Sleep…How much sleep do you get a night?
Sleep is often over-looked in terms of its affect on health and mood – if you’ve ever suffered from irritability or craved sweet foods or struggled to lose weight then adjusting your sleep pattern might be the easy fix. It’s one of the few things we can control easily and has the potential to significantly alter your health. Sure, there are nights when sleep is compromised – noisy neighbours, crying baby or snoring partner, these are all common factors and I’m sure you’ve felt sub-optimal as a direct result – but when you prioritize sleep you WILL be a healthier & happier human.
If I had to pick the most important factor in the bid for health it would be sleep…hands down!
Why do we need sleep?
Good sleep will promote a reboot of our immune system and will allow our gut to ‘rest’ from digesting food matter, not to mention encourage a decrease in systemic inflammation. Sleep allows our body’s to take the foot ‘off the gas’ and turn its energy to cellular cleansing and detoxification. Cells will accumulate dead components, damages components and toxins which will need to be eliminated for continued good health – when this ‘cleansing’ is unaddressed then it can become problematic.
Our modern, busy, stressful life agitates the sympathetic nervous system – one which is characterized by flight or fight. Historically, this pathway would have only been activated infrequently (hunters & gatherers) but these days it activated when we are simply walking through our busy day-to-day…factors including traffic, shitty emails, timelines and presentations all trigger the sympathetic nervous system.
In contrast to our sympathetic nervous system is the parasympathetic nervous system – see this as the ‘rest and rejuvenate’ pathway.
No time in history has there been an imperative need to focus on sleep to help us unwind, restore and rejuvenate.
What are some of the ways to optimize sleep to maximize health?
1. Tech Detox
Avoid technology for the last 2 hours of your day prior to sleep. The blue light given off from devices such as phones and laptops will interfere with your normal circadian rhythm (your internal body clock) and will disrupt sleep. There are blue light filters you can run on devices these days…I suggest you get them. Blue light will stifle the natural production of our sleep hormone melatonin – which ‘should’ begin to roll-out at sunset when remove distractions. It’s possible to get an app on your tech devices that emit green or red light which will have less impact on our physiology and hormones.
It will also help to have your phone in another room, wifi off or at least on ‘flight mode’
2. Hot & Cold Showers
Alternating between hot and cold (finishing on cold) will help to promote good quality sleep.
How to do hot/cold showers to illicit better sleep:
1. Shower at your usual temperature
2. Gradually raise the temperature to the point in which it uncomfortable – ensure your whole body experiences this temperature
3. Lower the temperature to the coldest possible (not hot tap running) and exposure all body parts to this
4. Raise the temperature again (if you can tolerate a higher temperature than before do so)
5. Lower the temperature again – repeat a further 6 times
6. Start on hot and finish on cold
7. Only spend time in each extreme temperature long enough to expose all body parts – particularly the hot shower
8. Jump into bed
3. Sleep In a Cool Room
Studies have shown that sleeping in a cool room (17-19 C) is better for quality sleep – this isn’t always easy in a our Australian climate but definitely worth bearing in mind.
4. Block-Out Light
Ever slept in a hotel room with a set of black-out blinds and noticed you slept like a baby (assuming you didn’t raid the mini bar)? So at home, I strongly suggest you make your room as dark and as quiet as possible. Your sleep is so incredibly important to your health, so any little changes you can make to your bedroom and night-time routine the better. In addition, grab a set of ear-plugs to reduce the noise distractions throughout the night.
5. Late Night Massage
A massage at night will help to boost serotonin and oxytocin (cuddle hormone) which will control the production of cortisol (stress hormone) which is elevated when we have our sympathetic nervous system activated. High levels of cortisol will suppress the restoration processes and impact the production of melatonin – therefore it’s important to minimize cortisol at night.
Earthing or grounding is an important way to improve sleep quality – as well as our cardio-vascular health – this is imperative for city-folk. The earth’s surface is fizzing with free electrons, so by walking bare-foot, being in a body of water or lying on the grass you’ll be positively affecting your physiology. Our body is incredibly conductive and so grounding (getting your body in touch with the earth’s electro-magnetic charge) will increase the surface charge of red blood cells and consequently lowers blood viscosity. Studies have shown grounding lowers cortisol levels at night and followed by normal cortisol levels the next day. Subjects in the studies reported better sleep quality, reduced pain and lowered stress the following day
7. Magnesium Supplementation
Arguably the most important mineral – magnesium is essential to the function of every organ in our body. Taking magnesium as a supplement is something that our great grandparents might not have had to be concerned with. They would have received adequate levels of magnesium through fresh food but industrial farming has depleted our soil/food of certain minerals. Aim to get magnesium from foods as much as possible. Foods rich in magnesium are rainbow/swiss chard, spinach, nuts, dark chocolate and seeds….otherwise consider supplementation.
In terms of dosage – aim for minimum of 400mg a day and look for the chelated magnesiums (those ending in “-ate,” like citrate, glycinate, or taurate) tend to be the best absorbed. I’d aim for two or three times this if you’re training regularly or are deficient. If take capsules isn’t your thing – it’s possible to apply topical magnesium, absorbing it through your skin.
The body is incredibly complex and nothing works in isolation so giving your body as much rest and sleep as possible will set you up for success – it’ll down regulate the stress hormone cortisol and promote sleep-inducing hormones – ensuring you feel restored.
When stressed and/or sleep deprived we crave sugary foods and drinks which feeds a negative cycle within the gut which can impact the gut integrity and cause systemic inflammation.
Interestingly, a study by Dr Elinav and Dr Segal saw their students flying across different time-zones to induce jet-lag and the stress associated with it. Fecal samples from the students were then placed into healthy mice.
The results were astonishing!
The mice who received microbes from the jet-lagged students grew obese and developed diabetes, mice which received microbes from students not exposed to jet-lag saw no change – mind blowing!!