What is Sleep Hygiene?
At first glance you might think that sleep hygiene is something pertaining to sleep cleanliness. This is the exact response I received when I asked two of my colleagues. One response “does that have something to do with how often I clean my sheets?” The other “does that mean I don't wash my hair enough?” Neither of those responses were correct, although I am not advocating for going to bed dirty or never putting clean sheets on your bed, both of those are great habits to have. Sleep hygiene can be broken down into two concepts: blue light and stimulation from your environment. Everything we get better at, we get better at while we sleep. The job of our dreams is to reorganize everything from the previous day into our conscious. New information or new relationships are oriented by our dreams while we sleep. Habits, for example, are either reinforced or discarded as not useful during sleep. This depends entirely on how well you performed that habit the previous day and your feelings around it. Your body is designed to recover while you sleep. Cells regenerate or die and news are created, our muscles grow and replenish themselves with nutrients. All of this growth is predicated on how well you sleep and how well you sleep is predicated on your sleep hygiene. All this to say, sleep is the foundation for an overall healthy quality of life.
So, what is blue light? Your smart phone! Candy crush, facebook, instagram all expose us to blue light. Anything you do on a computer, tablet, or smartphone exposes you to blue light. Blue light tells our brain to continue producing hormones that keep our brain awake. We have a group of cells in our our eye whose job it is to identify when we are taking in blue light. As long as we are exposed to blue light those cells will continue to tell our brain that we need to be awake. Thus, the problem of feeling really sleepy, crawling into bed, playing candy crush for 30 minutes and the moment you turn your phone off your brain is going a mile a minute. While you lay their frustrated about not being able to sleep and only compounding the problem with stress hormones. That group of cells I mentioned before, the one in our eyes, their job is tell our pituitary gland when to start producing melatonin. How do they know when that time is? When we stop introducing BLUE LIGHT to our brain. In a time before technology and artificial light our pituitary gland started producing melatonin when the sun went down. Our brains then told us it was time to go to sleep and since there wasn’t candy crush to play in bed, it was much easier to fall asleep. Try turning your phone off 1 hour before bed. Allow your brain the opportunity to do its job. If you use your phone as an alarm clock, ok fine. Plug it in and turn it upside down and do not touch it until morning. Same thing goes with computers and television. Turn them off an hour before bed. Allow your brain time to decompress and prepare your body for sleep. Imagine your brain as a car in the middle of a Colorado winter when it is 10 degrees outside. Your car needs time to warm up before you start driving it. Your brain needs the same. Time to gear up to put your body to sleep. Give your body and brain what it needs, give it what you deserve better sleep.
What happens if my boss emails me at night and needs a response? What about my kids, they watch a movie and then go right to sleep? My partner would never go for that, we always watch our favorite TV show before bed. There will always be a million and one reasons to not be able to turn off blue light before bed. It comes down to how important sleep is to you. Stimulation from our environment is the second part of sleep hygiene. Stimulation encompasses all of the above add infinitum. There will always be something to do before bed dishes, laundry, dog walks, family time, you name it. The goal here is to find balance and determine what stimulates you the most at night. Maybe, not talk finances right before bed with your spouse or wait until bedtime to talk to your teenage about his poor grades. All of these interactions produce stress hormones that tell you brain that it needs to be awake. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is a signal to your brain that it needs to prepare for a fight. I don't know about you but I do not want my body ramping up to fight off a lion right before bed. The takeaway is decreasing the stimulation you are receiving from your environment within 2 hours of going to sleep. Have on your to do list before bed things that are calm and slow. Activities that involves deep breathing and calm conversations. A short 10 minute walk, folding laundry (as long as you dont have negative feelings toward laundry), or reading. Anything that allows you too slow your heart rate and give the signal to your brain that you are ready for sleep.
How your body is affected by sleep?
Hormone levels (Stress Hormones)
Behaviors to improve Sleep
Charging phone in a different room.
Sleeping in complete darkness
Sleeping in a cold room
Getting off technology 3 hours before bed
Go to sleep and wake up at the same time everyday
Why is sleep important?
This question deserves much more time and energy than I am able to give it. I cannot stress enough the idea that sleep is the elixir of life. It is the most important pillar of a healthy and prosperous life. Every single system in the body is affected by sleep. EVERY SINGLE ONE.
The first reason sleep is important and maybe the most important reason, sleep is the time in which our body gets better at everything we do. The brain identifies areas of weakness and reorients them. If we are trying to learn a new behavior our body identifies this and puts resources into learning the behavior. During sleep our brain processes problems 20x faster than when we are awake.
