Do I need more sleep?
We all need more...
"I don't have time to sleep, but I can make it on 6 hours."
I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that phrase. The truth is you can survive, albeit for a much shorter lifespan, on 6 hours, but you will thrive for a longer, healthier life on 7 or more.
Sleep is severely underrated in our culture and it's the culprit for so many of our daily problems. Irritable co-workers, foggy brain, caffeine addiction, sugar addiction, muscle fatigue, indigestion, cranky children, poor memory, and lack of concentration just to name a few.
Several factors disrupt sleep and prevent us from drifting peacefully into an uninterrupted doze. Sugar is a major hyper-adrenalizer, as is the obvious caffeine. If you are consuming caffeine beyond noon, you shouldn't really be wondering why you're not sleeping, the answer is plainly obvious. Reduce your caffeine intake to 1 coffee or tea before noon.
Americans are hyper-adrenalized, chasing down enough coffee to manage a 60-80 hour work week and enough sugary treats for the high to get it all done! A dose of sugar in the evening, even in the way of wine or beer, which is typically a sedative, will definitely make you toss and turn. Worse, you may wake up with an adrenalized mind.
Your daily circadian rhythm
Your circadian rhythm contributes to a peaceful night. When you wake up, you should have the largest amount of cortisol (energy) in the day. The brain and body should absorb energy from the sun and then at night, we should see darkness. This darkness stimulates the production of melatonin and makes us sleepy. We should sleep all night, peacefully until the spike in cortisol wakes us up in the morning again.
Several problems occur for most of us along the way.
- We are not in the sunlight or exercising during the day. Instead most of us sit at work confined in buildings. We toss down a few sweetened coffee drinks to artificially stimulate that cortisol rise and then it plummets just as quickly.
- We start to crash around 2p-4p and toss back another coffee or sweet treat and the roller coaster begins.
- By bedtime we are exhausted and must finish work, so we look for something stimulating. Or we feel spent and grab a drink, both of which spike our cortisol again.
- Instead of transitioning from daylight to darkness, we turn on the lights, jump on the screen, and confuse the brain from the natural circadian rhythm. Melatonin production slows way down and we push the bedtime back.
This may feel like "night owl" syndrome, which is just another way of saying you have disrupted your natural circadian rhythm. We reach for snacks to keep us up, and the trouble arrives in the middle of the night. There should be a 2-3 hour window of not eating before bedtime so that you are not digesting food at night. The adrenals need to rest and recover, ie. not produce adrenaline.
If you're waking up, your mind is racing, and you can't go back to sleep, that's a sure sign that you're off your rhythm, your adrenals are not resting, your body is digesting, metabolizing, and working at night. This may end around 7a-9a when the adrenals are naturally in rest mode and you may finally feel ready to sleep. Unfortunately, it's time to start your day. Instead of feeling a surge of cortisol in the morning, you feel like a zombie.
To recover your rhythm, your goals should be:
- Set a decent bedtime that is no later than 10:30p when cortisol levels naturally drop.
- Remove the screens and artificial lights 30 min prior to bedtime.
- Keep your caffeine intake in the morning before noon and then switch to water.
Several key processes occur during sleep which make it so crucial. Our brain connections develop during sleep. If your children are arguing that they should stay up, remember they get smarter when they sleep and do not give in. Parents are often afraid a child that goes to bed early will wake up too early, but this is simply not the case. Experts say to look for that first yawn or eye rub, and make that their bedtime goal, they will wake up at their usual time.
If you have to wake your child for school, they can use an earlier bedtime.
School aged children are recommended 10-12 hours a day and I promise their meltdowns and tantrums diminish with each additional hour of sleep. I know my own temper tantrums do too. Even a child lying in bed without sleep is better than a child up beyond their bedtime and for adults, lying and meditating is better than staring at a screen in bed.
Weight gain is also affected by the amount of sleep because it's a crucial time for the body to detox. Toxins lie within the fat cells, so if you want to lose weight, you need to lose toxins. I recommend 8 hours of sleep a night over 8 hours of exercise a week for weight loss. If you don't believe me, try it!
Memories are made in the sleeping stage, so whether your child is studying for a test, or you are working on a project, the sleep stage is key for your brain to correlate all of the information from the day into a memory.
Growth hormone is secreted during sleep which is mandatory for children to grow and important for adults in recovery from muscle, bone, or brain cell loss.
How can we make sure we're getting sufficient zzzz's?
- For a child, try 30 minutes of reading in a quiet room together by lamplight.
- For a teen, get them off the computer or phone. How long has it been since you sat together and had a conversation?
- As adults we need at least 30 min off the bright screen, read a boring book, or make tea and have a conversation with your partner.
- Try a warm bath with lavender or eucalyptus essential oils.
- Keep the bedroom a sacred space for sleep or sex and your body will start to react like Pavlov's dog to the bell every time your head hits the pillow.
Try to avoid heavy sleeping pills. You may think you are only using this synthetically induced sleep for a few weeks, but studies show that people are often addicted for years with very serious adverse effects.
Try the natural methods above, however there are organic substances you can try for those rare sleepless nights. Be sure you are not simply trading in one prescription for another. I am not a doctor and not claiming that any of these temporary fixes are right for you.
However, these herbal or homeopathic remedies have helped many transition off of harsh medications.
- Valerian root tea or tincture, many like the combination with hops or passionflower.
- Coffea Cruda, a homeopathic that can be greta for those middle of the night moments.
- De-stress, by Biotics, made from casein, the opioid protein in warm milk.
- Warm milk, this ancient remedy works for most people tolerant to dairy.
- Sleepy Time Tea, a nice mild formula to begin with.
Let us know what your sleeping secret is below. Especially if it's a safe alternative to sleeping pills.