The quality of our sleep plays a big role in our physical and mental health. Sleep is the body’s opportunity for repair and grow tissues, restore energy, release hormones, clear waste from tissues, consolidate new memories and organize long-term memories.
Insufficient sleep has more serious repercussions than feeling tired and being unproductive. Studies have shown that sleep deficit is associated with increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, depression and anxiety disorders, decreased immune function and slowed reaction time.
There are many reasons for a bad night’s sleep. Common causes are:
- Stress: Worries about school, work, relationships, health or finances can keep your mind active at night, making it difficult to sleep.
- Stimulants: Coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, nicotine, and certain medications (including some pain medications) taken in the late afternoon can prevent you from relaxing and falling asleep. Loud noise, light, watching electronic screens or engaging in active discussions are also stimulating.
- Diet: If you eat too much at night, lying down with a full stomach is physically uncomfortable and triggers heartburn which makes it difficult to sleep. On the other hand, eating your last meal too early in the evening, may wake up some people in the middle of the night due to a significant drop in blood glucose levels, triggering over-release of glucose.
- Alcohol: Although it’s a sedative, it prevents deeper stages of sleep and often causes you to awaken in the middle of the night.
- Medical conditions: Anxiety, depression, and health issues causing pain, urinary frequency or breathing difficulties are other causes that can prevent a good night’s sleep.
Tips for getting a good night’s sleep:
- Follow a regular sleep schedule. At bedtime, ensure a quiet, dark and comfortable sleeping environment.
- Avoid stimulating activities, take a hot Epsom salt bath, practice meditation or deep breathing, and write down what is on your mind (letting it go for the night).
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine, avoid alcoholic drinks before bed, have an early dinner and if you have problems waking up in the middle of the night, try eating a small protein snack before bed (piece of celery or apple with peanut butter).
- Exercise regularly, but not too vigorously near bedtime.
Seek professional help if you continue having problems falling asleep.
For more information
1. Your guide to healthy sleep: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/sleep/healthy_sleep.pdf
2. National Sleep Foundation: http://sleepfoundation.org/
— By Mohga Elabbadi, PhD, ND, resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health