious shut-eye.
And sure those workouts helped keep me fit. But the surprise: when I started gifting myself with more sleep and skipping some of those workouts, I actually lost weight!
I couldn’t figure it out at the time. Now I’ve learned that studies show that sleep leads to easier weight loss! People who slept less than six hours a night consumed 300 more calories more in a day than those who slept 6-8 hours. And dieters who slept around eight hours lost 10 pounds way more easily than those who didn’t.
Scientists speculate that these results are due to the fact that your brain is fueled by glucose, so inadequate sleep causes it to search for carbohydrates to keep going. Chronic sleep deprivation can bump up those sugar cravings… a sure path to a more billowy muffin top!
And we all know that partying till the wee hours will bring on the dark circles and wrinkles quicker than a teenager can type out a text – but I had no idea about the physiological factors that can cause an overall acceleration of aging when I insist on staying up.
Human growth hormone – which makes us look and feel younger – is released from our pituitary gland during sleep. Less sleep equals less youthful hormones coursing through the body.
Now that’s some motivation to put the electronic toys away and turn out the lights.
The Toss & Turn Factor
Wait a second, you’re saying. Sure, I get it on this sleep thing. I’m TRYING to get in my eight hours. But I just end up lying awake in the darkness. If it’s not hot flashes and night sweats, it’s worrying and feeling frustrated that I’m not sleeping more.
Well, read on for some useful tips on quelling your insomnia. And If hot flashes and night sweats are keeping you awake, check out some of the herbal allies and natural remedies that I discuss in the Holistic Hot Sauce Menopause series.
Sleep researchers say the most health replenishing sleep occurs between the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., as that is when our bodily systems, including the crucial adrenal system, recovers and recharges. So, it’s worth it to at least try to get yourself into the REM state earlier rather than later.
Obviously, there will be exceptions. I know I like to go out and enjoy a good show on occasion, or just stay up late at a party enjoying friends and a fun time.
If you’re the same, or if you have trouble putting everything away and going to bed, join me in employing the 80/20 rule when it comes to turning in early. Let’s make sleep a priority 80% of the time, and we’ll surely be ahead of the game!
Whether you’re like me and you feel like a little kid digging in your heels about bed time when there’s so much fun stuff to do – or you’re battling wakeful demons no matter how hard you try to drift off – these 16 tricks and tips will gently nudge you in the right direction – and get more sleep!
1. Align Yourself with the Rhythms of Nature – Just Go To Bed!
All this was a no-brainer back in the days before electric lights. It got dark…so we went to sleep. Society has evolved a lot quicker than our physiology, our bodies don’t know things have changed from prehistoric times. They naturally want to shut down when the sun goes down, and that’s why many of us crave more sleep during the winter months.
Now I’m not saying you have to go to bed at 5 just because it’s dark. But instead of resisting those whispers of fatigue, think about turning in a tad earlier during the darker time of the year.
2. Shut down the computer and turn off the TV.
Electronics stimulate our brains and make it harder to wind down and accept the peace that sleep delivers. Forgo checking email that one last time, and record your favorite late night shows.
Make that hour before bed a time for reading (a book – remember them?), perhaps writing in a journal, making notes about your plans for tomorrow, preparing food and other tasks that will make for a smoother morning.
3. Turn down the heat.
Keep your bedroom cool as much as possible. An overheated room will definitely interrupt your sleep, especially if that heat is artificial. You’ll get the added perk of saving on electricity if you crank down the furnace before retiring.
4. Create complete darkness in your bedroom.
Pull the curtains, or better yet get some light-blocking shades. A glowing digital clock next to your head is a surefire way to keep your eyes wide open. Get rid of it or turn it toward the wall while you sleep. Resist the temptation to check that clock if you awaken in the middle of the night. Knowing what time it is will just stress you out further if you’re worried about insomnia. If it’s impossible to darken your room completely, try a sleep mask.
5. Don’t got to bed too full – but not too empty either.
If your digestive system is in doing the Samba when you lie down to get some shut-eye, well it’s just not going to be that restful a sleep. (Not to mention the detrimental effects on your weight). Make a point to finish dinner a few hours before retiring.
Conversely, don’t try to get to sleep while your stomach is growling and the word ‘starving’ comes to mind. Eat a small snack high in protein and complex carbs. I like a little Greek yogurt. Ditch the cookies for bed though. Sugary snacks won’t promote peaceful rest!
