Your body is programmed to spend one third of its life asleep – and to sleep in specific cycles of light sleep, deep sleep, and active brain sleep. Each cycle takes about 90 minutes, and each has a specific assignment that affects thinking, memory, growth, your immune system and even your weight.
We spend about a third of our life sleeping for good reasons, some of which are still being discovered. We know now that sleep allows us to learn new things and transfers the significant ones into our long-term memory. Sleep prepares and replaces damaged neurons, calms disease-triggering inflammation, and keeps us mentally sharp, creative, and productive. It even controls the aging process, helps keep our weight down, lowers our blood pressure and impacts our overall health.
Sleep can also reduce stress levels, control blood pressure, and is even thought to effect cholesterol levels, which play a significant role in heart disease. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that sufficient sleep not only restores cognitive functioning, but also may fortify the brain over the long term. During sleep, activity is increased in genes involved in producing brain cells responsible for coating neurons with myelin, the brain`s insulating material. This allows electrical impulses to travel quickly and efficiently to other neurons. Myelin deficiency is at the root of multiple sclerosis disease, and can contribute to symptoms such as fatigue, vision and hearing impairment and a loss of coordination.
A study published by the National Academy of Sciences reports that even an hour or two less sleep a night can negatively impact more than 700 genes required for repairing cell tissue.
More recent research indicates the role sleep plays in Alzheimer’s Disease. Neurologist David Perlmutter claims that sleep deprivation is linked to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Perlmutter mentions in the Alzheimer’s: the Science of Prevention program that it is during sleep that we remove any amyloid and tau from our brains, two proteins that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. He also mentions that sleep deprivation increases insulin resistance, slows metabolism, and increases inflammation.
Mark Hyman, Director, Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, relates a study of sharpshooters from the military, snipers who were 99.9 percent accurate with 8 hours of sleep. With 7 hours they were about 90%, with 6 hours about 60%, and with 5 hours or less, missed most of the time. And the Center for Disease Control found that one-third of Americans report not getting enough sleep. Sleep is discussed in detail in my e-Book, Sleep: A Time management Strategy, and its impact on memory in Boost Your Memory & Sharpen Your Mind, both published by Bookboon.com.
Here are 25 strategies for improving your sleep habits.
- Make sleep a priority. It is as important as exercise and diet.
- Make your environment as comfortable as possible for sleep. This may involve a softer pillow, comfortable mattress and even the habit of wearing socks to bed or having relaxation tapes or classical music playing in the background.
- Determine your required sleep time and add about a half hour to allow time for getting to sleep and getting up during the night.
- Never go to bed earlier than your normal bedtime. If you are not sleepy, don’t go to bed until you are.
- Stick to a routine. Where possible go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends. It helps regulate the body clock. When people try to catch up on sleep on the weekend the quality of the extended sleep is quite low.
- Don’t go to bed during the day if you’re sleepy; take a power nap instead.
- Skip the caffeine. Avoid coffee or other caffeine drinks at least six hours before bedtime. It can stay in your system for 12 hours. Avoid alcohol and cigarettes as well.
- Go light on dinner. Heavy meals keep the digestive system working and delays of sleepiness. It’s best to have a heavier lunch and lighter dinner.
- Use your bed for sleeping. It’s not a good idea to use your bed for watching TV, checking your e-mail, working on your laptop or other activities not associated with sleeping or resting.
- Control technology. Turn off your computers, laptops, smart phones, iPads, and other electronic gadgets at least two hours before bedtime.
- Exercise daily. It is best to exercise earlier in the day but avoid strenuous exercise at least two hours before bedtime. You may feel tired immediately after exercising but over the course of the day people who exercise have more energy.
- Keep the bedroom cool. Scientific evidence indicates that 65°F to 68°F is the ideal temperature for sleep.
- Keep in the dark. Light inhibits the production of melatonin, the body’s sleeping pill, so you might even turn off the night light.
- Don`t be a clock-watcher in bed. If necessary, face the alarm clock the other way so you won`t be tempted or disturbed by the fluorescent screen.
- Crash early. The optimal bedtime is between 10 PM and midnight. It is generally recommended that you go to bed by 11 p.m.
- Have a transition routine. Have a half hour or more of relaxation away from the bright lights and work activities. This could be light reading, walking, yoga, or a warm bath.
- Researchers at Wesleyan University found that sniffing lavender oil before bedtime increased slow-wave sleep, the deepest form of slumber, by 22 participants in study participants.
- Do not linger in bed when the alarm clock goes off. More time in bed than needed increases the time that you’re awake in bed and produces poor quality sleep.
- Avoid shift work if possible. Working rotating shifts or in a regular sleep schedule weakens the circadian clock that regulates sleep. Even varying it by an hour is the equivalent of traveling across one time zone.
- If you cannot sleep, do not stay in bed. Do not spend too much time trying to sleep; it reduces the sleep drive. Read a book, listen to calming music or engage in relaxation exercises.
- Make your bed. Terry Small reported in one of his bulletins that the National Sleep Foundation found that those people who make their beds tend to sleep more soundly than those who do not.
- Organize your day and go to bed with an uncluttered mind and the knowledge that you have the next day planned.
- Do not stress yourself if you cannot get to sleep right away; focus on relaxing, not sleeping. Stress itself can continue to keep you awake.
- If thoughts of all the things you must do or specific worries linger in your mind, write them down on paper so you can put them out of your mind.
- Share any sleeping problems with friends as well as your doctor; talking about it usually helps, and you might get some useful suggestions from them.