Sleep Hygiene and Disease Prevention

The Importance of Quality Sleep

We all feel better after a good nights sleep, right? Your brain feels sharper, your energy is better and your mood is more stable. Unfortunately, 20% of adults and 50% of seniors have difficulty falling asleep. There are now over 100 sleep disorder diagnoses. The major causes include anxiety, menopause, medical illness, mood disorder, substance abuse, dementia, and psychological stressors–like job, relationship, financial and emotional stressors. Another factors is darkness deficiency. We have LIGHT everywhere we go, regardless of what time of day it is, which interferes with our sleep/awake cycling and hormones associated. Our culture is hurried, chaotic, and dysrythmic. These cultural norms seduce us away form natural rhythms that are essential for optimal health.

It is SO important in disease prevention to get quality sleep. Sleep is like shampoo for your brain, washing away toxins silently as you sleep. Without adequate sleep, your risk for chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, mood disorders, poor immune function and inflammation rise significantly. Immediate effects of poor sleep include problems with memory, learning, attention, and performance. Insufficient sleep has even been tied to lower life expectancy! Sleep is essential for life to restore neurotransmitters, for daytime brain function, for reproduction and even survival.

Review this list of sleep hygiene tips to make sure you are doing everything you can to promote restful and restorative sleep.

  1. Avoid caffeine 6 hours before bed.
  2. Clean up your diet. A diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugars and low in proteins and fiber rich fruits and veggies can cause blood sugar imbalance that interferes with quality sleep.
  3. Make a routine, and stick to it. One of the best ways to train your body to sleep well is to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day.
  4. Make an electronic screen curfew, preferably 90 minutes before bed. Studies show that using electronic devices before bed will disrupt your sleep. Looking at the artificial blue light emitted by electronic screens suppresses your melatonin secretion and triggers your body to produce more daytime hormones like cortisol. 
  5. If you must use electronic devices after dark, wear blue blockers. These are specialized glasses designed to block out blue light which is emitted from electronic devices. As discussed in number one, blue light exposure interferes with sleep. You can find them on amazon.
  6. DO NOT use electronics in bed. This includes your computer, TV, phone, and tablet.
  7. Make your room as dark as possible. Humans sleep more deeply in a dark environment. Having any light source in your bedroom can disrupt sleep patterns. This includes light from your alarm clock, phone, nightlight, etc. Get blackout curtains if you need to.
  8. Get more sunlight. Especially early in the day. Research shows that getting more sunlight exposure helps you sleep better at night. Your body wants to know when its day time and when it is night time. When your body knows its daytime, it triggers the release of hormones that help you to wake up. Going for a walk outside upon waking is a great way to start the day. If you work in an office all day away from daylight, go for a walk outside at lunch if possible.
  9. Exercise in the morning. Research shows that morning workouts are best for quality sleep at night. At minimum try to avoid exercise for 4 hours before bed.
  10. Try magnesium. Magnesium is called the ‘anti-stress’ mineral and can help you calm down when taken at night. This can be accomplished through pills, powder, creams, or epsom salt in a bath.
  11. Avoid alcohol. It can make you fall asleep fast, but has been shown to prevent you from getting into REM sleep, which is the deep sleep you need to recharge.
  12. Keep your bedroom temperature cool. 60-65 degree is optimal for good sleep.
  13. Relax your mind. Meditation, yoga, reading, and other calming practices before bed can help you relax and get your body ready for sleep.