This morning you likely woke with a smile and jumped out of bed before your alarm. You were showered, dressed and in the kitchen enjoying a healthy breakfast and steaming cup of coffee with time to spare before heading out the door to start your day. If this was you, congratulations! The fact of the matter is, sleep, or lack thereof, has become somewhat of an epidemic and is, in one way or another, affecting all of us.
Statistics Canada's website reports that, “According to results of the 2007-to-2013 CHMS, 43% of men and 55% of women aged 18 to 64 reported trouble going to sleep or staying asleep ‘sometimes/most of the time/all of the time’. That's roughly half the population of Canada lying in bed counting sheep every night. And when we do drift off, researchers found that nearly half did not find their sleep refreshing and one-third said they found it difficult to keep from dozing off during the day. Reports aren't much better for our nation's children either. One in three kids have difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep, one in five find it difficult to stay awake during the day and one in 10 say they do not feel rested in the morning.
So, what do all these numbers and statistics really mean from a health perspective?
Sleep affects almost every area of the body and mind and without it, we will die. That's extreme of course, but just to put things in perspective, the body can go days and sometimes even weeks with out food and/or water. Miss even one day of sleep however, and a performance test would score you the same as someone whose blood alcohol level was over the legal limit. Cognitive functions like logic and reasoning, moods, attention, memory, focus, concentration, balance, speech, vision, along with reaction and response time are all negatively affected due to lack of sleep.
Sleep also helps regulate our weight. Like with stress, lack of sleep causes the body to release cortisol, and store fat. Also, without enough sleep, the body cannot properly metabolize and use the food we give it, thereby negatively affecting our immune function as well. In addition, chronic sleeplessness puts adults at risk for heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and puts kids at a higher risk for becoming overweight, developing diabetes, as well as attention and learning problems. For kids and adults, sleep is just as important as eating right and getting enough exercise. It's when we sleep that our brains are able to release toxins, lowering our chances for disease. Losing sleep is so much more than just being tired.
Beginning to dread laying your head on that pillow tonight? If sleep is something that eludes you, here are seven strategies you can put in place immediately to help you get the rest you need.
Make sure your room is completely dark
Sleep comes to us in five stages, the first two being light sleep, the second two deeper and REM sleep. To simplify, the brain cycles down through light sleep, into deeper sleep and then back up through light sleep again and into REM, optimally repeating these cycles several times before waking. The brain is designed to start preparing for sleep when the sun goes down and wake up when the sun rises. Lights from phones, iPads, laptops, alarm clocks, etc., all emit blue light that mimics sunlight, and interrupts our sleep cycles, or circadian rhythm.
Keep the temperature in your bedroom a few degrees cooler than regular room temperature
Our body temperature normally drops when we sleep so creating that environment helps our bodies adapt and go to sleep more quickly.
Establish a routine for turning in and waking up
Our bodies love consistency and maintaining a schedule really helps it to wind down and prepare for sleep.
Establish a “no power hour” before bed
Opting for a book, newspaper, magazine over an iPhone, iPad, or laptop an hour before bed, eliminates that blue light and provides time for the brain to prepare for sleep.
Have a hot bath or cold shower
Raising the body temperature in a long hot bath then quickly lowering it by stepping into the cool air, gets the body and brain ready for sleep. A 10 mins cold shower will do the same thing if time is an issue.
Empty your thoughts
Take five or ten minutes before bed to jot down any and all thoughts that are swirling around in your mind preventing you from relaxing. This simple act tells your brain you've acknowledged the thoughts and will get back to them later.
Practice deep breathing and meditation
Just 20 minutes of quiet breathing and focus can help make a significant difference in the relax response, allowing the body to drift off sooner. If you don't currently practice meditation, the Insight Timer app is a great place to start.
So instead of hitting the snooze button each morning, loading up on caffeine at work, and collapsing onto the couch every evening, too exhausted to spend time with family or friends, wake up! I encourage you to choose the strategy(ies) that speaks to you and try it for a month. Sleep on it and see for yourself.
Rest assured, good things will happen.
Nutritionist & Fitness Coach (IBNFC)
Tania, owner/founder of FIT Nutrition, is a global nutritionist and fitness coach, fitness instructor, workshop facilitator, educator, speaker, writer and success creator. Tania is currently one of only five health professionals licensed and certified in Canada to coach a proven, three-phase program providing education on the importance of blood sugar stabilization, not dieting. For more information go to fuelignitethrive.com.