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- Is 8 What is Takes?
- How Much Sleep Do We Need?
Is 8 What is Takes?
Sleep is essential, at least that’s what our parents have been telling us. The eight hour “rule” has been popularly discussed for decades, but is eight hours what it really takes to get the job done, and what does sleep really do for us? Let’s find out what a good night’s rest looks like and the steps we can make for sleep magic.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
Sleep requirements change with age, level of health and individual nature, but in general we start life needing 14 to 17 hours of sleep and gradually decrease to seven to nine hours as adults. For most adults, consistently getting fewer than seven hours of sleep will lead to a variety of health problems. That means the 8 hour rule is pretty spot on.
Here’s an experiment to determine your individual sleep needs:
- Turn off your alarm
- Go to bed at the same time every night
- Record the time you wake up each day
Most likely, you will sleep longer during the first few nights because you will be catching up on lost sleep. Once you start consistently waking at the same time every morning, you can count back to your bedtime and determine the amount of sleep your body needs on an average night. From here, you can reset your bedtime based on the time you need to get up in the morning and start waking up feeling rested and ready for the day.
Sadly, sleep deprivation is an all too common issue in modern times. We are combating elements that our ancestors never even dreamed of. Blue lights, fluorescent bulbs, and day long caffeine buzzes are constantly jeopardizing the quality of our sleep. These lifestyle choices bear serious, even fatal consequences. Getting less than 6 hours of sleep can reduce our immunity and can even encourage disease in the body, as cancer cells multiply the more sleep deprived we are. This is serious business.
Sleep Debt & Consequences of Lack of Sleep
Poor sleep is a familiar and, at times, an unavoidable story for parents of young children, shift workers and people who suffer from sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome. As for the rest of us: sometimes we just take it for granted.
You can only go so long with robbing your body of sleep before bad health comes to collect. Sleep makes everything run smoother in our bodies. We all know, when we are exhausted, everything makes us irritable. When we aren’t getting enough sleep, we aren’t getting enough glucose in the brain. And when we aren’t getting that, we tend to make poor food choices, the cycle continues and ultimately, weight gain happens.
A restful night’s sleep provides the repair and regeneration needed to keep our bodies healthy. During quality sleep, our bodies work to:
- Repair the gut lining
- Balance hormones
- Reduce inflammation
- Boost immune function
- Balance blood sugar
Alternatively, research has shown that missing as little as a couple of hours can negatively impact our alertness, reaction speed, memory, and mood. And that’s just in the short term.
Over longer periods, the stress caused by insufficient sleep can contribute to a host of physical and psychological illnesses, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, chronic pain, cravings, weight gain or obesity, depression, and anxiety. Worse still, it can impair our judgement of how much sleep we actually need, making it harder to get back on track.
Sleep experts often compare tired drivers to drunk drivers. Neither tend to think they’re impaired until they cause an accident.
Now that we have the numbers in on what makes a better night’s rest, let’s look at a few simple habit tweaks that can help you get a better night’s sleep.
10 Tips on How to Get Better Sleep
1. Reduce Stress
The way we start our day affects the sleep quality at night. Releasing our emotions and remaining in a good mood actually invites better rest. Come bedtime, opt for a good read at night rather than a stimulating series on Netflix. You can also try meditation, deep breathing, or other relaxation techniques to promote better overall mental health and sleep.
2. Optimize Your Sleep Environment
Our environment is huge. Keep the five senses in mind when considering a better sleep system.
Light exposure is the enemy of sleep. Bright lights tell your body and mind to be awake. We don’t want this. Close the blinds. If you don’t have them, buy them. If you can’t afford them, hang a sheet over your window. Move the TV out of your room. Plug in your phone away from your bed. If you have to leave a hall light on for family members, put a rolled towel at the bottom of your door to block any leaking light.
Most importantly, eliminate electronics at night. Blue light, present in both sunlight and the light from electronic devices, stimulates our attention and mood throughout the day by suppressing our secretion of melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland that signals the body to prepare for sleep. At night, however, it disrupts our circadian rhythm, keeping us awake and active when we should be asleep. And it’s not just televisions, phones and computers lighting us up, but common fluorescent bulbs and LED lamps as well.
A bedroom that’s too quiet actually makes you more attune to little noises and can keep you up at night. Add a fan, white noise machine, or light music to your room. If you share a room with your partner and they are not keen on any of those options, earplugs will do the trick as well.
