Sleep is an important part of your daily routine—you spend about one-third of your time doing it. Quality sleep – and getting enough of it at the right times -- is as essential to survival as food and water. Without sleep you can’t form or maintain the pathways in your brain that let you learn and create new memories, and it’s harder to concentrate and respond quickly.
Circadian rhythms direct a wide variety of functions from daily fluctuations in wakefulness to body temperature, metabolism, and the release of hormones. They control your timing of sleep and cause you to be sleepy at night and your tendency to wake in the morning without an alarm. Your body’s biological clock, which is based on a roughly 24-hour day, controls most circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms synchronize with environmental cues (light, temperature) about the actual time of day, but they continue even in the absence of cues.
According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, salt can help lower cortisol levels and balance blood sugar levels, which is what you want at night for restful sleep. Natural sugars can help by elevating insulin slightly, which helps lower cortisol (this is one of the reasons my doctor suggests consuming carbohydrates at night and not in the morning if you are trying to balance hormones).
Sleep needs and patterns of sleep and wakefulness are not the same for everyone. The first step in determining your need for sleep is through self-evaluation. Ask yourself: "How tired do I feel during the daytime? When do I feel most alert? When does fatigue set in?" Even moments of sleepiness that you may think of as routine, for instance, falling asleep on the subway on the way to work, or during a lecture, are likely a sign that you are not getting enough sleep.
If you're a smartphone user, you'll have seen countless devices and apps that promise to measure sleep cycles. But Anna is dubious. 'Equipment like Fitbits aim to record levels of activity, measuring each time you move the device. The way they measure 'sleep' is by noting a period of motionless – predicting that's when we're sleeping. But there are issues with this – people often wake but don't move, for example. Just because we're still doesn't mean we're necessarily asleep.'
Did you know that a lack of exposure to sunlight may be interfering with your sleep quality? Light exposure is crucial to our circadian rhythms (aka our internal clocks), which control vital biological processes including sleep. Scientific research reveals that that a lack of light in the workplace results in poorer overall sleep quality, as well as sleep disturbances, which can then have further negative effects on health.
There are other non-medication options that might be helpful. Some people find benefit with the use of aromatherapy, although research studies may not support its use. Various relaxation techniques, including the use of biofeedback and breathing techniques, may also establish a connection between your mind and body. This can be incorporated into your bedtime rituals and make it easier to relax and transition into sleep.
Good sleep hygiene can have a tremendous impact upon getting better sleep. You should wake-up feeling refreshed and alert, and you should generally not feel sleepy during the day. If this is not the case, poor sleep hygiene may be the culprit, but it is very important to consider that you may have an unrecognized sleep disorder. Many, many sleep disorders go unrecognized for years, leading to unnecessary suffering, poor quality of life, accidents, and great expense. Since it is clear how critical sound sleep is to your health and well-being, if you are not sleeping well, see your doctor or a sleep specialist.
On the other hand, if you find you're waking up too early in the morning or have advanced sleep-phase syndrome, you may need more light late afternoon and could try taking a walk outdoors or light therapy for two to three hours in the evening. Home light therapy units are available and may be recommended by your doctor or sleep specialist to use in conjunction with your sleep therapy.
So what do you do? The second step to racking more zzz's is to perfect your sleep hygiene. That means developing a regular sleep schedule, using your bed only for sleep and intimacy, and ditching electronics and caffeine well before bedtime. Here's a sleep hygiene guide to get you started. But that second step is for the daylight hours. The first step is to get to sleep now – pronto – so you can grab at least a couple hours before the birds start chirping.
While the required amount of sleep ranges for adults between 5 to 10 hours, you shouldn’t assume you are at one end of the spectrum unless you have paid close attention to your body. If you are drowsy during the day, even during boring periods, you haven’t had enough sleep the previous night. Most people experience a dip in early afternoon – siesta time. But if you fall asleep in the afternoons consistently, it means you haven’t had enough sleep at night.
I haven’t seen a study that empirically shows that it’s helpful. There is certainly a false myth that we need eight hours of continuous sleep: I think it’s possible to have your sleep be a little bit broken up and be perfectly healthy—but getting that eight hours is crucially important. The thing is that the placebo effect in some of these polyphasic sleep methods runs really high.
If your bedroom is not a comforting and relaxing place, you’re not going to want to spend a lot of time there. Make adjustments to your bedroom so that it is dark, quiet, cool and cozy. A key factor in the comfort level of your bedroom is the bed itself, so make sure your mattress is big enough so you can move freely, new enough so it doesn’t cause aches and pains, and comfortable enough to support a good night’s sleep.
If you’re bringing the stress of your job and daily life to bed with you, you’re not going to sleep well. Resolve to keep everything that’s stressful out of your bedroom, so don’t bring in work materials, your phone or even allow yourself to think about work while in your bedroom. You can also gain control over your worries and anxieties by keeping a worry journal. Write about the things that are bothering you so you can work through them instead of bringing them to bed with you.
“By far the most common thing I recommend to patients is to take melatonin,” says Barone. The hormone, which is produced by the brain in preparation for sleep, is also available in pill and liquid form, which you can get at any health food store or pharmacy—good news because some modern behaviors can interfere with its natural production. “When we’re exposed to TVs, computers and phones with backlit displays, that tricks the brain into thinking it’s light out and it doesn’t make as much melatonin as it should.”
Go dark. It’s known that the light from a smartphone interferes with sleep. But what about your bathroom light? If you have the urge to go at night, don’t flick on the lights. “The latest recommendation is to use a flashlight if you need to get up at night,” Gamaldo says, because it offers less visual disruption. And remember: If you do wake up for a bathroom break, it might take up to 30 minutes to drift back off. This is completely normal, she says.
Keep precautions in mind. Diphenhydramine and doxylamine aren't recommended for people who have closed-angle glaucoma, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sleep apnea, severe liver disease, digestive system obstruction or urinary retention. In addition, sleep aids pose risks for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, and might pose risks to people over age 75, including an increased risk of strokes and dementia.
To start, we collected a list of 200 products widely available at drugstores and supplement shops, from Walgreens and CVS to Vitacost and Amazon. We limited the list to products marketed for adults and available without a prescription. We also made sure to include both natural and synthetic options — the common active ingredients in each work a little differently.
CHEMISTS’ OWN SLEEP AID tablets belongs to a group of medicines called antihistamines. They block the action of histamine and other substances produced by the body to provide relief from allergic symptoms. Some antihistamines, including doxylamine cause the central nervous system to slow down at the same time and this provides relief for insomnia. There is no evidence that CHEMISTS’ OWN SLEEP AID tablets are addictive.
Researchers from Louisiana State University had seven older adults with insomnia drink eight ounces of Montmorency tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks, followed by two weeks of no juice, and then two more weeks of drinking a placebo beverage. Compared to the placebo, drinking the cherry juice resulted in an average of 84 more minutes of sleep time each night.
Mindful breathing practices have been a part of yoga and Eastern wellness modalities for centuries but aren’t as popular in Western culture. The most well-known champion of the 4-7-8 breathing technique in the U.S., who is somewhat responsible for the prevalence that the technique does have amongst integrative medicine practitioners, yogis, and those in search of stress reduction and overall relaxation, is Harvard-educated Andrew Weil, MD.