The Importance of Restorative Sleep and How to Reclaim it
Sleep can be elusive. As much as people try to chase it down, it’s hard to catch sometimes—and all the more difficult when there’s stress, anxiety, work, or the dreaded job interview in the morning.
What’s worse, even when (or if) they finally pin down those hard-earned Zzz’s, waking up in the morning can feel like sleep didn’t even happen! Hopes for feeling recharged, refreshed, and rested are completely dashed, and it can be straight up disappointing and tiring—literally.
It’s frustrating to deal with, especially when sleep is such a precious resource in our busy lives in the first place. We all need energy in the morning to tackle our day, and good sleep is absolutely crucial to this.
So what options can a person try when slumber just keeps running further and further away, or when it doesn’t replenish energy at all in the first place?
Take heart. There are ways to assure that tonight’s sleep will be more restful than the last—and all it will take are a few tips, tricks, lifestyle changes, and even diet changes so rest easy.
NO SCREENS, NO ELECTRONICS
Screens absolutely fill our lives nowadays. It’s the age of information, and we all have smartphones, tablets, computers, e-readers, and TV’s we love to watch or interact with.
But when it’s time to sleep, you’re better off putting those electronics to bed, avoiding the temptation to read them right up until snooze time.
Recent research also affirms that late night or even “just before bed” screen time—especially on tablets, smartphones, and other screens that are close to one’s face—can disrupt sleep. Further, a 2014 study showed that people who respond to work-related emails and messages right before bed via smartphone were less likely to be productive during work the following day.
The light from these screens apparently messes with the body’s natural sense of sleepiness before bed by lowering melatonin production, a hormone which helps us sleep. This makes it harder to drop off and makes it take longer to go to sleep, too—all while making us feel like brain-drained “zombies” the following day.
In a nutshell, squinting at screens right before bed will wreck sleep and diminish its quality. So Instead of browsing social media or watching Netflix before bed, settle down with a nice book, or just turn off screens completely.
If it’s a huge temptation, remove all electronics from the bedroom if need be—yes, including that HD TV and cell phone.
Side note: having cell phones and other Wi-Fi emitting devices in the bedroom can have other unwanted health side effects.
TRY BLUE BLOCKERS
If screen time is just something that can’t be let go of right before bed—like for computer or smartphone work, for instance—give blue blockers a try.
Blue blockers are methods of shutting off the blue light that devices emit, which is the spectrum of light that tends to keep people alert and thus disturb sleep. Blue blockers come in the form of sunglasses-like eyewear that filters out blue light, or even apps for devices that reduce the amount of blue light they put off.
While this helps reduce the ill effects on sleep that devices cause, it’s still better for sleep and health to shut down screens completely. All the same, if you’re faced with the conundrum of doing important technological tasks right before bed, blue blockers can reduce the risk of harmful sleep impacts.
WATCH WHAT YOU EAT
In similar fashion to excessive screen time, apparently going to the extreme on certain foods can be bad for sleep as well. Not to mention it can be bad for overall health, too.
This is especially the case when people nosh on sugary foods, of course. These make blood sugars spike, give us energy, and—long story short—make us wide awake and restless when we sleep.
Studies, dieticians, and nutritionists also say that meals or snacks right before bed are better or worse depending on what’s in them. For example, a small snack of veggies or fruits (even though they contain sugar) will promote calmer sleep compared to greasy fats or highly spiced foods. (Yes—even these will keep people up!)
But what about protein? A small protein snack should be no problem and may even good for you. But realize that digestive systems need rest at night too. If you gorge on protein, the digestive system will have you waking up again, and again….and again. With that in mind, it’s probably best to avoid eating right before bed or indulging in those midnight snacks. That way the body (including the digestive system) and mind can benefit from a restful sleep.
CUT DOWN CAFFEINE
Gotta have that late-day coffee, or that second can of Red Bull to get through the rest of the day? Or maybe that hunk of chocolate sitting in the fridge calls every night, right before bed.
Don’t give into temptation. Avoid caffeine-filled traps, especially after about 2 or 3 PM or so, even though that’s when many of us experience that midday energy slump. If they’re really needed, save them for the morning only.
There probably isn’t a more suspect food item than caffeine (other than sugar) that wrecks sleep so directly and purposefully, especially since caffeine is obviously designed to keep us awake.
Try switching to decaf instead, replace chocolate sweets with other low-sugar treats, and most certainly treat those energy drinks like the plague the later it gets. You’ll feel better for it, anyway.
GET A LITTLE HELP FROM HERBS
For centuries—if not millennia—people have called on the help of healing herbs to get them to sleep.
Sleep-improving herbs can be purchased as supplements or even enjoyed as a simple tea nightly to improve sleep quality.
