How to Sleep Well
The Importance of Sleep to Health
If you feel you are no longer getting a good night's sleep, you are not alone.
A recent survey showed that an estimated 164 MILLION Americans, or over half the population of the United States, struggle to get a good night’s sleep at least once per week. And there's no reason to doubt that these figures apply to other Western nations, such as the UK, Canada and Australia.
There's a major correlation between poor sleep and poor health and to overcome it, you need to learn (or re-learn) how to sleep well.
Here are some of the problems that can result from poor sleep.
Poor Sleep Can Make You Fat
This comes as a shock to many people, but it's an absolute fact. If you are struggling to lose weight and body fat, poor sleep can jeopardize all your efforts. This is because good sleep is an important part of good metabolism and slow metabolism is linked to an inability to shed fat. In fact, one study showed that just five days of poor sleep led to a kilogram (approximately 2 lbs.) of weight gain!
Conversely, a good night's sleep can see you waking up a pound or two lighter than when you lay down.
So you must learn how to sleep well if you are attempting to lose weight (which really translates to metabolize or burn fat).
In children and adolescents, the link between not getting enough sleep and an increased risk of obesity is well-established, although the reason for this link is still being debated. Insufficient sleep in children can lead to metabolic irregularities, a desire to skip breakfast and an increased intake of sweet, salty, fatty, and starchy foods.
To Look Younger, Learn How to Sleep Well
Turns out that the phrase "sleeping like a baby" is something we should all aspire to.
Have you ever had someone say to you "Gosh, you look really tired."
It can be code for "Gosh, you look really old."
There's a major correlation between how old you look and a lack of good, quality sleep.
And the reverse, of course. You look refreshed, revived and younger after a good night's sleep. In fact, learning how to sleep well is one of the most important steps you can take in your anti-aging quest.
There are five stages of sleep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is the fifth. It is when dreams occur and it causes the body to be in a temporary state of paralysis while you dream. Your eye movement speeds up, your breathing also accelerates, and your muscles tense and twitch.
Recent research has begun to show that REM sleep is most effective at rejuvenating your both body and your mind. It is one of the most effective natural aids to anti-aging.
Poor Sleep Affects Your Immune System
There is a strong correlation between sleeping well and how effective your immune system is. A study which examined the relationship between sleep duration and the incidence of contracting the cold virus among 153 healthy men and women found that participants who slept seven hours or less were nearly three times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept eight hours or more. This is an indication of the extent to which more sleep bolsters your immune system.
While you sleep, your immune system produces protective, infection-fighting antibodies and cytokines and uses them to combat foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. Some cytokines also help you to sleep. This gives your immune system more weapons to defend your body against disease.
Your body needs sleep, just as it needs air and food to function at its best. During sleep, your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Your brain forges new thought connections and helps memory retention. Learn how to sleep well as your first line of defense against brain deterioration diseases such as dementia.
Sleep deprivation prevents your immune system from building up its forces. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body may not be able to fend off invaders, and it may also take you longer to recover from illness.
Long-term sleep deprivation also increases your risk for chronic conditions, such as diabetes mellitus and heart disease.
Poor Sleep Increases Your Junk Food Cravings
A lack of sleep increases your hunger, particularly for junk food containing large amounts of carbs, fat, sugar and salt. These "foods" are highly processed and are lacking in nutrients.
In fact, one study found that after one night of bad sleep, the participants ate 22% more calories the next day compared to what they ate after a good night's sleep.
Workers with interrupted sleep, such as police and emergency responders are notorious for over eating junk food and dying young as a result!
If you haven't watched Super Size Me you should. It's an actual, real-life documentary showing one man's horrible physical and mental deterioration from living on nothing but McDonald's for an extended period of time (30 days). The title comes from accepting every upsell offered to him. Would you like fries with that? Yes, please. Would you like to super-size your Coke for only 50c more? Yes, thank you. And so on.
Low Quality Sleep Makes You Look Older
Now I'm not suggesting that lack of sleep can turn you into a zombie, though it can feel like it sometimes.
But it can definitely make you look older.
Look, we all know that when we’re tired we just don’t look as good as usual. We have bags under our eyes, our skin looks dull, and usually our expression matches. One study reported that a bad night’s sleep for just a few days can materially increase the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as hyperpigmentation.
Another study took 60 women between the ages of 30 and 49, half of whom reported that they don’t sleep well. The researchers studied their skin very thoroughly.