Proper temperature is essential to sweet sleep. Since our body temperature drops slightly during sleep, a cool environment is best, with the optimal temperature for sleep being around 65°F.
Also, a cozy bed is a must. Your bed should be a wonderful oasis in the evening. Look forward to climbing into some soft, clean sheets and don’t forget to change the pillows every 12-18 months.
Also consider what you are sleeping on. Is your mattress serving you? You may not realize it because you have gotten used to it, but if you are sleeping on something substandard you may be creating abnormal tension in your body. How can you know? Go to a mattress store and lie down on different mattresses. You will know. You will feel the difference immediately.
Aromatherapy is awesome when it comes to keeping sleep habits. Lavender has been referenced in Egyptian and Chinese medicine and is revered for its ability to slow the activity of the nervous system. It’s a delightful way to calm our senses right before bedtime. Chamomile oil is also an excellent choice in settling down in the evening and it helps to relax muscles.
Food really affects our sleep. Ever hear the old wives about how you should avoid meals that are too spicy before bed as they could give you nightmares? While there is no empirical evidence to back this up, there is evidence that eating a big meal before bed causes body temperature and metabolism to increase, in turn making your sleep less sound. Because you are more restless in this state, this can increase dream recall, hence the misconception certain foods cause more vivid dreams.
3. Find a Healthy Sleep Routine
The latest buzzword in the sleep remedy genre is sleep hygiene. This refers to the healthy habits and practices used to facilitate a good night’s sleep. If your routine is to stop what you’re doing and go to bed, you aren’t practicing sleep hygiene.
Sleeping patterns are habits that are embedded in your mind and body. It has been said that it takes 21 days to break a habit. But this really depends on the person. In reality, it takes what it takes. This may mean trying something for a month and then evaluating if it helped or not.
Ultimately, consistency is key. Try dimming the lights and turning off screens about an hour before bed and keeping a regular sleep schedule—even on weekends. There’s no such thing as “catching up” on sleep later in the week. We have biological clocks that hold us accountable. And save the bed for nothing but sleep and sex.
4. Avoid Caffeine Late in the Day
Coffee, sodas, energy drinks, caffeinated teas, and even chocolate can interfere with falling asleep. If you’re a coffee drinker, try to keep it to the morning hours. Sodas and energy drinks can wreak havoc on your hormones and nervous system and should be phased out altogether.
Contrary to popular belief, caffeine doesn’t really wake you up; it just stifles your ability to slow down. It has this ability to fit into the receptor sites for adenosine which is what our body is producing when we are physically tired but our brain doesn’t know it so we keep on trucking along. With your body’s brake pedal temporarily disabled by that last cup of joe, your brain’s natural stimulants like dopamine, glutamate, and norepinephrine end up driving you at full speed through the long night. This means our bodies are out of whack and not getting the healing benefits of sleep, but it’s masked by the caffeine that tells us to keep going.
In the human body, caffeine has a half-life of about six hours. Meaning two cups of coffee (190mg) at breakfast will still see you running on one cup’s worth of caffeine (95mg) after lunch and half a cup’s worth (47.5mg) six hours after that. Adding another cup in the afternoon doesn’t just dose you up for a little while; it prolongs the time you spend under the influence, potentially lasting until way past your bedtime.
Stick to the morning for a caffeinated beverage, skipping your afternoon serve entirely or substituting it for a drink with lower concentrations. Herbal tea, decaf tea, white tea and green tea are excellent substitutes for normal coffee and black tea.
5. Avoid Alcohol and OTC’s
Sleeping pills are some of the most prescribed drugs in America. Every year new drugs are created. Prescription drugs like Ambien are notorious for their side effects and undermining overall health.
Alcohol shares the same problem as most over-the-counter sleep aids. While both might help you get to sleep, it’s not restorative, deep sleep. It’s more like being knocked out by a hit on the head.
Don’t drink alcohol within three hours of sleep. Try ending the day with a cup of herbal tea instead.
6. Design the Right Diet
Low fiber diets and high sugar diets have both been associated with less restorative sleep. For people who find themselves waking during the night, try eating a small amount of protein before bed and removing any after-dinner desserts.
Keep it simple and lower sugar intake before bed. Don’t forget to find good quality fats as they are a fantastic fuel that keep you going without a sugar crash. Avocados are excellent sources of magnesium, potassium, and healthy fats which make for a great sleep inducing meal. If dairy is something you can do, an organic, grass-fed (even better if raw) yogurt is also supportive of a good night’s rest.