6. Create and maintain a personal bedtime ritual.
Start this about a half hour before slipping under the covers and you will be signaling to your body it’s time to wind down and drift off. Get into your cozy jammies, brush your teeth and take care of all your bedtime grooming rituals a half hour or so ahead of time.
It’s a good idea to dim the lights an hour or two before you plan to tuck in. Prepare for your best sleep by reading restful and uplifting books (not a good time for the heart-pounding whodunit!), listening to calming music, or even some meditation.
7. Write it Down.
Keep a journal or notebook, pen, and flashlight by your bedside. If you awaken with that hamster wheel whirring in your brain – whether it’s worries or brilliant ideas – grab your notebook and jot down some key points. Then, trust that these world-shaking thoughts are now preserved.
Afterward you could do a little visualization to turn your worries over to a higher power. Picture your cares drifting upwards in a floating balloon and trust that all will be resolved.
8. Get Moving
Wait – what? We’re talking about getting still and resting. Sure, but it’s been proven that regular exercise (preferably aerobic, but any type helps) promotes a more restful sleep. Check out Hate To Exercise? for ideas.
Just don’t get all aggro and work up a big sweat in the hour or two before bed. Stretching is great but schedule the heart pumping for earlier in the day.
9. Skip The Coffee
If you regularly struggle to get to sleep or if you can’t drift back off after waking in the wee hours, give some serious consideration to weaning yourself away from your caffeine habit. It’s not just coffee. Black and green tea, colas and even yerba mate can promote wakefulness just when you don’t want it. At the very least, cut back, and forgo these beverages after 2 p.m.
10. Engage Nature’s Allies: Use Herbs &Natural Remedies
Try one or more of the vast number of natural herbs and supplements to bring on that restful sleep. One caveat: it’s best to avoid drinking tea right before bed if you suffer from insomnia. Getting up to use the bathroom is counter to your goal! Purchase herbal formulations as liquid extracts or capsules.
- Relaxing herbs include kava, passion flower, valerian, California poppy, hops, chamomile, and catnip. Many of these are helpful for pain as well – which can keep you awake. Herbs work particularly well when used in combination. Check out the selections of herbal combos at your favorite herb or health shop.
- Calcium and magnesium when taken before bed can relax the muscles and encourage sleep.
- Melatonin is a hormone manufactured in our own bodies. Sometimes we need more of it. It’s been shown to help you fall asleep more quickly as well as reverse daytime fatigue. Many people swear by it for jet lag since it helps adjust your circadian rhythms.
11. Take A Hot Bath
Not only will this relax you and help you wind down, the increase and subsequent drop in body temperature signals your body that it’s time for sleep. A shower or sauna will do this too. If you can treat yourself to the full luxury of a bath, try adding some sleep-inducing essential oils (see below.)
12. Use Essential Oils
These concentrated plant essences are powerful therapy and several are known to help insomnia. Add several drops to your bath, mix with some almond or jojoba oil and treat yourself to a little bedtime massage (better yet get a friend to), or add a few drops to an aromatherapy diffuser.
Essential oils of bergamot, chamomile, frankincense, geranium, and lavender are all excellent for bringing on the shut-eye.
13. Practice Daily Stress Reducing Routines
If you incorporate relaxation techniques such mindfulness, meditation and deep breathing into your day, it will pay off when it’s time to get to sleep. Daily journaling is another way to release stressful thoughts and process anxiety caused by life transitions. Spending some time on this during the day frees your brain to relax into sleep come evening.
14. Try A Sleep Pillow
Make or buy a sleep pillow filled with soothing herbs like hops, lavender and chamomile and tuck this into your pillowcase. The relaxing aromas will lull you into a peaceful dream state.
15. Don’t Forget the Earplugs
If you live in a noisy nighttime environment, earplugs can be your savior. Especially if you are easily woken, or if you are battling that busy brain wakefulness.
16. Try Tapping
Emotional Freedom Technique, also known as ‘tapping’ or EFT is an amazingly effective therapy for many issues, including insomnia and anxiety. It can be practiced anytime, even in bed, and you can do it all by yourself. Read more about it here.
I’m sure I could come up with about 87 more sleep tips – but now it’s time to turn it over to YOU! Are you sold on the idea that more sleep leads to youthful braininess? What hacks do you use to get sleep and stay in a solid sleep?