They put the skin through a complete evaluation, conducting several challenge tests, including exposing it to UV rays and disrupting the outer barrier. They then added up the “scores” on each of these tests to come up with an overall “skin aging” score, which included measurements of things like fine lines, uneven pigmentation, slacking of the skin, and reduced elasticity. A higher score translated into an older appearance.
These were their conclusions:
- Good sleepers had an average score of 2.2. Poor sleepers had an average score of 4.4, signifying more aged skin.
- After five nights of poor sleep, participants had up to double the amount of fine lines and wrinkles and up to three-quarters more brown spots.
- Good quality sleepers had skin that recovered faster from stress. For example, if they were sunburned, their skin recovered 30 percent faster, indicating that the skin was repairing itself more quickly than in those who didn’t sleep well.
- Good quality sleepers felt better about their overall appearance than did poor quality sleepers.
Poor Sleep Leads to Distraction, Forgetfulness and Illness
Not getting a full night’s sleep may literally cloud memory and hamper learning, attention, resilience and logical reasoning. It’s during quality sleep that the brain’s “clean-up crew” (called the glymphatic system) is most active, clearing out potentially neurotoxic waste from the brain.
During sleep, important brain waves are produced which play a vital role in storing memories. The brain waves transfer memories from a part of the brain called the hippocampus to the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain where long term memories are stored.
Poor quality sleep in adults causes memories to stay stuck in the hippocampus and not reach the prefrontal cortex. This results in forgetfulness and difficulty remembering names. In non REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep, the brain produces waves from the middle frontal lobe. As this part of the brain deteriorates (which commonly happens among elderly) it undermines the ability to enter deep sleep, which is crucial for storing memories.
There is also a high correlation between sleep deprivation and workplace accidents. Overly sleepy employees are 70% more likely to be involved in workplace accidents than colleagues who are not sleep-deprived. Long work hours paired with poor sleep quality can also contribute to a higher risk of workplace injury. Workers with insomnia are much more likely to have work-related accidents than those who do not have sleep disorders.
These workplace accidents can have dire consequences. In a Swedish study of over 50,000 workers, those who self-reported disturbed sleep were twice as likely to die in an accident related to the workplace.
Plus there is little doubt that many automobile accidents are the direct result of either driver distraction or caused by drivers literally falling asleep at the wheel. Drivers who get six hours of sleep or less are 33% more likely to have an accident on the road, compared to those who get seven or eight hours of sleep. Driving while sleep-deprived has the same or worse impact as driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05%.
A hidden workplace cost is loss of productivity through employee sickness. This can be directly related to low quality or lack of sleep. For example, one study, which examined the relationship between sleep duration and the incidence of contracting the cold virus among 153 healthy men and women, found that participants who slept 7 hours or less were nearly 3 TIMES more likely to develop a cold than those who slept 8 hours or more.
... As Well as Bad Decisions and Risky, Self-Destructive Behavior
Multiple studies have shown that an inadequate night of sleep adversely affects decision making. For instance, one study found that just two nights of short sleep impaired decision making and increased risk-taking behavior.
Furthermore, research shows poor sleep can make you moody, irritable, angry, and feeling “down in the dumps”. It can make everything feel more challenging than it really is and it can make you slow to react, which can be annoying in areas like work, sports, and hobbies and downright dangerous in areas like driving.
You create a sleep debt when you fall an hour or two short of your needed sleep day after day. Sleep deprivation over the course of a week can lead to cognitive difficulties that are similar to those experienced by stroke patients. The result can be dangerous for those working long hours. Studies show medical residents experience more accidents after putting in long shifts.
Sleep deprivation affects your body and mind in a myriad of ways. As a sleep debt builds, your ability to concentrate decreases. Thinking becomes labored, and vision becomes blurry. You may experience headaches or feel especially agitated or moody. You start to forget things and make bad decisions.
Beware of Poor Sleep Solutions
In the United States alone, people spend well over $40 BILLION a year on sleeping aids! It's big business. Unfortunately, a Consumer Reports investigation of these so-called “solutions” found that many flat-out don’t work. Some even work against you and are potentially harmful.
Here Are Key Reasons to Beware of Many Sleep “Solutions”
1. Many sleep aids may actually increase sleep troubles. One study, for example, found various sleep agents can increase sleep issues among older folks by 50%!
