What does sleep mean to you? For some of us, sleep comes easily. For others, sleep is an elusive proposition. Our beloved horizontal pastime can be unpredictable—and sometimes unattainable—but it is universally desired. Particularly over the past year, achieving high-quality sleep has become more difficult for many of us. The Sleep Foundation notes that four in 10 Americans reported trouble sleeping during the pandemic, a phenomenon it has dubbed as “coronasomnia.”
Regardless of your current relationship with sleep, it is difficult to understate the importance of a good night’s rest. Sleep impacts our physical and psychological well-being, and a chronic lack of sleep can be a driving force behind negative health outcomes such as the development of cancer and heart disease. This is why focusing on sleep might just save your life.
Read on for what you need to know about sleep, and how our providers at Hudson Medical + Wellness can help you optimize your precious shut-eye.
Sleep is a crucial process during which your body repairs itself and your brain consolidates information and stores memories. During sleep, your brain cycles through a rapid eye movement (REM) stage and four non-REM stages. In the deepest stage of sleep, stage four, your parasympathetic nervous system takes the wheel, driving down your body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. It is during this stage that your body accomplishes the bulk of its repair work.
We are all born with an innate ability to sleep—from the jump, our bodies know precisely how to shift from active beta brain waves into less active alpha and theta brain waves as we nod off into slumber. However, as we age out of our bassinets and daily nap times, we adopt habits that can interfere with our circadian rhythms. Sleeping well can start to become less natural, and many people struggle to get habitual, restful sleep.
Researchers are still learning about how sleep affects other aspects of our daily lives. However, one thing is certain: sleep is not simply a time for brain rest. Sleep appears to have a crucial role in our ability to manage inflammation and prevent disease. Sleep loss has been associated with the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as cardiovascular disease. Researchers have found that sleep duration significantly impacts a person’s risk of suffering from a stroke.
As the hum of the business world picks back up, many professionals will be returning to their hectic, pre-pandemic work schedules. Depending on the nature of your work, your calendar may start to include more atypical hours, and even a return to business travel. Before you know it, you may once again be battling jet lag and insomnia.
However, the circadian disruption that is brought on by shift work and jet lag can negatively impact our health. In fact, in June 2019, the World Health Organization classified night shift work as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
It can be intimidating to learn about the critical role of sleep, especially as it relates to your ability to achieve long-term health. However, you can immediately adopt many easy ways to improve your sleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult should be getting seven to nine hours of sleep nightly. To give yourself the best shot at a quality night of sleep, you should do the following to optimize your sleep hygiene:
- Ensure that your sleep environment is optimal: Experts suggest a cool room with white noise and minimal disruptions.
- Embrace a fixed sleep routine: Try to stick to concrete sleep and wake times, and extend this to the weekends as well. If you are an afternoon napper, you may need to re-evaluate this habit, as your daytime slumber may be robbing you of evening rest.
- Ditch sleep disruptors: If you are having trouble falling asleep, reduce your afternoon caffeine exposure and eliminate any alcohol consumption, as these substances can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Get daily sunlight: When you are exposed to sunlight, your brain’s pineal gland secretes more of the sleep hormone known as melatonin. Getting 20 minutes of sun exposure a day can help you fall asleep faster at night.
- Remove screens: Experts recommend that you put away your screen 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime, to reduce your exposure to brain-activating light waves.
- Become a bedtime purist: If you are in the habit of eating a meal or exercising right before bedtime—or even trying to fire off one last email—this may impact your ability to fall asleep promptly. Instead, try a calming activity, such as reading a book or meditating, so that your brain and body are more relaxed as you head into slumber.
If you notice that you are awakening from sleep abruptly, or a partner tells you that you snore loudly or stop breathing during sleep, you may have a medical condition known as sleep apnea. To fully evaluate this, it is important to see a medical provider so that you can undergo a screening process known as a sleep study.
If you have performed a sleep audit but are still struggling to get a good night of rest, don’t despair. Many additional tips and tricks are available to you to help enhance the quality of your sleep.
At Hudson Medical + Wellness, our functional wellness experts can discuss your sleep risk factors and formulate a plan for improving your sleep (and, therefore, your life). Your personalized sleep plan may include supplements such as melatonin or magnesium, or medications that are only available by prescription. Depending on your medical and sleep history, you may also benefit from our holistic services such as acupuncture, massage therapy, or hypnotherapy.
To learn more about our functional wellness program, schedule a consultation today.
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