Health is a habit. It's not a destination to be achieved, but rather a skill that you can learn and practice. (Click HERE to read about the habits that create the foundation of vibrant health and lasting energy.)
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One of the foundational habits you can practice is getting enough sleep. let's start with why sleep is so important and then move on to how you can get more of it.
The Importance of Sleep:
1) Sleep is when we consolidate memories. It helps us remember things we learned. Lack of sleep or fragmented sleep reduces your ability to form concrete memories, for facts and figures, as well as emotional memories.
2) Adequate sleep reduces inflammation. C-reactive Protein, a marker that indicates heart attack risk, is higher in people who regularly sleep six hours or less.
3) Spurs creativity. In addition to consolidating memories, or moving them from short-term to long-term memory, your brain also seems to organize and structure them in new and creative ways. This can lead to heightened creativity, as your brain puts things together in new and different ways.
4) Helps maintain a healthy weight. Insufficient sleep or abnormal sleep patterns lead to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, increasing your risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
5) Sleep is the time your brain cleans itself. Cerebro-Spinal Fluid (CSF) is pumped through the brain to nourish and protect the brain and spinal cord. While asleep, the brain's neurons shrink up to 60%. this shrinkage allows for greater space and therefore movement of CSF to wash away build up of bio-toxins that that accumulate throughout the day. One of the substances cleaned away is amyloid beta, AB. In a healthy brain that gets adequate sleep, the AB is removed during sleep. If allowed to accumulate through lack of sleep, AB forms a sticky plaque that is implicated in the development of Alzheimer's disease.
Sleep does all this and more, but I hope those tidbits are enough to inspire you to go to bed early tonight. While that's a great start, here are some tips to catch plenty of ZZZs tonight and every night.
1) Develop a “power-down” ritual before bed. Turn off the screens at least an hour before bed time. Make a plan to sleep 8 hours every night. Let’s say 10 pm to 6 am fits your schedule. Turn off all screens at 9 pm and cozy up with a good (relaxing!) book. Or do some light stretching and meditate. Write in your gratitude journal, trade foot rubs with your sweetie, or take a warm bath. Screen time is disruptive for a couple reasons. It makes our mind too active at a time when it should be winding down. And the blue light from the screen disrupts melatonin production. And while there are blue-light blocking glasses and screen apps to reduce the blue light, I suggest you just turn off the screens and go to bed. Your body and mind will thank you.
2) Don’t consume any caffeine after noon and no alcohol less than 3 hours before bed. So if you are going to bed at 10 pm, no alcohol after 7 pm. Be aware that caffeine is in LOTS of places you wouldn’t expect. It can be hidden in energy waters, pain relievers, sodas, chocolate, even decaf coffee or tea can have some caffeine. When you eliminate caffeine for a while and then consume it again, you realize what a powerful drug it really is. A little bit at the wrong time of day can be really disruptive for some people. So read labels and be aware of what you are getting.
3) Get outdoors every day, even if for only half an hour. Our bodies’ circadian rhythms, the body clock that tells us when to sleep, eat, wake up, and regulates many of our bodily processes, is set by things like sunlight and temperature. Most people spend a lot of time indoors, and don’t get enough bright light to help set their body clocks every day. We don’t get enough bright light exposure (ie, outdoors light) during the day and too much at night. This throws off our melatonin production and throws our circadian rhythm into disarray. Get out at lunch time and take a walk – you get to move your body (exercise helps you sleep too!) and get light to help keep your circadian rhythm humming.
4) Keep your room pitch black when sleeping. No night lights and no screens. Watch out for blinking lights or green “on” lights on all sorts of electronic devices, and cover them with a small piece of electrical tape. Better yet, get them all out of your bedroom, including phones. If you have an alarm clock, drape an old t-shirt or some other fabric over the digital numbers so the light doesn’t disturb your sleep, but the sound of the alarm will still wake you up. Use black-out curtains to keep outside light from leaking in.
5) Keep your bedroom cool. Research suggests that the ideal temp for sleeping is 65 – 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Throw an extra blanket on your bed to stay warm.
There you have it. Five good reasons to get plenty of sleep every night and five solid recommendations to get that sleep. Start creating your sleep habit tonight!