A good night’s sleep can be difficult to come by in the modern world – smart phones, tablets, kindles, and laptops are constant and distracting fixtures in our households, in our bedrooms, and in our hands. The stressors of the day tend to stay with us at bedtime, creating anxiety and restlessness when we should be focusing on one of the most important aspects of overall well-being: quality sleep.
Chronic sleep deprivation and even poor quality sleep in the short-term has numerous detrimental effects on mental and physical capabilities as well as many of the body’s hormones. Important hormones that are affected include:
Cortisol – Levels increase after 2-3 days of insufficient sleep, and can cause chronic inflammation, hunger, weight gain, and fatigue.
Leptin – Important for regulation of appetite and metabolism, has been shown to decrease in individuals without sufficient sleep. Decreased leptin in the body is associated with weight gain and detrimental effects on metabolism.
Ghrelin – Responsible for appetite stimulation, and has been shown to increase with poor quality sleep as well as decreased total sleep time, resulting in cravings for unhealthy foods, excessive hunger, and, over time, weight gain.
As we age our production of melatonin (the hormone that regulates circadian rhythms and sleep) naturally decreases. In older age, insomnia tends to occur more as waking in the night, rather than difficulty falling asleep.
What are some ways to ensure good quality sleep?
Increase melatonin levels naturally - avoid computer or tablet screens, even smart phones before bedtime. I encourage patients in my practice to keep their phones out of the bedroom to ensure restful sleep and to minimize interruptions in trying to achieve a peaceful night’s sleep. Other practical tips include:
Not drinking caffeine after noontime, or consuming hidden sources of caffeine before bed (for example: chocolate, soda, or medications that include caffeine)
Avoiding sugary foods after dinner
Avoiding vigorous exercise 2-3 hours before bedtime (but try to incorporate daily exercise into your routine to help with good quality sleep)
Develop a bedtime routine which could include a warm shower, reading, or meditation
Make sure you try to get to bed around the same time every night, though this can be a challenge on the weekends, anyone with insomnia issues should be diligent about this
Do not take naps
Minimize light entry into the bedroom or wear an eye mask
Medications that are commonly taken or prescribed for sleep can affect your natural sleep cycle and cause poor quality sleep, and even addiction if taken nightly
Alcohol causes poor quality sleep as well as insomnia - avoid drinking alcohol to induce sleep
Keep the bedroom temperature as cool as possible
Try using lavender spray on your pillow or sheets
The number of hours that each person requires for sufficient sleep can vary, and the verdict is still out on what the magic numbers might be in terms of sleep duration. Focus on making your sleep consistent, high quality and without interruptions, and try to aim for at least 7.5 hours nightly.
If all else fails or your sleeping partner states that you move constantly, snore excessively, or stop breathing during sleep, you may need an evaluation by a sleep medicine specialist.