Humans spend about 1/3 of their life sleeping and many believe sleep is just another break from life, but sleep is a lot more than that. Learn how to get better and more sleep and understand the strategies to thrive and enjoy a quality life. Without good sleep the body and brain don’t work their best, and lack of sleep can shut down the functioning of the organs, makes us age faster, become sick and even die prematurely.
When we are awake, the organs are being used for digestion, thinking, distributing blood, oxygen, nutrients and so on to make the body work. When we sleep, the body is active, since the body temperature and energy production is lowered and the cells have an opportunity to renew, recharge and heal themselves. This is why sleep is crucial for being healthy and energized from the inside and out. I have added a few tips on how to get better and more sleep.
The sleep patterns
There are two major types of sleep. The first one is REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, and occurs in 90 min. cycles and alternates with four additional stages known collectively as NREM sleep. The deepest form of sleep is called Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) and is part of the NREM phases and the phase when people have the hardest time being awakened. 80% of SWS is concentrated in the first half of a typical 7-8 hour night, and the second half of the night contains twice as much REM sleep as the first half. This domination of early SWS sleep and late REM sleep has important functional consequences, as it’s during REM sleep, the brain is processing all the inputs from the day and storing them in different areas of the memory.
If we don’t sleep enough the body does not have enough time to recover and heal any damage that has occurred during the day. This will have a long-time effect on our health. Growth hormone production and, sex hormones will decrease. Adrenals will be depleted and both stress hormones and our appetite will increase. Sleep maintains the brain by creating new connections and make sure that we are mentally balanced, have a sharp memory and strengthen our ability to concentrate and learn.
When you don’t get adequate sleep over long-term periods, the immune system will deteriorate and health issues, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, blood clots, heart palpitations, atherosclerosis and dementia can occur. This can all lead to memory loss, depression, hyper activity, overweight, obesity and you being more susceptible to stress and increased appetite, which is not only impacting our health but also our quality of life.
What are the signs you need better and more sleep?
- Disruption of sleep cycle.
- Mood Changes and loss of emotional control
- Difficulty concentrating and impaired performance
- Severe fatigue
- Memory and thinking problems
- Muscle weakness
- Disorientation, hallucinations and paranoia
- Depression, anxiety and irritability
- Somatic and pain complaints
- Cognitive difficulties
- Worsened or new high blood pressure
- Bone loss, leading to fractures over time
How many hours of sleep should we get?
A 2 year study from the National Sleep Foundation showed that people who sleep 7 hours a day have the lowest mortality rate and the best cognitive functioning. Sleeping less than 7 hours is not healthy and sleeping too much isn’t either. 7 seems to be the magic number and sleeping up to 8 hours are considered good for your overall health.
What can you do to improve your sleep?
- Avoid stress and intense training in the evening. High cortisol levels, and an over production of adrenalin can disturb the sleep.
- Practice yoga. Researchers from Harvard found that yoga can not only improve physical strength and flexibility, breathing, reduce stress and enhance mental focus, but also have a positive effect on sleep and insomnia.
- Meditate in the evening. The brain is affected by the alpha waves in the brain, and stress hormones will be lowered considerably, including the blood pressure and heart frequency. The mind will calm down and both mind and body will feel relaxed and be able to rest better when meditating as part of an evening routine.
- Create a peaceful and quiet environment in the evening. Use ear plugs if necessary.
- Stay away from electronics, especially the lights from computers, TV, clock radio and other electronic devices at least 2 hours before going to bed as they impacts the sleep pattern. If you have to look at your computer for work reasons, you should get yourself a pair of Blue Light Blocking Computer Glasses to avoid sleep issues.
- Don’t drink caffeine before bedtime. Drink herbal tea, matcha or green tea which have calming amino acids like L-theanin. Theanine is an amino acid and is used for treating anxiety and high blood pressure, and for preventing Alzheimer’s disease, and making cancer drugs more effective.
- Don’t drink alcohol before going to sleep. It reduces growth hormones production and impacts melatonin (hormone made by the pineal gland), as this controls your sleep and awake cycles.
- Make sure to move the body during the day, get fresh air, exercise and day light. You will then sleep better as you will be tired physically and mentally in a natural way.
- Stay away from sleep medications, drugs and other pharmaceuticals that impact your sleep. Instead of drugs try herbal remedies like passion-flower, valerian, hops or my favorite Ashwagandha.
- If you have chronic sleep issues, ask your doctor to have your hormones checked (eg. high cortisol at night, low DHEA, low progesterone, low melatonin and growth hormones) as it can all impact the quality of your sleep.
- Enjoy higher carb foods at dinner or as a bedtime snack to help raise serotonin for a relaxing evening. In addition to raising serotonin, carbs help lower the stress hormone cortisol, which can inhibit sleep when it is elevated at night. Best food is bananas, nut butters (yes you also need fats in the evening) and they can be added into a green smoothie. If you must, a low sugar cereal with almond milk can be a good carb alternative. The conversion of tryptophan to serotonin and melatonin demands insulin, so make sure to eat healthy and good carbs.
- Prioritize sleep as part of a healthy and active lifestyle.
Food and nutrients that impacts the sleep positively
Supplements are important, as we all need some extras with our daily food intake. The supplements that are associated with good sleep are magnesium and L-tryptophan.
Magnesium – Many people are low in magnesium without knowing it. If you suffer from light sleep, irritation during the night, cramps, restless legs, sore muscles and a tense body, you are most likely deprived of magnesium. 600 mg of magnesium on a daily basis will help take care of most issues. Take it before bedtime or if severe issues, take magnesium in the morning as well. Don’t forget the bananas during the day. One medium banana has about 32 mg, so you can eat at least 19 bananas a day and feel great 🙂
L-tryptophan – If you feel depressed, anxious, nervous or stressed, L-tryptophan might help you to get a better night sleep. It’s an essential amino acid that helps the body make proteins and certain brain-signaling chemicals. Your body changes L-tryptophan into serotonin, which helps control your mood and sleep.
Vitamin B are important building blocks of the body, including the blood, nervous system, heart and DNA. It fuels our brain, metabolism, and even affects our digestion and how we absorb food. You might also be aware that it prevents a type of anemia that can cause fatigue and overall low energy. B vitamins include thiamine, riboflavin, niacin/niacinamide, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folic acid, and pantothenic acid.
B12 is found in animal-based foods, primarily meat, eggs, and dairy. However, eating too much animal protein can cause significant inflammatory health problems in the body. Since vegans and vegetarian don’t eat this type of food, it’s important to take a supplement or eat a lot of nutritional yeast. The RDA of B12 for an adult is 2.4 micrograms daily, which is about 2 rounded tsp of large flake nutritional yeast
B3 or biotin, which helps the body metabolize fats and carbohydrates, has been linked to improved hair health and maintaining proper function of the nervous system
Zinc and iron are equally important. If you have a hard time falling asleep or feel depressed, try to add some extra B3 (up to 500 mg daily). B3 gives better sleep and increase growth hormones.
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