The better we sleep the better we feel. On the flip side, a lack of sleep can make us feel grouchy and run down. Our problem-solving skills decrease, reasoning becomes impaired, and attention to detail is lost. And yet, so many of us fight the idea of going to bed at a reasonable time. So the aim of this article is to first help you appreciate the value of your sleep and then show you ways to improve it.
Let’s go take a look under the hood.
The brain gobbles up a whopping twenty percent of your daily energy intake! To be clear, your brain is an energy hog, even though it makes up only two percent of the body’s weight.
At night when you go to sleep, something remarkable happens. A cleanup crew gets to work and washes the brain to ensure that everything is ready for the next day. No really, it’s true.
It does this by using cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid is a clear liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It moves through the brain along a series of channels that surround blood vessels.
This process is managed by the brain’s glial cells. Science defines this as the “glymphatic system.” It also helps to remove a toxic protein called beta-amyloid from brain tissue. Are you getting this? Sleep is kinda important. Beta-amyloid is known to accumulate in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease!
From the moment your life began, the body has been using sleep to recharge and repair itself. We don’t need to fully understand the mechanics; we just need to know that sleep can keep us healthy as well as assisting in any recovery.
In this digital age, we all grasp the importance of recharging our cell phones at night, yet many of us fight the idea of going to bed at a reasonable hour. The new iPhone is good, but the human brain is infinitely more complex. So it shouldn’t be surprising that our brain fails to work optimally when we fail to recharge ourselves with sleep.
The sleep cycle begins as soon as it begins to get dark outside, our brain then begins increasing its production of the hormone melatonin. This is how we evolved. it’s important to understand this because so much of our lives are now affected by the invention of the electric light.
When morning breaks, light filters through the eye and melatonin production is switched off. It’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to think the electric light can have a similar effect. More so if it has a blue hint to it which the brain may associate with the morning blue sky.
So this is actually quite simple. Our body is programmed to go to sleep when it gets dark outside and blue light can throw our sleep into total chaos. Altered melatonin levels have been linked to an increase in depression and irritability. Sabotaging your nighttime sleep with blue light is easy to do, but where is it coming from?
T.V screens, computers, LED lighting and video games are the worst offenders. Hence, if we are looking for better sleep quality we need to begin shutting off these devices at least two hours before bedtime. If you want to become a champion sleeper, challenge yourself to become a total blue light Nazi.
Tip- You can limit the amount of blue light that’s being emitted from your computer screen by installing a free app called F.lux. This tracks the time of day in your time zone. As evening comes around it gradually reduces the amount of blue light on your computer screen. It may seem a little odd at first, but it can serve as a helpful reminder that you should be winding down. If you decide you don’t like it, simply uninstall it.
Light streaming in through a bedroom window is something else to think about. Street lights, car headlights, and even the moon can all affect your sleep quality. For better sleep, black-out curtains are an inexpensive fix. Obviously, if you find yourself waking in the middle of the night to use the bathroom be sure not to put those harsh bathroom lights on. Rather than disrupt melatonin, try using small plug-in night lights.
If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night with a snack attack it could be a sign that your blood sugar isn’t being regulated properly. If this is you, it may help to eat a bowl of rice an hour before bed. Although it’s a carbohydrate, rice is pretty slow to digest.
If rice isn’t your thang, try a teaspoon of raw local honey at bedtime instead, why? As you sleep, the brain still uses energy and does so by tapping into glycogen which is a form of sugar stored in the liver. If you try this route be sure to use locally sourced honey. Much of the honey found in the supermarket is imported; it’s simply not the same standard as raw local honey and results will vastly differ.
It’s also worth noting that caffeine is a stimulant that can stay in the system for six or more hours, even longer in sensitive people. Alcohol in the evening isn’t going to help either. Initially, it may help you feel drowsy, but it will then prevent you from entering the deeper stages of sleep which is where the body does most of its healing.
If we are fortunate enough to live to the age of seventy-five, we will have spent, on average, twenty-five years of our lives asleep. Ever wonder what happens during that time?
When we lie down and close our eyes our brain rests and our heart rate slows. This restorative and relaxing part of sleep helps induce the NREM (Non-Rapid-Eye-Movement) sleep cycle. NREM sleep is then followed by the REM cycle (Rapid-Eye-Movement). Research has shown that REM is the part of the sleep that helps consolidate our emotions. This is also the cycle where muscles relax but the brain is in full activity.
As the name suggests, REM sleep is where our eyes begin rapidly darting back and forth. In this state, brain waves are most similar to our waking hours. This is deep sleep, but in order to get there, two things must happen. We need dark and we need quiet. Darkness helps with the production of melatonin and quiet just because I said so.
If you have been dealing with problems sleeping for any length of time, be sure not to take anything that might spook the system after 6 p.m. For sensitive people, certain medications and even supplements can throw sleep off.
I’m really not a fan of sleeping pills as they can leave a person feeling groggy throughout the following day. Even worse, drug dependence can become a problem down the road. If you need a little extra help to fall asleep try the following.
