Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer. Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Inadequate sleep—even moderate reductions for just one week—disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic. Short sleeping increases the likelihood of your coronary arteries becoming blocked and brittle, setting you on a path toward cardiovascular disease, stroke, and congestive heart failure. Fitting Charlotte Brontë’s prophetic wisdom that “a ruffled mind makes a restless pillow,” sleep disruption further contributes to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety, and suicidality.
Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder and CEO of Wellness Mama, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.
Glycine (also known as 2-Aminoacetic Acid) is an amino acid and a neurotransmitter. The body produces glycine on its own, synthesized from other natural biochemicals. We also consume glycine through food. This amino acid is found in high-protein foods including meat, fish, eggs, dairy and legumes. A daily diet typically includes about 2 grams of glycine.
For something that we spend a third of our lives doing (if we’re lucky), sleep is something that we know relatively little about. “Sleep is actually a relatively recent discovery,” says Daniel Gartenberg, a sleep scientist who is currently an assistant adjunct professor in biobehavioral health at Penn State. “Scientists only started looking at sleep 70 years ago.”
Some people turn to “natural” sleep remedies or over-the-counter supplements, such as melatonin, to help them sleep. Melatonin may be helpful if you have insomnia caused by disruptions in your sleep/wake cycle, such as problems related to shift work, jet lag, and delayed sleep phase syndrome, but you should take it about five to six hours before bedtime. Also, some data suggest that taking magnesium supplements can promote sleep, especially in people with restless legs syndrome.
If your brain is racing with stressful thoughts, fill it up with up with something a little nicer. "Tell yourself a gentle story — could be a favorite childhood book or movie — and use the same one night after night," says Catherine Darley, ND, of The Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine, Inc. "This is helpful for those people who have an active mind and their thoughts interfere with sleep."
However, if you’re increasing your sleep debt over a longer period of time- say, if you’ve just had a child and aren’t able to get a full eight hours every night- you can’t easily make it up over just a few nights. In cases like these, it may take a few weeks to really fill your sleep debt. Your best bet is to plan a vacation or stay-cation with a light schedule and no obligations, and then turn off your alarm clock and go to bed and wake up when it feels natural. This will “reset” your sleep system so that while you may be sleeping 12 hours a night at the beginning, you’ll eventually settle back in to the amount that is your basal sleep need.
It might seem like a good idea to doze off to your favorite sitcom, but research now shows it’s quite the opposite. A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that young adults who watched multiple consecutive episodes of the same television show were 98% more likely to have poor sleep quality and reported experiencing more insomnia symptoms and next-day fatigue than those who didn’t binge-watch. Turns out, binge-watching actually caused them to be more cognitively aroused—exactly how you don’t want your brain to work right before bed. “Turn off the program after one episode and choose shows that won’t stimulate you,” says Dr. Dasgupta.
The best way to find out if you are getting enough sleep is to note the time when you go to bed and when you wake up. If you don’t have trouble falling asleep, you can assume it takes about 15 to 20 minutes for you to fall asleep. Add those 20 minutes to the time you went to bed, and then subtract from the time you wake up. Is it somewhere within the recommended range of 7-9 hours?
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Leave the distractions at the door and create a bedtime ritual for yourself: darken the shades, take a hot bath, and, most importantly, set a media curfew for yourself so you're not laying in bed looking at your phone for an hour. "Turn off all the screens and sit with a cup of tea or a notebook in dim light," she suggests. Training your body to wind down at the same time every night will help your inner biological clock know when to sleep, and you'll wake up feeling much more refreshed the next day.
A study published in Sports Medicine out of France was conducted to help better understand ways to improve the sleep of elite soccer players given their chaotic schedules, late-night games and need for recovery through a good night of sleep. The study found that by consuming carbohydrates — such as honey and whole grain bread — and some forms of protein, especially those that contain serotonin-producing tryptophan like turkey, nuts and seeds, it helped promote restorative sleep. Even tryptophan-filled tart cherry juice, which also contains healing properties like antioxidants, could be a great option. (3)
Memory consolidation: While you sleep, the brain repeatedly replays remembered events from that day; if these phases are interrupted, memories aren’t fully formed, or even not formed at all. This is part of what helps you learn new skills. One study found that mice doing an hour’s training followed by sleep would ‘learn more’ than mice who did three hours of training but were then sleep deprived. This process is the result of connections forming between neurons, which happens more often during sleep.
