Sleep your way to the top

2662211659_339617fa30We’re often told that we need more sleep, but it’s easier said than done. Our fast-paced society and glowing computer screens make it difficult for us to get the right amount of sleep.

How often do we push ourselves to get that last email out or complete that late  evening task? Or watch just one more YouTube video? How often do we get by on less sleep, thinking that we don’t really need that much?

Try as we might, we can’t outwit Mother Nature. When we are overly connected to our external world, we are less connected to our inner world. Spending too much time in front of computer or TV screens is counterproductive.

The light from the screens can obstruct our body’s production of the hormone melatonin, which regulates our internal body clock and sleep pattern. Melatonin, sometimes called the “Dracula Hormone”, is released by the pineal gland inside the brain, but this occurs at night, when the sun goes down. An adequate level of melatonin in your blood is what helps you get a good night’s sleep.

During the day, melatonin is not produced, and therein lies the catch. Even a bright light during the night can block the release of melatonin in our bodies.

If you think you’re getting too much sleep these days, don’t feel guilty. In her book Thrive, Arianna Huffington talks about healthy workplaces and she highlights the importance of sleeping your way to the top.

Our sleep patterns can physically alter our brains. Sleep research shows that people who get more sleep than the bare minimum—seven to eight hours per night—have more grey matter and improved psychological health. A 2013 study on mice shows that sleep clears harmful waste proteins that build up between brain cells. Sleep works like a dishwasher for the brain. After a good night’s sleep, your brain has more space to process and retain new information and you cope better during the day. Regular sleep can also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

If you travel across multiple time zones or your work or lifestyle is not allowing you to get enough sleep, here are some things you can do:

  • When traveling, drink a lot of water and avoid alcohol and sugary foods.
  • Reduce computer/TV time in the evening.
  • Turn off your computer and smart phone at least an hour before going to bed.
  • If you often work late, install the f.flux program on your computer. This program can reduce your exposure to blue light emitted from your computer.
  • Nap during the day.
  • Eliminate afternoon or evening coffee or other caffeinated drinks.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Go to bed at a regular time every night (as much as possible).
  • Set your alarm so that you get up at the same time every day (as much as possible).
  • During the day, go out and get some sunlight or, if necessary, use a light box.
  • Fight early bedtime drowsiness by doing some activities that will keep you awake.
  • Exercise regularly (avoid late evening workouts) and eat healthy magnesium-rich foods.
  • Avoid late and heavy suppers; aim to have supper 2 hours before your bedtime.
  • Dim house lights in the evening.
  • Take a warm bath before bedtime.
  • Read, meditate or listen to relaxing music before bedtime.
  • Sleep in a cool, dark room; use an eye mask or ear plugs when necessary.
  • Make sure you have a good mattress.

The benefits of sleep are irrefutable. And now … Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Photo courtesy of: Derek K. Miller
Julie Zimmer

Julie has extensive experience in nursing practice and education in a wide range of fields from intensive/coronary care, to medical-surgical to community and public health. Julie has Bachelor Degrees in Psychology and Nursing, and a Master’s Degree in Community Health Nursing Education. She has taught in faculties of nursing and in various communities in Toronto, Canada and in Geneva, Switzerland, and is a consultant to the International Council of Nurses (ICN). Julie also has years of experience teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) in addition to coordinating an English department in a Swiss private school.

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