Today it’s not uncommon for people to have a magnesium deficiency. When this important mineral becomes depleted it can produce a wide range of serious ailments ranging from anxiety to cardiovascular disease.
Magnesium is used by the body as a currency for more than 300 enzymatic processes. Sustained levels of stress will often deplete magnesium levels. If our goal is to experience better sleep then magnesium is your friend.
However, before you head off to buy a bottle of magnesium pills please know that magnesium isn’t absorbed very well through the digestive system. The better way to get magnesium into the system is by combining both oral and transdermal methods. Transdermal simply means that it is absorbed through the skin.
SALT AND SODA BATH
To increase your magnesium level (and help you sleep better), it may help to try a “salt and soda bath.” To do this, simply pour a cup of quality Epsom salts into a hot bath one hour before bedtime and then soak in it. The heat will allow the Epsom salts to be absorbed through the skin and thus flood the system with magnesium sulfate.
Add the same amount of Arm & Hammer baking soda to the water and this may help drain the lymphatic system and balance your pH. Some reports suggest that a Salt and Soda bath may even be helpful to decrease radiation levels from x-rays — but that’s a whole other story.
If salt and soda baths aren’t your thing, you could try a transdermal magnesium. Simply apply to the skin throughout the day and then monitor how you feel. If the magnesium is of good quality, you can also expect to have more energy during the day and feel less stressed at night. Yup, magnesium really is that cool.
Without wanting to sound like a hippy, you could also add a few drops of lavender oil directly to your pillow. This will further aid relaxation and help reduce nighttime anxiety. This can be particularly helpful for young children. If you want to upgrade this technique try adding a few drops of lavender into an oil diffuser.
If you are still struggling to sleep, here’s another tip you can try that’s much safer than sleeping pills. CBD oil is taken directly on the tongue at bedtime and it gently eases us into sleep.
CBD oil has recently become more mainstream thanks to new numerous studies linking CBD oil to a wide range of health benefits. One exciting new study relates to children with uncontrollable epilepsy. In this area, CBD oil appears to be working where conventional medications have failed.
CBD oil is a legal derivative of cannabis; however, CBD oil can only be sold with the TCH component extracted. TCH is the part of cannabis that’s sought after by people who are looking for a high. To be absolutely clear, CBD is a world apart from this. You cannot get high from CBD oil, sorry if that disappoints some readers.
BETA-1, 3D GLUCAN
If CBD oil still sounds a little too rock and roll for you then we could try something a little more traditional. With more than fifty years of research behind it, Beta-Glucans are arguably one of the most studied naturally derived supplements on the planet. Like so many other effective compounds, Beta-Glucans have a wide range of other benefits.
According to research carried out by Dr. Vaclav Vetvicka Ph.D., Beta-Glucan 1, 3D may even have some exciting cancer-fighting benefits. Today, we are looking only at its effectiveness as a sleep aid.
Beta-Glucans work as immunomodulators. This simply means it helps restore balance to the immune system. Think Th1 and Th2 imbalance from my previous writings.
As with any product, you tend to get what you pay for. Beta-Glucans sold by Transfer-Point are a little more expensive than others but you may find them helpful. I have no affiliation with this company (or any other). If the price is an issue, don’t be afraid to try some of the less expensive brands.
Sometimes it can be helpful to switch things around from week to week but it’s important not to try too many things at the same time. A little tweaking on your part should put you on the right track. Just to be clear, I said tweaking not twerking.
There are lots of herbal teas to help you sleep and my personal favorite is chamomile tea. Allowing the tea to steep will increase its potency.
Another sleep hack to try is a grounding pillowcase. You can find these online. This pillow connects to the earth supply in your home and it may help to calm the mind. For it to work your home needs to properly earthed, you should obviously test this before buying the pillow. Testing can be done with an inexpensive tester from any DIY store; it’s a light-up device and costs around five bucks.
There are plenty more sleep hacks to try, but rather than overwhelm you, remember that we don’t want to try them all at the same time. Better to start small and see how you feel, using too many things at once is always counterproductive.
Many of us have heard that we need a standard eight hours of sleep, but the quality of sleep is important. I’d like to suggest that we all have different needs, some of us may do better on six hours of sleep and others may need more.
Ever wonder why teenagers always seem to need more sleep? The teenage years are a critical time for brain development. It’s unfortunate that teenagers, who have the most need for sleep, are often the ones who don’t get enough.
Perhaps we should be encouraging them to sleep in more, not less. If you are a teenager, show this book to Mom; if you are a mom, let your teenager know playing grand theft auto at midnight isn’t helping the cause. Perhaps a trade could be an early night off the computer for a few hours of extra sleep in the morning…. just sayin’.
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What did we learn from this?
Without sleep life quickly becomes dull and stressful. Sleep is an essential part of living which is why we typically spend a third of our lives doing it. Blue light at night is a huge problem as it throws our whole system out of whack.