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Maximizing Your Sleep

With the weather cooling down and fewer daylight hours, maximizing your sleep is an important way to maintain your health during the change of seasons.

Sleep is essential to our health and well-being, and for good reason. Like hunger and thirst, we have a biological drive to sleep. Sleep is important for saving energy, restoring function of the body and brain, influencing tissue growth, immune function, and organizing networks in the brain (e.g. learning and memory).

Evidence to date has shown that sleep deprivation has pervasive effects on the body:

· Decreased immune function (greater susceptibility to infections and decreased response to vaccinations)

· Decreased attention

· Reduced performance, decision making, learning, memory, and cognition

· Increased risk of high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, stroke, and all-cause mortality

· Weight gain and obesity

· Mood related disorders (e.g. stress, anxiety, depression, suicide)

· Increased sensation of pain

· Increased risk of cancer

Unfortunately, with an increased use in stimulants and electronic devices (especially at night), poor sleep quality and duration is affecting us all. In today’s culture, “we crave more, work more and expect more…and in the process abandon sleep.” (Foster & Wulff, 2005)

So how can one improve their sleep?

5 tips for getting a more restful sleep

Tip #1: Make your bedroom inviting for sleep. Before doing anything else, your room must be setup to facilitate sleep. This means minimizing the chaos and removing clutter. Also, it is important to keep your room as dark as possible (this includes removing any electronics that emit light).

Comfortable bedroom. Ali Inay | Unsplash

Photo credit: Ali Inay | Unsplash

Tip #2: Maintain a wake and sleep time. Try and wake up and sleep at the same time every day, even on weekends. Your body follows a circadian rhythm or “24-hour clock” and varying this can disturb your sleep-wake cycle.

Tip #3: Exercise. Make exercise a routine activity. Studies have shown that those who undertake at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week report significantly better sleep. But avoid any strenuous exercise in the evening close to bedtime, as the physiological arousal associated with it can delay sleep onset.

Tip #4: Have a bedtime routine. Practice a relaxing routine before going to bed. This can include any of the following: take a lukewarm bath, use lavender candles or place 2-3 drops of lavender essential oil on your pillow, listen to calming music or meditation, drink chamomile tea (skip this if you tend to use the washroom often during the night), or practice deep breathing.

Tip #5: Avoid stimulants before bed.

  • Caffeine: Coffee, energy drinks, and caffeinated teas should be avoided around bedtime and ideally consumed no later than 4 p.m.

  • Electronic usage: Put away the laptop, phone, or tablet at least 1 hour before bedtime. Light from the screen interferes with melatonin production and delayed sleep onset.

  • Alcohol and Nicotine: Avoid within 4-6 hours of bedtime. While these substances may sometimes seem to help with relaxation, they interfere with obtaining deep restful sleep.

  • Eating large meals: Meals too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep. Keep any meals close to bedtime small and easy to digest.

Are your sleep issues more serious?

There are a number of clinical disorders that can negatively affect sleep despite proper sleep practices and lifestyle. Here are just some examples of clinical disorders that can affect sleep:

· Thyroid dysfunction

· Restless leg syndrome

· Breathing conditions (e.g. sleep apnea or nasal obstruction)

· Intractable pain

· Medication side effects

· Cardiovascular disorders

If you think you have ongoing insomnia despite proper sleep hygiene, talk to your Primary Healthcare Provider or Naturopathic Doctor to determine the cause.

Foster, RG, Wulff K. (2005) The rhythm of rest and excess. Nature reviews: Neuroscience, 2005. 6, 407-414.

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