“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”
― Ernest Hemingway
“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”
Too many people short-change the quantity (length) and quality of their sleep.
I routinely speak to audiences of all sizes, ages, and health status across the country on a variety of health, wellness and fitness topics. Every time I provide the recommended number of hours of sleep I’m struck by the number of sighs, moans, and even chuckles I hear from the audience due to their shortcoming of meeting the required goal of 7-8 hours per night for adults and 9 plus hours for those under 18 years old.
In reality, most people fall well-below these sleep recommendations and for those close to meeting the recommendation, the quality (depth) of their sleep is often lacking.
Research studies consistently show that poor sleep quantity and quality are related to increased risk of health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, stress, as well as decreased brain function (cognition) (Short Sleep Increases Disease Risk ; Short Sleep Increases Obesity). Sleep loss is also related to increased drug use among adolescents (Sleep Loss and Drug Use).
Lifestyle choices such as good nutrition, exercise, and mind-body techniques (mindfulness, meditation, etc.) have a powerful impact on improving both sleep quality and quantity.
Here are some of these strategies…
Nutrition and Sleep
Trim the fat and sugar: Just this month in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine (Fat and Sugar Affect Sleep), a group of researchers demonstrated that diets containing lower fiber and higher saturated fat and sugar are linked with lighter, less restorative sleep that included a longer time to fall asleep and more arousals (periods of awakening). The study showed that slow wave sleep (SWS), which is the deepest, most restful sleep and the time needed to fall asleep were the most negatively impacted by a poor diet. So… reducing fat and sugar intake close to bedtime is a “no-brainer”. Instead, I strongly recommend a whole grain, high-fiber and lean protein meal or snack 1-2 hours prior to your bedtime to maximize sleep duration and depth (see my “Sleeping Beauty Recipe” for this month).
Bean me up!: In a similar study published last month (Beans Improve Sleep), a group of scientists analyzed the diets and sleep patterns of more than a thousand adults. Their findings revealed that, among the study population, the prevalence of adequate quantity and quality of sleep was not good, 13% and 56%, respectively. But, the biggest takeaway was that optimal sleep duration and depth (quality) was greatest among those individuals with the highest intake of foods containing the plant chemicals known as isoflavones, (daidzein genistein) found in soybeans, chickpeas, and other legumes.
Several other effective nutritional strategies I recommend, include:
- Eat a balanced carbohydrate and protein meal 1-2 hours before bed of ~200-400 calories (25 grams carbs; 20-30 grams protein)
- Avoid fatty meals, including fried foods and pizza before bedtime!
- Healthy protein sources include; 10 ounces of turkey, 7 ounces of pumpkin seeds and 8 ounces of Greek yogurt
- Drink a tart cherry and magnesium (200 mg) smoothie (See Monthly Recipe, below): This is one of my personal favorite natural and delicious tasting sleeping aids (Tart Cherry Juice Enhances Sleep ; Tart Cherries Helps Insomnia). Dr. Paul Approved!
Exercise, Environment and Sleep
Staying physically active is a natural sleeping aid as well, but limit performing vigorous exercise within 1-2 hours of going to bed at night.
The virtues of napping have been around for a long time, and for good reason, especially following a sleep-deprived night. If you find yourself dosing off at your desk at work, steal away a short 15-30 minute nap and chances are you will feel refreshed, mentally-sharp, and ready to move your body (A Nap Is Smart).
Here are a few additional strategies to a better night’s sleep:
- Keep a routine, especially wake up time: Having a consistent bedtime schedule is good for everyone, but a regular rise time in the morning is even more important for healthy sleeping.
- Hibernate like a bear and create your own cave: A dark, cool (58-64º F) room is best for deep sleep, just like hibernating animals. Try a sleeping mask if the room has too much natural light.
- Avoid the caffeine-buzz after breakfast. Limit caffeine-containing foods/drinks after the morning meal.
- Unplug!: Emerging research is showing the backlight from cellphones and other mobile devices (e-readers, laptops, etc.) remain illuminated inside the brain hours after you turn them off and affect your sleep quality and mood (Sleep and Depression). So, unplug at least 2 hours before you hit the pillow.
- Body Visit: Obviously, this is my go to and hope you make it yours too (see my Body Visit blog)
- Fine tuning your sleep: Avoid intense exercise in the evening; if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation; eat your dinner meal slowly and minimize spicy foods and gassy foods.