Time to bust some long-held myths: Waking up early does not make you a better person. The early bird does not always catch the worm. Your circadian rhythm is your internal body clock, and it’s going to look different to your neighbor’s. When you go to sleep and wake up in accordance with your body’s natural circadian rhythm, you’ll sleep better, and be more alert and productive during the day. Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and sleep expert, identified four sleep chronotypes (aka your circadian rhythm personality). These are:
Anyway, basically your biggest zeitgeber is sunlight, and that’s the environmental cue that controls energy levels as well. But then also timing of meals, exercise, and having a consistent bedtime are all zeitgebers that impact your circadian rhythm. A bigger part of the problem is that we’re indoors so much now, so we don’t get that natural occurring sunlight when you wake up in the morning. That’s one of the best things that you can do to entrench your circadian rhythm.
Your bedroom environment plays a big part in how well you fall and stay asleep. Too many people forget to optimize their sleep environment, and it has a real detrimental effect on their rest, says Cralle. Things to keep in mind: "How old is your mattress, what's the temperature like in your room, and is it really dark at night? We really need that darkness to get the melatonin going," Cralle says.
SOURCES: Sleep Medicine, Kryger, Meir, et al., Third Edition, 2000. Sleep: "Excessive Daytime Sleepiness and risk of Occupational Injuries in Non-shift Daytime Workers," Vol. no. 3. Sleep: "Dose-response Relationship Between Sleep Duration and Human Psychomotor Vigilance and Subjective Awareness," Vol. 22, No. 2. Sleep: "We Are Chronically Sleep Deprived," Vol. 18 No. 10.
As an insomniac, I get it. Good nights of natural sleep are few and far between. You take any amount of shut eye you can get, whether its restful sleep or not. Unfortunately, for those of us who can't fall asleep or stay asleep with a disjointed sleep pattern, the effects turn into a real nightmare. Sleep deprivation not only leaves you feeling out of sorts the next day, but it can lead to a host of unhealthy side effects. The last thing you need to worry about when you can't sleep is how your lack of sleep is effecting your health. That's where natural sleep aids come in.
Similarly, if you’re having sleep troubles, limit your cell phone use around bedtime. One study found that people who spent more time on smartphones, especially close to bedtime, were more likely to have shorter sleep duration, poorer sleep quality and take longer to fall asleep (PLoS One, Nov. 9, 2016). So, turn off your cell phone, computer and television at least an hour before bedtime. (See the chart for other behavioral changes you can make to improve your sleep.)
One must develop some kind of pre-sleep ritual to break the connection between all the stress and bedtime. This is perhaps even more important for children. These rituals can be as short as 10 minutes or as long as an hour. Some find relief in making a list of all the stressors of the day, along with a plan to deal with them, as it serves to end the day. Combining this with a period of relaxation, perhaps by reading something light, meditating, or taking a hot bath can also help you get better sleep. And don't look at that clock! That tick-tock will tick you off.
During the late '60s and early '70s, sleep studies suggested that the neurotransmitter serotonin may play a role in sleep induction. Later on, research in animals showed that destruction of parts of the brain that housed nerve cells containing serotonin could produce total insomnia. Partial damage to these areas of the brain caused variable decreases in sleep. The percentage of destruction of these particular nerve cells correlated with the amount of slow-wave sleep.
Probably not all people will be able to fall asleep this quickly all the time, especially on days when you might be upset or anxious near bedtime for whatever reason. Your best bet is not to try just one or two strategies from the article, but as many of the strategies as you can at the same time, and keep up this routine for several weeks or more.
