Life is busy. Long days at work, stress or trying to get more done each day leads to one common sacrifice: sleep. If you are not sleeping enough, you are not giving your body the rest it needs to recover from the day’s activities, heal and promote optimal health.
For anyone that thinks, “I’ll sleep when I’m older,” let us see why adequate sleep, even when you are young, is so important.
Why Sleep is So Important for Your Health
Your body has an internal clock that works to regulate your sleep cycle. Known as circadian rhythm, this clock works in a 24-hour cycle and will dictate the time you start getting sleepy.
Light plays a role in this cycle thanks to a special region in the brain where light influences your rhythm.
Sleep demands will vary from age to age, with the following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- 14+ hours for newborns
- 12 – 16 hours for infants
- 11+ hours for toddlers
- 10 – 13 hours for preschoolers
- 9 – 12 hours for kids 6 to 12
- 8 – 10 hours for teens
- 7 – 9 hours for adults
As you age, you need slightly less sleep, but sleeping at least seven hours per night is recommended.
Sleep and Your Daily Functions
Proper amounts of sleep are needed to help with cognition, mood, attention, and reaction speed. Lack of sleep can be linked to a wide range of health issues. The risks of not sleeping enough, when in chronic sleep deprivation, can lead to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and even death.
If you are not sleeping, you are not allowing your brain activity and pulse to slow.
When you are asleep, changes occur in the body that include:
- Breathing rate will begin to slow
- Heart rate will get progressively slower
- Neurons in the brain begin to shut off
- Muscles relax, allowing for a lower level of energy being expended
- Multiple hormones are produced: melatonin, leptin, ghrelin, cortisol, and growth hormones
Your brain is also flushing out toxins while you sleep to allow you to have a clear mind in the morning. All these functions lead to feeling refreshed, improved cognition, play a role in memory retention and allow the body to fight off disease and infection.
Poor sleep needs to be corrected to allow the body to relax and repair.
Sleep Problems and What Causes Them
Have trouble falling asleep or staying sleep? You are not alone. There are a lot of reasons for people suffering from sleep problems, including:
- Chronic illness
- Heart failure
- Breathing issues
- Sleep apnea
- Psychiatric disorders
You may also have physical sleep disturbances that get in your way of sleep, such as headaches, fibromyalgia, or chronic pain. Environmental issues, such as the lights being left on or noises upstairs can also be a cause for sleep disturbances.
Stress is a major factor, too. Insomnia, especially in acute cases, can be caused by stress of losing a job, moving, illness, relationship problems and a myriad of other issues.
Age also contributes to sleep disorders. Approximately 50% of people over the age of 65 have a sleep disorder. Medications can also play a role in your ability to sleep and should be evaluated if you have difficulty sleeping.
What to Do to Promote Better Sleep
Promoting a better night of sleep is possible with a change to your lifestyle and habits. A few positive changes to improve sleep are:
- Stop smoking
- Do not drink caffeine hours before bedtime
- Shut off all electronics and screens at least 60 minutes before bed
- Lower your thermostat a few degrees
- Maintain a sleep routine where you go to bed the same time every night
A sleep schedule is important because going to bed and waking up at the same time every day promotes a good night’s sleep. You will have those days when you sleep later than you would like or cannot fall asleep on time – that’s okay.
What you want to do is try to continue promoting good sleep habits even on days where your sleep schedule gets interrupted.
Although supplement makers must follow FDA rules for good manufacturing practices, the agency does not require testing the estimated 9,000 products on the market to make sure they do contain the ingredients they claim, and don’t contain contaminants, such as dangerous bacteria, arsenic, cadmium, or lead. This means there is no guarantee that any particular product is effective or safe. To add a degree of protection, look for products that have voluntarily gone through quality testing, which is certified by a seal on the packaging. Some good ones to look for are those from U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International.
Natural Remedies for a Better Night’s Sleep
If you find yourself tossing and turning at night, you can use natural remedies to help promote a better night of sleep. A few of the best natural remedies for a better night of sleep are:
Teas have a lot of health-related properties, but chamomile is one of the best options for sleeping. The tea is known for being able to reduce inflammation and treat insomnia. Apigenin, one of the most potent antioxidants in the tea is thought to be responsible for its calming effects.
Chamomile is a sleep inducer, too.
Simply drink a cup of chamomile tea 45 minutes or so before bed to promote a good night’s sleep.
Exercise promotes better sleep. You are expending your energy, doing your body good and can improve your sleep in the process. Multiple forms of exercise can be beneficial:
In fact, multiple studies show the positive sleep benefits of exercise. A 2015 study found that people that exercised for 150 minutes or more per week, over a period of six months, reduced anxiety, depression and had fewer symptoms of insomnia.
Yoga’s positive relaxation techniques can also help calm the mind and allow people to unwind for a better night of sleep.
Magnesium is known for relaxing a person’s muscles and relieving stress. It is important to start slow, as too high of doses can cause side effects, such as stomach cramping. The recommended dosing is as follows:
- Women up to 300 mg daily
- Men up to 400 mg daily
A 2012 study found that after taking magnesium daily for two months, participants exhibited better sleep patterns and fewer overall symptoms of insomnia.
Leafy greens, seeds and nuts contain magnesium, but most people will consume a natural supplement for sleep-related benefits.
If you want to fall asleep faster and enjoy a deeper REM sleep, melatonin can help. You will find a lot of supplement options available that can help you get an extra dose of melatonin. It is important to take up to 5 mg 30 minutes or so before bed.
There was a study done on melatonin in 2016 that examined the sleep benefits of melatonin on people with insomnia and cancer.
Within just seven days, it was reported that the sleep quality of participants improved significantly. When examined two weeks later, participants had even more significant sleep benefits.
While the study was conducted on people with cancer and insomnia, the same results can also be experienced for the healthy person trying to get a better night of sleep.
Lavender is a great item to keep in your medicine cabinet or cupboard. Not only does this potent oil promote better sleep, but it is also shown to improve mood and reduce pain. You can take capsules or use aromatherapy to benefit from lavender.
A 2014 study, using lavender oil capsules, found that consuming lavender daily, in amounts up to 80 mg, was able to:
- Improve sleep patterns
- Reduce depression
- Lower anxiety levels
If you do not like the taste of the oil directly, you can opt to add the oil into a diffuser or even drink a cup of lavender tea before bed.
Sleep is one of the most important things for your body, your health, and your mind. You need to do whatever you can to ensure you are getting adequate sleep every night. If you follow these recommendations above, hopefully you will start to improve your sleep.
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