Diet! Regardless of your diet goals, sleep is vital for keeping your body running at an optimal level. Sleep is involved in fat loss, digestion, hunger, and even insulin sensitivity. When we are sleep deprived 70% of the weight we lose comes from our muscle, the body chooses to store fat because it is a more efficient energy source. Our digestive system slows down and we become more sensitive to insulin spikes which leads to the body storing more fat cells. When we are sleep deprived the body increases production of a hormone called ghrelin and decreases production of leptin. Ghrelin is the hormone that tells us that we are hungry and leptin is responsible for inhibiting hunger. Which means we are lead to eat more and feel less full.
Mood or emotional well being is handled partly by REM sleep or otherwise known as dream sleep. During REM the prefrontal cortex of our brain shuts off. This is the “prison guard” of the brain, it regulates between rational and irrational. During REM our brain is able to take memories and sort through them without the guidance of rational thought. This is where the idea “sleep on a problem” comes from or as the French like to say “sleep with a problem”.
Recovery and performance, whether it be physical or mental. In order to operate at an optimum level we must recharge our batteries and let our body recovery with quality sleep. During Non REM sleep is when our physical bodies are taken care of. This is a time for body and metabolism replenishment. Sleep deprivation turns on genes that signal inflammation in the body and turns off genes that inhibit inflammation. As a result, our immune system suffers. We are more likely to get sick, we have less energy, and our decision making becomes affected. Another feature that sleep provides is this sort of sewage system for the brain. Our brain builds up sticky toxic proteins that slows down processing. Sleep is the time for our brain to clean out all these sticky proteins. It's a time for a brain to get a good cleansing. If we are sleep deprived this process does not happen which leads to that worsening feeling of brain fog.
5 Tips to Help You Sleep Better
Establish a regular sleep schedule. That means go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday (even weekends). If you stay up late the night before you should still wake up at your regularly scheduled time and accpet that the day will be rough. In times like these it is ok to go to sleep a little early.
Our bodies sleep better in the cold. The ideal temperature for your room is 65 degrees. The brain needs to drop a few degrees below our normal body temperature in order to prepare for sleep. The key here is helping your body drop its core temperature. A quick hack for decreasing core body temperature is to take a hot bath right before bed. When we rapidly heat our bodies we have a rapid cooling process immediately after, its this cooling process that makes you feel sleepy, not the hot bath.
- Decrease Exposure to Light
Blue light, yellow light, red light, green light, ALL LIGHTS! We have all heard stop looking at you phone, tablets, and computers before bed because of the BLUE light. I am here to tell you that it is ALL LIGHT that affects sleep. Minimize your exposure to all light at least an hour before bed. Remove all the light in your room. The most beneficial way to sleep is in complete darkness.
- Walk it Out
If you are having trouble falling asleep after you have gotten in bed, wait 30 minutes and then get our of bed. Our brains are extremely powerful associative devices. We are able to train our brains to associate our beds with sleep as well as being awake. After about 30 minutes of wakefulness in bed get up and read a book (a real book, not an electronic book), do some breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga. Anything that will prep your body for sleep. DO NOT eat food, read emails, play candy crush, or watch TV. Wait to get back into bed until you are feeling sleepy.
Myths About Sleep
Myth 1: “I only need about 5-6 hours of sleep a night”
Most people need 5 sleep cycles a night. Each sleep cycle consists of REM Sleep and Non REM sleep. In order to complete a cycle your body and brain us go through each stage of sleep. Our sleep cycles take on average 90 minutes, so 5 cycles X 90 minutes = 7.5 hours of sleep. I could write an entire blog on why sleep is important and how dangerous to sleep deprivation is. However, for the sake of time I will leave you with a quick fact about sleep deprivation. After one night of poor sleep our testosterone levels drop by 20%. Men who are chronically sleep deprived have testosterone levels of a man 10 years his senior. To put it another way, chronic sleep deprivation can age you by 10 years.
Myth 2: “You can sleep when you are dead”
This common idiom is true is just straight bad advice, unless you want a short life. The scientific literature has shown that people who are chronically sleep-deprived live shorter lives. Those of you who believe sleep is a waste of time might want to reconsider your philosophy on productivity.
Myth 3: “A nightcap helps me sleep better”
Alcohol! Those of us who drink know that having a few drinks before bed make it easier to fall asleep. Why isn't this a good thing? Alcohol puts us in a sedated state not a sleep state. Alcohol inhibits our ability to reach REM sleep and causes sleep fragmentation so we are never able to fully experience deep sleep.