I knew I wasn’t getting great sleep, but I thought I could manage it myself. I would sleep sitting up in a recliner chair just to try to keep myself from waking up during the night, but I never felt completely rested. It wasn’t until I fell asleep at a traffic light that I realized this wasn’t something I could treat myself. It was hard, but I’m glad I finally got the CPAP treatment I need for my sleep apnea.
The federal government’s Healthy People initiative has established a goal of getting more people to get adequate sleep on a regular basis. Their recommended amount of sleep is 8 hours for people 18 to 21 and 7 hours per night for adults over 21. According to their numbers, 69.6% of the population meets this goal, and the government wants to raise this to 70.9% by 2020.
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It’s tempting to reach for coffee when we’re tired after a poor night’s sleep, but drinking caffeine can make it harder for us to fall asleep at night, creating a vicious cycle. Effects of caffeine on sleep and cognition. Snel J, Lorist MM. Progress in brain research, 2011, Aug.;190():1875-7855. Can’t quit cold turkey? Try limiting caffeine intake to earlier in the day so it’s out of your system by bedtime.
Probably the most common wearable to measuring sleep right now is the Fitbit. I’ve studied these devices in depth in a well-controlled laboratory experiment where we’re monitoring brainwaves. I can say the Fitbit is pretty accurate in measuring when you’re asleep and when you’re wake, but when it comes to measuring sleep stages, basically any device that measures heart rate, like the Apple Watch, is totally inaccurate. That’s because they don’t sample at the frequency necessary to get a good read on your sleep stages.
Exercise has long been associated with higher quality sleep. While the research has mainly been done on those who don’t have insomnia, studies are suggesting that staying committed to a regular exercise routine can indeed improve the quality and duration of your sleep if you do. A study published in October 2015 in the Journal of Sleep Research showed that after six months of exercising 150 minutes a week, participants reported significantly reduced insomnia symptoms. They also had significantly reduced depression and anxiety scores.
Ahh, valerian. Relaxing, calming, and downright amazing, if you have trouble sleeping, then get some valerian root. Valerian inhibits the GABA - gamma aminobutryic acid - neurotransmitters that are responsible for sleep. It's this amino acid that dampens nerve activity, causing the brain to become calm and relaxed. Those with insomnia often have reduced GABA levels.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (or CBT-I) is shown to be incredibly effective for chronic sleep problems, according to the Mayo Clinic. While sleeping pills and other sleep aids may only treat the symptoms of insomnia, CBT-I helps identify the root of the problem, but it takes time and dedication, with regular visits to a clinician who may give you various sleep assignments to try at home and ask you to keep a sleep diary.
You have a peak moment of awakeness during the morning. After lunch you usually have a glucose spike, especially if you have a big heavy lunch, like a cheeseburger. That glucose spike combined with a circadian dip gives you a period of fatigue between around 2 and 4pm. You’ll then have another spike in alertness right before dinner, and then you’ll start getting tired again closer to bedtime. That’s your 24-hour circadian rhythm, basically.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that treats problems by modifying negative thoughts, emotions, and patterns of behavior. A study at Harvard Medical School even found that CBT was more effective at treating chronic insomnia than prescription sleep medication—but without the risks or side effects. CBT can help to relax your mind, change your outlook, improve your daytime habits, and set you up for a good night’s sleep.
You may be familiar with the sleep hormone melatonin. Every night when we go to bed, this hormone, triggered by darkness, tells the brain it's sleepy time. Unfortunately, not everyone's body produces enough of the common sleep aid to get to sleep and this can cause insomnia. Bananas, however, can give your body a boost of melatonin that you might be lacking.
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Sleeping with Fido isn’t so bad, according to a new Mayo Clinic study that found people who had a dog in the bedroom slept better than those who didn’t. But don’t let your pooch crawl under the covers: Participants who snuggled with their pets had poorer sleep quality than those who didn’t. If pet "co-sleeping" sounds like the insomnia cure for you, be sure your furry friend sleeps on the floor or in a pet bed of their own nearby so you both get an undisturbed, restful sleep. (Here are 5 ways to lose weight with your pet—so you can both live longer.)