When discussing lifestyle habits to gain and maintain optimal health, getting a good night sleep should be #1 on our list! In fact, without a consistent regimen of 7-9 hours of sleep nightly, recommended by the National Sleep Foundation,₁ we can absolutely count on becoming depleted in multiple areas of basic body and life functioning. And for those of us who are interested in re-shaping our bodies, please take note:
Medical research shows there is a stronger relationship between obesity and lack of sleep than any diet factor.₂
Decreased sleep impacts our ability to mentally concentrate, perform physically, and maintain mood stability. Moreover, according to Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D. in Go to Bed, sleep deprivation may contribute to: (a) compromises to our immune system, (b) increases in cortisol, (the stress hormone, which can detrimentally impact many health issues including weight problems), (c) an increased risk for serious cardiovascular problems, and, (d) the onset of certain cancers. In fact, Dr. Ballantyne reports that, “research shows that deep sleep may be the most critical time for our bodies to repair.”₃
Even short-term changes in sleep patterns can (1) worsen insulin resistance, (insulin is known as the fat storage hormone), (2) dysregulate cortisol, and, (3) increase leptin resistance, (people with leptin resistance have frequent food cravings or feelings of hunger.)⁴
Do you have challenges with eating binges in the late eve? Every wonder why? You may want to consider how much sleep you’re getting or not. Sleep deprivation changes the amount of dopamine receptors in the brain, mimicking the neuropathology of someone with food addiction-type-behaviors, (think obesity or binge eating disorders.)₅
All this to say that sleep matters tremendously in achieving good health and body size. With regard to the 7-9 hours idyllic sleeping range, generally speaking we need more sleep in the winter than the summer. This goes hand-in-hand with fewer daylight hours in the winter than summer. And with earlier darkness, the body is inclined to wind down sooner.
Many of us, especially as we get older, have difficulties sleeping. There are a variety of reasons for our sleep challenges. Stress, fast paced-life, demands from job, family troubles, paying the bills, inconsistent bed-times, hormonal changes, and more interfere in our ability to have a long, deep, rejuvenating sleep. Sleep comfort itself also impedes or enhances our success for much needed restful sleep.
At bedtime our rooms should be as dark as possible, quiet, cool in temperature, and comfortable. Mark Sisson in The Primal Connection, writes, “Research shows it’s not just your eyes that are sensitive to light but your entire body. A single beam of light hitting the back of your knee has been demonstrated to disrupt melatonin levels and upset your circadian rhythm.”₆
Take good note dear reader! While it may be helpful to wear eye masks and ear plugs, there’s a whole bunch more we can do to get us a good night’s sleep. Let’s take a look.
Nurturing Solutions for a Good Night Sleep
There are many natural and healthy ways to move towards the 7-9 hours of recommended nightly sleep. How are just a few:
◊ Follow nature’s circadian rhythm. Our body’s rhythms closely follow the sun’s 24-hour day rhythm. When the sun rises, it is time for us to rise as well. It is the cortisol awakening response that gets us to open our eyes. When you wake up in morning, make your room/household as bright as possible. Use a sun lamp first thing for approximately 20 minutes, (especially in the winter months). The lamp should shine on your face’s profile from approximately 2 feet away.
When the sun sets and it grows dark outside, this is a signal for us to also start winding things down. Being in sync with the sun help hormones to be released at appropriate times of the day, i.e., cortisol in the morning and melatonin at night.
Please note, getting to sleep by 10:45pm is recommended by many as later than that moves us further away from the circadian rhythm. Staying up later also releases cortisol into the body. Of course, nighttime release of cortisol is to be avoided as much as possible since it sends messages to the brain to wake up.
◊ Have a positive attitude towards sleeping. Some people hate to sleep. They feel it’s a waste of time and ponder about all the things they could be doing if they didn’t have to sleep. I’m going to say this to you from the bottom of my heart: Get over that way of thinking right now. Sleep is your friend! Embrace it and have gratitude for all the health, strength, and vitality sleep brings
Others feel sleeping up to 9 hours a night is for weaklings or for those who are lazy. They pride themselves on getting very few hours of sleep. Honoring your body’s need for the hours of sleep it truly needs is congruent with good health. Harsh judgement against yourself or others who get a full night’s sleep brings nothing positive to the situation. We need to sleep, plain and simple. For your sake and the sake of all, remember this please.