2. Long-term use of certain sleep agents may result in dependence and tolerance.
3. Some sleep agents are well-known for a variety of negative side effects such as sleepwalking, drowsiness, feeling hungover, feeling blue, trouble remembering things, and worse.
4. Take a close look at those labels! Because even many over-the-counter sleep “solutions” contain artificial and potentially risky ingredients you do not want, such as FD&C Red#40, FD&C Blue#1, and more.
5. Many companies who make over-the-counter sleep “solutions” do absolutely no third-party testing. That means impurities and possibly even dangerous substances could be lurking in the formula.
How to Sleep Well Naturally
Before considering any over-the-counter or prescription medication to help you sleep, make sure you are following these good sleep habits.
- Try to maintain a consistent bed and wake time daily and get to bed before 11 pm.
- Ensure a quiet, cool, and dark environment in your bedroom.
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants 6 hours or more before sleep.
- Block blue light and avoid light-emitting technology devices at least an hour before bed.
- Implement stress management techniques, such as yoga, meditating, taking a leisurely walk, and breathing deeply and slowly.
- Exercise daily, but not too late, as that can raise core body temperature and levels of neurotransmitters that can keep you awake.
As a physical exercise, meditation has the aim of moving your brain waves from one state to another.
There is nothing inherently mystical about this. Your brain waves can be measured by an encephalograph and the effect of meditation clearly illustrated.
The frontal lobe, which plans and reasons switches off during meditation and helps you to detach and relax.
The thalamus, which relays motor and sensory signals to the cerebral cortex, slows down its activity, enabling you to keep calm.
The parietal lobe, which gives you a sense of time also slows down, helping to lower your stress and anxiety levels.
The reticular keeps your brain alert and helps you respond to situations. During meditation, the reticular activity slows down, allowing you to keep calm and be peaceful.
One effect of all this is to allow you to fall asleep quickly and naturally and then achieve a good, sound, full night's sleep. It can also help if you are plagued by disturbing dreams.
How to Meditate
There are techniques to get you into a state of meditation quickly.
While not particularly difficult, they deserve a thorough explanation, so rather than tack them onto the end of this article, I'm going to write a separate article where I'll go through them step by step.
Finally, if you are looking for supplements to help you sleep, here are the essential nutrients that they need to contain:
This natural amino acid is well-established to support relaxation, feelings of well-being, and high sleep quality. Research shows it may also promote reducing psychological stress and anxious thoughts.
Research shows this well-known natural compound can provide powerful support for reducing the time it takes to fall asleep… increasing total sleep time… increasing the amount of time sleeping in bed relative to overall time in bed… and improving overall sleep quality.
This is another very effective “relaxation” neurotransmitter that supports feelings of calm and healthy stress management. Research shows it can support improved sleep quality and reduced feelings of sleepiness and fatigue during the day, and it may also reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and promote deeper sleep.
This essential mineral is crucial for a healthy stress response and regulating cortisol levels in the body (unregulated cortisol levels can otherwise lead to sleeplessness and feelings of agitation). NOTE that many people – at least 75% of folks! – don’t get enough magnesium in their daily diet.
Lemon Balm Extract
Lemon balm has been treasured by European and Mediterranean cultures for over 2000 years, and research agrees it can provide powerful support for improving overall sleep quality for those experiencing difficulty sleeping due to stress… reducing how long it takes to fall asleep… reducing feelings of worry and uncertainty… and promoting healthy brain function and healthy moods!
Chamomile has been shown in research to support calm nerves and the easing of feelings like agitation and worry. And it may, indeed, also improve sleep quality – especially among older adults!
Passion Flower Extract
Research shows this extract can support sleep duration, sleep latency (the amount of time it takes to fall asleep), and support overall sleep quality.
B6 can provide outstanding support for converting tryptophan to serotonin, which is the precursor to the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. Interestingly, it may also provide strong support for “lucid dreaming”!
Finally, there are two “golden keys” you need to know:
ONE, it’s important to routinely consume most, if not all, of them versus just taking one or two. That’s because, as you’ve seen, they work in different ways in your body.
TWO, it’s important to consume clean, high-quality forms of these nutrients, in proper amounts, to ensure your body experiences the benefits.
A relaxing massage from your partner just before bedtime can be a massive aid to sleep. Please checkout What Is Lymphatic Massage Therapy?