When it comes to our health, I can not underestimate or undervalue the importance of sleep. It is what allows our body to rest, recovery, and replenish our cells after each day. It is by far one of the greatest elements that contributes to our overall well-being.
Why is it then that we struggle with sleep so much? Why do we push our sleep health to the side? Why do we brag about "getting by" on less than 6 hours of sleep?
When it comes to our sleep and the problems we have with getting a good night's sleep, it is of the utmost importance to get to the bottom of what is causing your problems.
Today in the next part of our What Your Body is Trying to Tell You series, we are talking all about sleep problems, including causes and solutions to help you get back to sleeping soundly through the night.
Most of the sleep problems we tend to have involve falling or staying asleep, as well as sleep quality. And when it comes to causes of these sleep issues, there can be a myriad of issues at the root of the problem.
First off, the increase in technology usage at night isn't helping our sleep. When we watch TV or use any electronic device at night (after 7 or 8pm), the blue light that is emitted from the screen messes with our body's biochemicals and hormones that regulate our circadian rhythms.
In addition, a lack of a consistent bedtime routine could also be the cause of your sleep problems. With caring for children, we always make sure that we develop a bedtime routine to help the child get into a routine sleep pattern. However, we seem to lose this routine the older (and more rebellious!) we get.
But, this routine is so critical for our health that is a shame that we push it aside as we get older. A lack of routine doesn't allow our body to operate on a consistent sleep and wake cycle, which can lead to a lack of sleep or sleep issues.
Like with all things, stress also plays a huge role here. How many times do we find ourselves laying in bed with a racing mind, thinking about all we need to do the next day?
Or, we find ourselves so worked up, stressed, and anxious about work, family, or relationships in our lives that we can't seem to relax, unwind, and sleep at night.
All of this mental and emotional stress can disrupt our sleep patterns and have disastrous effects on our overall health.
Alongside of mental and emotional stress is physical stress from too much exercise or eating the wrong foods for our bodies. When it comes to overexercising, or exercising late at night, our cortisol levels can become unbalanced, leading us to wake up in the middle of the night or feel "wired and tired" at night when it's time for bed.
On the other hand, when we aren't fueling our bodies properly with real food or enough calories, our body's hormones can also be altered, leading to a sleep issues like waking up frequently throughout the night. This is especially the case when we have blood sugar issues and experience frequent blood sugar spikes and crashes from eating too much sugar or processed foods. Our blood sugar may dip too low at night, causing us to wake up and be unable to get back to sleep.
Finally, other reasons for sleep disturbances include children and pets (I'm glad I don't have this problem yet!), cortisol abnormalities, dehydration, and caffeine abuse.
But, not matter what the cause, a lack of good quality sleep is stressful on our body, mind, and energy levels! If we don't get enough sleep, we are unable to complete our day with vibrancy and gusto. We may find ourselves craving sugar or other stimulants to keep us going.
Or, our lack of sleep and stress levels may lead to a variety of other health issues, including skin problems, digestive distress, hair loss, extreme fatigue, hormonal imbalances, anxiety, headaches, irritability, and even depression!
Yikes - scary stuff right there. That's why it is so critical to get our sleep under control now before it gets to late!
And no - don't use the "I'm still young, it's fine!" or "I'm sooooo busy" excuse on me. Sleep is important no matter if you are 22 or 62. Sleep matters, and must be taken seriously.
Either make time for sleep now, or pay the price in the future. It's your choice.
Now please, don't worry or start stressing about your sleep - that will just make the situation worse!
Instead, look through some of these solutions; hopefully these will work for you!
First off (I'm sure this one is obvious), eat a real food diet void of processed food, sugar, excess caffeine, vegetable oils, and other crap! Instead, enjoy a nourishing diet full of whole foods that will provide your body with the calories and nutrition it desperately needs!
Also keep in mind the stabilization of your blood sugar levels. Aim to eat a bit of protein, fat, and carbohydrate at each meal and snack, and do not wait too long between meals. After 4-6 hours, your body should feel hungry and ready for more real food!
In addition to the diet aspect, make sure you are drinking enough water and avoiding sugar sweetened beverages or other "healthy drinks" that claim to be good for you. Most of the time, these vitamin or health drinks are full of synthetic vitamins and sugar. Drink water and drink it often!
Up next, make a bedtime routine. Yes, we are all adults now, but in this aspect, I want you to still be like a child. Treat your bedtime with respect and honor it at least six times per week. To develop a bedtime routine, consider the following steps:
Count back 8-9 hours from the time you have to be up in the morning to determine your bedtime.
1-2 hours before that bedtime, shut off all electronics and start to unwind your mind. This is a great time to read a book, journal, shower, take a bath, or simply sit and talk with your roommates or significant other. If you can't seem to get away from electronics at night quite yet, consider installing the i.flux app on your devices to block the blue light or invest in a $7 pair of blue-blocking glasses from Amazon. Here's the pair I wear each night starting around 7pm.
Stick to your bedtime routine all throughout the week, even weekends if possible. Try to go to bed and wake up at similar times each day in order to keep your body on a consistent schedule.
Lastly, be persistent! Let yourself unwind at night; stay away from caffeine and other stimuli (like sugar) and make quality sleep your top priority!
After developing a routine, also consider working on your stress levels as a way to increase your sleep quality at night. If your mind is one that can't seem to calm down at night, try journaling all of your thoughts and worries at night to help soothe your mind. Stress management is a huge part of our overall health. The more we can continue to work on lowering our stress levels, the better.
Other ways to help improve your sleep include lowering the temperature of your room, avoiding late night exercise, and drinking less water at night.
When it comes to the temperature of your room, it is actually better for you to sleep in a colder environment. Experiment with finding the ideal temperature for your room. Usually somewhere between 65-68 degrees seems to be perfect. Alongside of making sure you room is cold is ensuring that the bedroom is dark without any artificial light peeping in that could disrupt sleep.
Avoiding strenuous exercise at night also helps you fall asleep and stay asleep, exercise can raise your cortisol levels, which is a good thing, just not at night! Coritsol is stimulating, which is the opposite of melatonin, a calming hormone, which is what we truly desire at night.
Water is super important, as I mentioned above, but drinking too much at night can lead to several trips to the bathroom throughout the night, which can disrupt sleep patterns as well.
Lastly, tying back around to your diet, consider taking a magnesium supplement. Most of us are low in magnesium, and many people find it to be helpful for their sleep quality. Here's the magnesium that I recommend: Natural Calm.
I hope that you have found this discussion about sleep quality informative and helpful. Sleep is a serious matter, and it is critical that we get at least 8 hours each night of sleep in order to be at our greatest health level.
Will we be perfect every day? No. Can we still strive to reach our 8 hour goal each night anyway? Yes!
The last bit I want to emphasize before I wrap up this post is this: when it comes to our health, our body is constantly whispering to us with symptoms and signals of imbalances in our lives. Sleep disturbances is one of these signals. If we choose to ignore it and not make sleep a priority, we will suffer the consequences. Maybe not now, but definitely in the future, we will see the effects of a lack of sleep start to creep up.
Make the decision today to not let yourself go there. Make the commitment to your sleep today!
If you want more information, these links and program from The Paleo Mom are super help and amazing!
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
Sleep and Disease Risk
Go To Bed: 14 Steps to Healthier Sleep
Sleep Requirements and Debt
The New Science of Sleep-Wake Cycles
The Link Between Sleep and Your Weight
Stress and Sleep Archive
And this link is your best go-to for all the ways to help fix your sleep!
As always, I'm here for more advice and help if you ever need it! That's my role as a health coach :)