◊ Go to bed the same time every night. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule each night as much as possible helps our body anticipate sleep and get ready for it. If we consistently go to sleep each night by 10:30pm, we should start to feel sleepy, yawn, and have a hard time staying awake as bedtime draws closer. Do not fight the urge to sleep! Struggling to stay awake will in and of itself generate a stress response in your body which will release cortisol.
◊ Avoid eating 2 hours before going to sleep. During the night while we are sleeping is a time for us to rest deeply. It is also time when our body cleans itself and makes repairs. If we eat and then go to sleep, our body spends the night digesting. Digestion takes a lot of effort. We lose out on body rest, repair, and maintenance. Plus, when we wake up in the morning, we’re going to generally feel bloated and full. This is because the body does not digest nearly as well during the night as it does during the day when our metabolism is going at full steam.
I’ll also let you in on a little secret. Sumo wrestlers get their large body size by eating very late at night and then going to bed. It’s a known way to put on weight. Yikes! One other fact. When we wake up in the morning after a restful night of sleep, having eating the eve before at least two hours prior to bedtime, our gut is going to feel great with relieved bloating and discomfort. Give it a try. I know you’ll agree.
◊ Avoid excess alcohol before going to bed. Unfortunately, consuming more than a glass or shot of an alcoholic beverage less than 2 hours before going to sleep may initially make us sleepy. However, many of us can count on waking up near 2-3am and wonder why. It’s the alcohol.
According to DrinkAware, even a couple of drinks can interfere with the normal sleep process. When you drink alcohol close to bedtime, you can go straight into deep sleep, missing out on the usual first stage of sleep, called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. As the alcohol starts to wear off, your body can come out of deep sleep and back into REM sleep, which is much easier to wake from. That's why you often wake up after just a few hours of sleep when you've been drinking.₇
◊ Avoid coffee after 2pm. – According to CaffeineInformer, coffee has a half life of close to 6 hours. This means simply that if one drinks a beverage containing 200mg of caffeine at 2pm, s/he will have 100mg of caffeine in their system 6 hours later at 8pm.₈
Moreover, researchers at Henry Ford Hospitals Sleep Disorders Research Center and Wayne State College of Medicine, found that caffeine consumed even 6 hours before bedtime resulted in significantly diminished sleep quality and sleep quantity.₉
◊ Avoid direct light in your eyes 2 hours before going to sleep. Even 5 minutes of white light from a television screen, or computer, tablet, phone monitor shuts off melatonin production for hours and can wreck the quality of your sleep.₁₀ I use Uvex glasses/goggles by Honeywell in the evenings to block blue and white light when looking at TV, or any electronic monitor including my cellphone, tablet, and/or computer. They may take a bit of getting used to, however, I hardly notice when I’m wearing the Uvex glasses now. PS – If you wear regular glasses, purchase Uvex goggles.
◊ Avoid violent television programs or movies right before bed. I was a big fan of the television program “Criminal Minds”. I still watch the show to this day. However, I no longer watch it before going to bed. I found the program frightening and tense. The results of course were that I was no longer winding down to sleep. Instead, my stress hormones were being activated and I felt wide awake for hours thereafter. Now, I calm down my bedtime television viewing options with a musical, comedy, love story, cooking show, etc. Reading is also relaxing.
◊ Keep your room pitch black. Blackout curtains help tremendously to get a room very dark. If any light enters between the edge of the curtain and the wall, use tape to close that gap. Also, use black electrical tape or a towel to block out any light in your room coming from electrical appliances. A television, cable box, phone, computer, printer, clock, etc. should all be covered.
◊ Take magnesium glycinate immediately before going to sleep. I was introduced to this a number of years ago by a former nutritionist for my own sleeping challenges. I found the magnesium amazingly helpful! I start by taking 300mg right as I get into bed. Should I wake up during the night and feel awake, I take another 100mg capsule. Please note, magnesium may cause headaches for some. Should this happen to you, discontinue immediately. For others, the magnesium is frequently a win-win since most of us are magnesium deficient.
