Greetings Healthy Boilers,
Did you know you can sleep your way to good health? While there certainly are other important aspects of a healthy lifestyle, sleep is foundational to our health and wellbeing. Many of us know how important sleep is, but getting quality sleep is sometimes easier said than done. Recent months have brought big changes. We’ve had to adjust to different schedules, altered routines, and virtual work or school. This month’s blog post will look further into the science behind sleep and how we can improve our quality of sleep to better our health.
Sleep has two dimensions – duration (quantity of sleep) and depth (quality of sleep). When we fail to get adequate duration or depth of sleep, our daytime alertness and many other aspects of health can suffer. It’s also important to note that the amount of sleep needed for optimal functioning can vary from person to person. Some adults are short sleepers, requiring less than 6 hours, without the need for catch-up sleep to feel refreshed. Others may need 10 or more hours of sleep per night. The National Sleep Foundation advises that 7-9 hours of sleep is ideal for most adults. Currently about a third of Americans get fewer than 7 hours of sleep each night and night shift workers are most likely to get insufficient sleep. As a kid you may have been able to sleep anytime and anywhere, but as we age and our days become more hectic, the struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep becomes all too common.
Research continues to uncover the value of sleep to our health and wellness, such as:
- Sleep helps the brain function. It helps improves learning and problem-solving skills. Sleep helps one’s attention span, decision making and creativity.
- During sleep our body is involved in the healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Sleep deficiency is linked to an increase in heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.
- Sleep is important in weight management. Sleep helps maintain a balance of the hormones that control appetite. Ghrelin, a hormone that makes you feel hungry is increased when you don’t get enough sleep. Leptin, a hormone that makes you feel full is decreased.
- Sleep also affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood sugar level. Lack of sleep increases the blood sugar level which may increase your risk of diabetes.
- Sleep supports healthy growth and development, boost muscle mass and help repair cells and tissues. Your immunity relies on sleep to keep you healthy.
- Sleep helps us be productive at work and function well.
If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you may know all too well the negative effects poor sleep can have. You may find your lack of sleep to work against other wellness goals you have for yourself. Sleep, nutrition and exercise are all closely linked and can either work in harmony or can work against each other. Poor sleep can lead to poor eating habits, and a poor diet can decrease your motivation to exercise. Very few people who are sleep deprived report having the motivation to exercise and move! Similarly, a diet lacking nutrient-dense foods can start the domino effect of poor sleep and lack of motivation for physical activity. When we are walking around sleep-deprived during the day, it is all too easy to reach for the “quick fix” for energy like a cup of coffee or energy drink and fast-food meal. Break the cycle by making improvements in one area, and the others are sure to follow.
What you eat and how you sleep are closely linked by the relationship tryptophan, serotonin, and melatonin have – all of which are essential for quality sleep. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is essential for the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, and serotonin is needed for the production of the hormone melatonin. Tryptophan is found in foods that contain protein, such as meats, poultry, seafood and eggs. Your body uses tryptophan as a precursor for serotonin and low levels of serotonin can sometimes be attributed to a tryptophan-deficient diet. Serotonin is known as the “happy chemical” and low levels have been linked to depression and poor memory. Since serotonin is a precursor for melatonin production, it can impact your sleep-wake cycle. This is an important point to consider since many people who suffer from depression also experience difficulty sleeping.
So, what can we do to improve our quantity and quality of sleep? Since we spend about one-third of our life sleeping, it is important to make the most of that time! Even though sleep is a state where you are not doing much moving, it is a very active, restorative process. Important building and repair of tissues occurs while you sleep, and memory consolidation occurs when you get quality sleep. Here are some tips for improving the duration and depth of your sleep:
- Stick to a sleep schedule and be as consistent as possible, seven days a week
- Turn the TV and all other electronic devices off 30 minutes before bed (read a book instead)
- Avoid eating within 2 hours of your bedtime
- Try drinking some hot tea – ‘Sleepytime’ by Celestial Seasonings is a favorite
- Avoid sugar, caffeine, chocolate, and alcohol before bed
- Avoid napping more than 30 minutes. Short naps (not more than 20 minutes) can be beneficial. Longer naps can reduce your alertness and cognitive performance after waking.
- Exercise daily
- Each a nutrient-dense diet of cherries, almonds, avocados, salmon, and so many more
- Maintain a sleep environment conducive to sleep. A bedroom that is comfortably cool. You can try blackout curtains, ear plugs, or a sound machine to promote optimal sleep.
- Make sure your mattress is comfortable and replace it when it is worn out
- DO NOT look at the clock. If you can’t sleep, go to another room, do something relaxing until you feel drowsy, then return to bed
If you struggle with sleep, it is definitely something worth talking to your health care team about. If you are looking for additional support in developing healthy habits, consider meeting with a health coach at the Center for Healthy Living! A health coach can provide resources and accountability to help keep you on track, try new approaches, and guide you through how to making lasting changes.
Be Kind. Be Well. Boiler Up!
Author: Stacey Wakefield, health coach, One to One Health
One to One Health operates the Center for Healthy Living on Purdue’s West Lafayette Campus
Maski, K. (2019, November 12). Insufficient sleep: Evaluation and management. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/insufficient-sleep-evaluation-and-management?search=Insufficient+Sleep%3A+Evaluation+and+Management
Meyer, K. (2019). Eat to sleep: What to eat and when to eat it for a good night’s sleep–every night. New York: Adams Media.