Today’s topic is about something we spend 26 years of our lives doing but rarely talk about. That’s right, it’s sleep. When talking about health, we certainly cannot neglect this topic. It’s a part of everyone’s life (hopefully) and has the power to affect us in all aspects of our wellness. So, I’m going to encourage you to do something your parents never let you do when you were younger: sleep more!
How Do I Get Better Sleep?
Do you want to wake up on the right side of the bed every morning? Well, In a TED talk series, sleep scientist (yes this exists) Matt Walker touched on six ways to sleep better. What I like about his list is that all of them are feasible. It’s not like you need to go to Temper-Pedic and buy a $5,000 mattress or invest in a memory foam pillow (although I do admit they are rather comfortable). A better night’s sleep can be attained with six easy-to-fix factors:
1. Regularity: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Your brain actually has its own 24-hour clock and gets confused when that internal clock is irregular. Just like we set alarms for waking up, we should be setting alarms for going to bed.
2. Temperature: I have always wondered why I fall asleep so much easier in a chilly, AC-infested room. Well, it turns out there is actually a science to back this up! Your brain and body need their core temperature to drop by about 1 degree Celcius, or 2–3 degrees Fahrenheit in order to initiate sleep and then stay asleep. Scientists recommend keeping the temperature to about 65 degrees Fahrenheit and 18 degrees Celcius.
3. Darkness: Many people nowadays have become accustomed to falling asleep in front of a glowing TV or device. Walker describes this phenomenon as a “dark deprived society”. But, we actually need darkness to trigger melatonin in our bodies. This fact is the reason you may find it hard to fall asleep after lying in bed on your phone before sleeping (ahem teenagers). So, before bed, lights out!
4. Walk it Out: This fact truly shocked me and prompted an “Aha!” moment in my brain. If you are lying in bed struggling to fall asleep for over 25 minutes (me every night), you should get up and do something different! Once you start to feel sleepy again, then you can return to bed. This is because our brains are associative and so we want our beds to be associated with sleep, not wakefulness. If you are lying in bed awake for a long time, then your brain starts to associate your bed with being awake. This is also why sleep scientists recommend staying away from sitting on your bed during the day.
5. Monitor Alcohol and Caffeine Consumption: Don’t worry, I’m not about to tell you to not enjoy a glass of wine after work, as I’m sure it is well deserved. However, I am going to encourage you to stay away from that soda during dinner. Walker recommends staying away from caffeine in the afternoon and evening and trying not to go to bed too tipsy.
6. Have A Wind-Down Routine: Last, but certainly not least, you should try to create a wind-down routine before bed. While we all wish we could just plop into bed after a long day and fall asleep instantly, this is not going to happen. Like Walker says, falling asleep isn’t instant like switching off a light switch, it is more like landing a plane. Before bed, you should disengage from your computer or phone and try to do something relaxing whether that be reading a book or meditating.
How Much Sleep Do I Really Need?
At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering: So Hana, you’ve told me how to get better sleep, but how much sleep should I be getting a night? Well, fear not dear reader, I am going to answer that question for you. It is recommended that the average adult gets between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Once you drop below 7 hours, your mortality rate starts to increase, so I can’t reiterate enough how important it is to catch enough zzz’s. I promise you it’s not worth it to finish that last episode of your favorite series, it will still be there tomorrow. Kids are recommended to get even more than 9 hours of sleep because their brains are still developing. So, kids listen to your mom when she tells you it’s bedtime!
How Does Sleep Affect My Immunity?
As you may have guessed, getting adequate amounts of sleep can improve your immunity. There’s a reason that when you’re sick all you want to do is sleep. Walker explains that it is while we are sleeping that we “restock the weaponry within our immune arsenal”. In fact, people who report sleeping less than 7 hours a night are almost three times more likely to become infected by the common cold (which is something we like to avoid at all costs). Similarly, women sleeping 5 hours or less a night are 7 times more likely to develop pneumonia. So, it turns out that our immune system and sleep are heavily linked.
What you might not know is that sleep can play a role in your successful immunization. I’ll break this down in English: sleep makes the shots you get at the doctor work better! One study found that if you’re not getting sufficient sleep in the week or days before you get your flu shot, it may render your vaccination much less efficient. And we certainly don’t want to have that agonizing needle be for nothing! In summary, as Walker says, “sleep is one of the best health insurance policies you would ever wish for!” (sorry Kaiser!).
How Does Sleep Affect Our Emotions?
Do you ever feel super grumpy and irritable when you’re low on sleep? Well, you’re not alone because it is scientifically proven that lack of sleep can mess with our emotions.
A study was conducted in which one group of healthy adults had a full night’s sleep and the other group was sleep deprived. The next day, they surveyed the group’s brains with an MRI scan. What the scientists looked at most was the amygdala. The amygdala is one of the centerpiece regions for the generation of strong emotional reactions. Those who had a full night’s sleep had an appropriate and moderate degree of activity. On the contrary, those who were sleep-deprived had a hyperactive amygdala with almost 60% more reactivity.
All of this has to do with the prefrontal cortex which acts as the CEO of our brains. The prefrontal cortex controls decisions and reactions. So, those who had a full night’s sleep had strong communication and connection between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. Those who were sleep-deprived had a severed connection and because of that their amygdala was much more reactive. All of this is to say that sleep offers a form of emotional first aid. It is during sleep that we reflect on our day and “take the sharp edges off of those difficult experiences”. It turns out that the phrase “sleep on it” actually has some meaning behind it!
It’s only right that as a health and wellness app we touch on something we spend a lot of our time doing. While it’s important to remain moving during the day, our bodies also need rest (and a lot of it). Sleep gives our bodies the time to refuel and heal so that we can approach each and every day refreshed. It has the power to affect both our immune system and our emotions, so it’s definitely something that should be prioritized when it comes to health. I know that we all lead such busy lives, but getting a proper night’s rest needs to be put above finishing that last episode of Game of Thrones or finishing an essay that you have been procrastinating. Trust me, your body and mind will thank you.
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