◊ Deep breath to fall asleep. – If you get into bed with racing thoughts, try some deep, gentle, slow breathing to calm yourself down. I enjoy the app Breathing Zone to guide me in my own deep breathing. If you’re able to slow down your breathing to 5 breaths-per-minute on your inhale and exhale, that will help to move you from the stress to relaxation mode.
◊ Keep your bedroom cool. - Temperatures between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal sleeping conditions.₁₁ While it may take some time to acclimate to this temperature range, over time your body will adjust and gain a variety of health and sleep advantages.
◊ Place your light source behind your head. If reading a book, having the light shine on the pages from behind you prevents direct light-to-eye retina contact. Also, it’s helpful to read with Uvex glasses/goggles on. See above.
◊ Avoid taking hormones such as melatonin unless you know from a medicine professional that your body is melatonin low. Sure melatonin helps us sleep, however, if we introduce melatonin into the body in pill/capsule form, this extra melatonin tells your body it no longer needs to produce its own melatonin. The effect can be permanent.
So, if your sleep is off due to stress or excess lighting in your room, you will not be addressing the real issue of what is getting in way of sleep. Moreover, in your earnestness to recover good sleep, you could likely be throwing off your melatonin level. You indeed could be setting the stage for a lifetime of sleep difficulty.
◊ Make Love! Whether in bed with someone or just yourself, indulge in some healthy sexual pleasure seeking. Orgasms release oxytocin, the love hormone, into our body. It gives us a warm, fuzzy, love feeling as well as brings us into the relaxation mode. Having an orgasm is nature’s very own ambien.₁₂
◊ Buy a comfortable bed. We literally spend close to a third of our lives in bed. Spend what you need to make it as comfy as possible!
Sleep is the very foundation of good health. It should come before everything else when trying to achieve optimal alertness, mental and physical functioning, desired body size, stress reduction, and more. Lack of sleep, which so many of us suffer from – sometimes without even knowing - depletes our energy, health, and resilience.
While getting 7-9 hours of restful sleep in an ongoing way is not easy for all, it just may be more attainable than you ever imagined. This doesn’t mean going to the usual pill popping solution Americans know all too well. Natural methods to regain a good night sleep are fairly easy to implement, very low to no cost, and are proven to change the course from no sleep frustration to deep sleep satisfaction. Good night!
If you liked this article, please share it with your friends and family members. Also, if you’d like to leave a comment below, please feel free!
1 National Sleep Foundation, “How Much Sleep do we Really Need?”, https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need
2 S. Ballantyne, Ph.D., Go to Bed! 14 Easy Steps to Healthier Sleep, pg. 17, 2015, The Paleo Mom LLC
3 S. Ballantyne, Ph.D., Go to Bed! “ “
4 Leptin Resistance Fact Sheet, , 3/14/14.
5 S. Ballantyne, Ph.D., Go to Bed! pg. 35
6 M. Sisson, The Primal Connection: Follow Your Genetic Blueprint to Health and Happiness, pg. 144, Primal Blueprint Publishing, Malibu, CA, 2013
7 DrinkAware, “Alcohol and Sleep”, https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/effects-on-the-body/alcohol-and-sleep/
8 CaffeineInformer, “The Half Life of Caffeine”, www.caffeineinformer.com/the-half-life-of-caffeine
9 M.J. Breus, Ph.D., “New Details on Caffeine’s Sleep Disrupting Effects”, Psychology Today, 12/16/13 – http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sleep-newzzz/201312/new-details-caffeine-s-sleep-disrupting-effects
10 D. Asprey, The Bulletproof Diet: Lose up to a Pound a Day, Reclaim Energy and Focus, Upgrade Your Life, pg, 110, Rodale Inc., New York, NY, 2014
11 D. Scotti, “Cool Side of the Pillow: People Who Sleep in Cold Rooms are Healthier,” EliteDaily.com/life/science-behind-cold-sleeping/83784/
12 A. Huffington, “Real Time with Bill Maher: Pillow Talk with Arianna Huffington”, HBO