Here are ten critical pieces of information every person should know about sleep and how to optimize and enhance sleep for healthy living.
Sleep is the secret weapon for maintaining overall health and wellness.
1. Be asleep > 2 hours before midnight.
Quality sleep is biologically driven by the brain and is often inflexible to environmental change. The best quality sleep is achieved between 2200 – 0600. Quality sleep helps to clear toxins and repair muscle.
2. Electronic devices reduce quality sleep.
A recent study found that late-night tweeting increases next-day fatigue and daytime sleepiness. Biologically speaking, blue light emitted from smartphones and TVs stops nighttime release of the hormone that helps us fall asleep: melatonin. Melatonin helps us achieve restorative sleep responsible for overall rejuvenation and repair.
3. Quality sleep releases anabolic hormones.
It is a myth that we release growth hormone and testosterone after we exercise. Rather, the body “saves” that information and releases these anabolic hormones during sleep but only if quality, restorative sleep is achieved.
4. No sugary foods before bedtime.
While it is common to wake up starving in the middle of the night, eating low glycemic foods that do not elevate blood sugar (e.g., sweet potatoes over a banana or ice cream) before bedtime will help reduce awakenings in the middle of the night.
5. Supplementation with magnesium and zinc.
These are two key minerals rapidly depleted during the day that are critical for a healthy nervous system. Most foods do not provide adequate amounts of magnesium/zinc. Both will help reduce leg cramping and muscle twitching common at night as well as with achieving quality sleep.
6. Sleep in the fetal position.
Sleeping on your back or stomach makes the ability to breath difficult during sleep. Use pillows to condition the body to sleep in the fetal position.
7. Keep the room cool for quality sleep.
A room temperature between 68 -72 degrees Fahrenheit will help ensure that you do not wake up in the middle of the night and can achieve quality stages of sleep.
8. Mentally rehearse important information before bedtime.
Sleep is necessary to learn and recall new information.
9. “Sleep bank” prior to intended sleep deprivation.
It is common to have poor sleep the night before travel. Extending sleep by > 1 -2 hours for 3 – 4 days leading up to travel will help protect against declines in physical and mental performances.
10. Use sleep medications as a last resort for insomnia or other sleep difficulties.
When all else fails, take half a recommended dose of a prescribed sleep medication or use melatonin (3 -5 mg; 1 -2 capsules) to help re-adjust a sleep schedule to a new time zone. The easiest way to prepare for time zone travel is to slowly adjust sleep by 30 – 60 min in the direction of travel a few days prior.
Learn more about sleep physiology!
Register now for Dr. Brager’s free webinar on this topic. This webinar will give a basic overview of the principles and practices of how and why we sleep, and how sleep timing & quality shape overall health status.
Dr. Allison Brager is an expert in sleep physiology and relevance to issues of mental health. She serves in several leadership and scientific advisory board positions with professional research societies, industry, and professional, Olympic, and collegiate teams.
She has over 30 publications in flagship journals of medicine, neuroscience, and physiology widely featured by large media outlets and is author of the popular science book Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain. She has a Sc.B from Brown University and a PhD from Kent State University.