While many herbs help lull people to la-la-land, certain others may be more desirable for the long-term, holistic support of the highest quality restfulness. Common herbal sleep remedies will certainly help “put you out,” so to speak—but do they actually help improve the areas of health that in turn contribute to difficult, restless sleep and irregular patterns?
Here are some that do, and which number among some of our favorites:
- ASHWAGANDHA – This Asian herb is a renowned “adaptogen,” meaning that it helps protect the body from the fallout of stress and anxiety. In a 2012 study, healthy volunteers who took the herb reported that these qualities helped improve their quality of sleep.
- PASSIONFLOWER – Traditional herbalists of the New World have long used this vining flower like a less powerful anti-depressant. Today, it is especially known for its sedative effects that help bring on sleep. A placebo-controlled study in 2011 showed that taking the flower in a tea form does indeed improve the quality of nighttime rest.
- SCHISANDRA – Much like ashwagandha, schisandra is also a well-known adaptogen. The berries of the plant have been a remedy for sleep disorders for thousands of years, and scientific studies approve of this idea. In 2014, a study demonstrated that one of schisandra’s foremost compounds stimulates hypnotic activity—that is, sleepiness.
All of these herbs are found in our Tranquil Mind formula. In addition to Schisandra, passionflower, and ashwagandha, it also includes L-tryptophan and L-theanine for better sleep restoration, stress management, and higher quality rest overall.
AWAY WITH THE ALCOHOL
People have long loved the nightcap ritual. There’s nothing like a small drink to help doze off—but apparently, science has some different things to say about that.
Alcoholic beverages—wines, liquor, beer—are all just simple carbs and sugars. While it feels like a sedative right before sleep, its sugary nature makes it hard to digest and will cause wakefulness instead in the long run. Not to mention kick the body’s digestive system into gear and not giving it the time to recharge.
A 2013 study agrees with this. In subjects who drank alcohol at any dose before bed, sleep was restful for the first half, but irregular and low quality the second. Deep sleep was also shown to be delayed and much shorter.
For those who rely on a nightly drink to help them sleep, maybe think twice about it. Especially if waking up and not feeling well rested is a regular occurrence. That alcohol could be the culprit, and it doesn’t really matter if it’s one drink or partying ‘til late.
DON’T EXERCISE TOO LATE
Exercise is great for the body in many ways, hands down. If it happens during the day, in fact, this can have a bonus of benefiting restful, rewarding sleep.
But try to squeeze that workout in late at night—such as right before sleep—and find that this can increase alertness, while also elevating body temperature. This makes it much harder to relax and find that tired state than one may realize.
Carl E. Hunt, MD, via WebMD states that people should avoid exercising less than 3 hours before bed if they want to sleep soundly. Just like with alcohol, caffeine, eating, and screen time, reserve exercise for earlier in the day.
TAKE A HOT (OR COLD) SHOWER
If a shower is in order at the end of a long day and before bed, then don’t hold back.
Scientists say a hot shower timed just right can improve sleep. But that’s the thing: time it for about an hour and a half before bed, and you’ll line it up perfectly with the sleepiness produced from cooling off after that hot blast of steamy water.
Or, take a different route: try a cold shower. Cold showers are acceptable to do just right before bed. The cold shock helps the body drop in temperature and helps signal that it’s time for sleep.
Not to mention: cold showers have many health benefits of their own to offer.
OR, STEP IN THE SAUNA
Instead of a hot shower, give the sauna a try. It brings on practically the same benefits, recreating a physical cooling effect that can help one dip into a peaceful slumber.
There are even special types of sauna sessions on the market today that claim to improve sleep, such as infrared saunas. However, there haven’t been too many studies on how much more effective these are for sleep compared to regular sauna therapy.
Just like with hot showers, make sure to time the sauna session smartly. Since saunas tend to be hotter environments, it may be wise to time it around 2 hours before bedtime instead. Of note, Harvard Health Publications says saunas also bring on a legion of other health benefits: such as reducing heart disease and stroke risk. They also can be a great way to boost Heat Shock Proteins, which have many health benefits of their own.
TRY WHITE NOISE
Ever heard of white noise machines? They could be just the solution to the worst sleepy-time woes.
While there aren’t too many studies of their effectiveness on improving sleep quality, there really doesn’t need to be. Many people use white noise machines emitting various frequencies of sounds to successfully help “mask” nighttime noises that make them wake up and stay up. What more, they’ll attest that it works in stark comparison to when they don’t use them.
It might just work for you, too—especially if noises wake you up or distract from falling asleep.
Give them a try. There are many different soothing sound options besides just static white noise to choose from: like beach sounds, rain sounds, or the chirping of crickets in a forest.
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Brigham Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (2014) Light-Emitting E-Readers Before Bedtime Can Adversely Impact Sleep. Retrieved from http://www.brighamandwomens.org/about_bwh/publicaffairs/news/pressreleases/PressRelease.aspx?sub=0&PageID=1962
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