7. Seek Supplements
Many people find relief in natural sleeping supplements. A magnesium supplement, (400-500 mg) of citrate or chelate, is great taken before bed. Nighttime blends that incorporate melatonin, L-theanine, and other nervine botanicals can also promote restful sleep with no grogginess come morning. Omega 3 fats that are found in fish oil are also great for good sleep.
You may be wondering though… will sleep supplements work for you? As everyone is different, there is really only one way to find out. If you think you might benefit from them, you need to keep in mind that just popping a few supplements for a couple of days is not going to radically change anything. These are not pharmaceuticals. Again it is going to take time and repetition to retrain your body. We are a chemical bag. Take it slow.
When trying natural sleeping supplements, do so by integrating them into your routine. Let your system get used to them. Take them at the same time every night as a part of your winding down routine and stick with them for a month to really see if they make a difference.
8. Get Regular Exercise
Exercising during the day will make getting to sleep easier, but vigorous workouts close to bedtime make it harder to get into a restful state. Any physical activity within two or three hours of bedtime should be mild, such as gentle yoga.
Scientific studies show that exercise helps buffer the negative effects of stress, and improves overall sleep quality. Doing it daily makes a difference. Just getting out, moving, and breaking a sweat is great for good sleep. All of those endorphins released during exercise make for a better mood which means better sleep.
9. Unwind in the Evening & Keep an Open Mind
No matter how much you may want to chill out, it’s often easier said than done. From looming deadlines to lengthy to-do lists, upset neighbors to unhappy memories, there’s no shortage of stress factors—real or imagined—to occupy your headspace and keep you awake.
Unwinding in the evening won’t make your problems go away, but it can put you in a better frame of mind for dealing with them the next day—especially if you get a good night’s sleep after.
Falling into the flow of something enjoyable and relaxing pulls you back into the present, promoting a sense of contentment and well-being. Because of this ‘flow’ effect, leisure time is recognized within the field of positive psychology as a day-to-day remedy for anxiety and depression.
Training your mind and body to relax is no easy feat. It takes practice. Think about it. Even children who do not have jobs or daily responsibilities have a hard time winding down, especially when they are overtired. This is why children have bedtime routines. What makes us think that we adults are different? When you start your routine is up to you but aim for 30 to 60 minutes before you get into bed.
Relaxing Activities You Can Do Before Bed
Try different activities that you do every night at the same time before bed. Here are some suggestions:
- Take a warm bath
- Do some light stretches
- Try to meditate
- Pick up journaling
- Read a book (not a screen)
- Listen to relaxing music
- Write poetry
Whatever you try, make sure it is unrelated to your job or daily projects. We want to shut the day down. We want to take an exit off of the daily highway and travel up a dirt road somewhere and get lost in the trees. Keep an open mind and be creative. Fill that last 30 minutes of your day with something different, slightly distracting, and mellow.
10. Cultivate a Healthy Work/Life Balance
In the United States, we have a tendency to hold in high esteem people who stay up all night to meet deadlines or remain at the office late into the night after being the first one there. No one ever says, “Gee, I really respect that guy. He goes to bed early and sleeps as long as he needs.” Put your health before your social status.
Continued Sleep Problems
Following the guidelines above should help you sleep well most nights. Everyone has occasional trouble sleeping or sleeping soundly. But if you consistently get poor quality, insufficient or excessive sleep, or continuously wake feeling sleepy after a full night’s sleep, it might be time to seek help. Work with your doctor to determine the issue and get your sleep back on track. It’s too important to ignore.
Good Night and Good Luck!
Filling our minds with the right facts can help us fast track to a beautiful night’s rest. When we move beyond the mechanics of a medicine bottle and into the malleability of our minds and bodies, we can find natural ways to upkeep a deep slumber, sometimes similar to that of our ancestors. It’s time to armor our biology for an even brighter future with the tools that nature has given us. Let’s make our ancestors proud.
And just in case you are looking for a nightcap, here is a simple recipe to calm the mind, body, and spirit. Cheers to good health!
Bedtime Elixir for Beauty Sleep
- 2 Cups Fresh Nut Milk
- 1 Tbsp Coconut Oil
- 1 Tsp. Ground Turmeric
- 1 Tsp. Cinnamon (great at regulating blood sugar)
- Pinch of ground Clove
- 1 Tsp. ground Cardamom
- Mix ingredients in a saucepan, simmer on low.
- Serve in your favorite, cozy mug
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 23, 2017, and has been updated for quality and relevancy on October 13, 2021.