May 15, 2019 – Sleep Hacks

Are you getting enough sleep?  And just an importantly, are you getting quality sleep?  Recent research is pointing to upwards of 45% of Canadians suffering from insomnia, a condition representing a lack of, or an inability to get enough quality sleep.  Lack of sleep is strongly correlated in many studies to a myriad of health concerns, including blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, mental health, bone and joint problems, and neurological concerns, just to name a few.  And those don’t speak to the more obvious issues of mood, work and life performance, and relationships.

The goal of better and more consistent sleep is to help manage your circadian rhythms.  The Daily Science website defines circadian rhythm as a roughly 24 hour cycle in the physiological processes of living beings, including plants, animals, fungi and cyanobacteria.  In a strict sense, circadian rhythms are endogenously generated, although they can be modulated by external cues such as sunlight, temperature, diet and lifestyle habits.

Circadian rhythms are important in determining the sleeping and feeding patterns of all animals, including human beings.  There are clear patterns of brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration and other biological activities linked to this daily cycle.

So, here are some simple ‘sleep hacks’ that I like to recommend to people to help get into a better sleep each night.

1.  Get a routine.  Those working shifts and irregular schedules will struggle with this, but for those who can, consistent sleep/wake timing can help to regulate your circadian rhythms.
2. Avoid Blue Light.  This is hard to accomplish, but the science is pretty clear.  Blue light is the light emitted from your cell phone, tablet or TV.  Blue light suppresses the production of melatonin.  This is the hormone that signals your brain and systems that it’s time to sleep.  So, no TV, tablets or cell phones 2 hours before bed time.  It can also be helpful to dim your house lights and set a relaxed, quiet  and dark environment in your home.  Trick your body into thinking it’s dusk and it’ll relax into sleep much faster.  Like if you’re outside by a camp fire.
3. Get some exercise.  Of course we already know about the huge benefits of exercise on so many aspects of our health.  And yes, sleep can be impacted as well.  2-2.5 hours per week of even moderate aerobic activity will improve your sleep quality.
4.  Get outside in the morning.  Or open the blinds and let the light shine in.  Light in the morning will reduce melatonin and will help set your circadian rhythm.  More light in the morning, therefore, has been shown to help regulate hormones throughout the day and will help you fall asleep faster in the evening as well as improve sleep quality.
5.  Take a power nap.  Make up for lost sleep with a short, 20 min nap.  Napping for too long will allow you to sink into the deeper stages of sleep, and you’ll wake up feeling groggy.  Alberta Einstein napped every day.  He’d sit in a  chair with a ball in his hand.  When he fell asleep and the ball hit the floor, it’d wake him up and he’d carry on with his day.  He claimed it focussed him and was imperative to his afternoon productivity.
6.  Set your thermostat to a lower temp in the evenings.  Going to bed when it’s cooler will help you fall asleep, and stay asleep.  Who wants to wake up when its cold right?!?
7.  Avoid heavy snacking and fluids for a few hours before bed.  Sleeping is a time for recovery and regeneration.  If your body is busy digesting while sleeping, you’ll miss out on some of the regenerative benefits of your sleep.  And too much fluid in the evening will naturally cause you to wake us for a midnight potty break.

If you have the time and want a little more, check out this great Ted Talk by Matt Walker!

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