Sleep is essential for optimal health. You can be doing everything right and have the perfect diet, avoid EMFs do plenty of exercise, etc, etc. But if you are not sleeping well all your efforts will be in vain. Don’t neglect your sleep.
This post is courtesy of Dr Joseph Mercola and lists his 50 recommendations for optimising your sleep. There is also a link to a fabulous post from Dr Bed Greenfield on Sleep hacks at the end.
By Dr Mercola
Why do we sleep? For many ambitious and driven individuals, sleep can seem like an annoyance without clear purpose. Far from being a waste of time, sleep serves many important functions, and without it, your body (and mind) starts to fall apart at the proverbial seams.
In the video above, professor Matthew Walker, Ph.D., founder and director of the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science and author of the book “Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams,” shares the latest discoveries about sleep and how it impacts virtually every area of your physical and mental health. For example, sleep is required for:
• Maintaining metabolic homeostasis in your brain. Wakefulness is associated with mitochondrial stress and without sufficient sleep, neuron degeneration sets in, which can lead to dementia.2,3,4 Animal research reveals inconsistent, intermittent sleep results in considerable and irreversible brain damage.
Mice lost 25 percent of the neurons located in their locus coeruleus,5 a nucleus in the brainstem associated with arousal, wakefulness and certain cognitive processes. In a similar vein, research published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging suggests people with chronic sleep problems develop Alzheimer’s disease sooner than those who sleep well.6
• Maintaining biological homeostasis. Your body contains an array of body clocks that regulate everything from metabolism to psychological functioning. When you upset your circadian rhythm by not getting enough sleep, the results cascade through your system, raising blood pressure, dysregulating hunger hormones and blood sugar, increasing the expression of genes associated with inflammation, immune excitability, diabetes, cancer risk and stress7, and much more.
While the master clock in your brain synchronizes your bodily functions to match the 24-hour light and dark cycle, each and every organ, indeed each cell, has its own biological clock. The Nobel Prize for medicine last year was actually awarded for the discovery of these body clocks.
Even half of your genes have been shown to be under circadian control, turning on and off in cyclical waves. All of these clocks, while having slightly different rhythms, are synchronized to the master clock in your brain. Needless to say, when these clocks become desynchronized, a wide array of health problems can ensue.
• Removal of toxic waste from your brain through the lymphatic system. This system ramps up its activity during deep sleep, thereby allowing your brain to clear out toxins, including harmful proteins linked to brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s. By pumping cerebral spinal fluid through your brain’s tissues, the glymphatic system flushes the waste from your brain, back into your body’s circulatory system. From there, the waste eventually reaches your liver, where it can be eliminated.8,9,10,11,12
• Memory formation, extracting meaning from life events and improving daytime performance. During sleep, your brain pulls together and extracts meaning from the day’s events, thereby fostering insight into the workings of your life. In fact, sleep increases your ability to gain insights that would otherwise remain elusive by about 250 percent.
Dreams play important roles as well. In addition to helping you gain insight into what’s going on in your life, tests reveal dreaming about performing an activity increases actual physical performance tenfold. In the dream state, your brain is actually processing information at multiple levels. Your whole brain is engaged.
Part of your brain is busy stabilizing, enhancing and integrating new memories. It’s also extracting rules and the “gist” of what’s going on. Then, during dreaming, old and new memories are integrated to form a new whole, and possible futures are imagined. (This is what you actually perceive as “the action” of your dream.) The sum total of these processes then allows you to see the meaning of your life.
Monitor your sleep
I (Nigel Howitt) use an Oura ring to monitor my sleep each night. The amount of deep sleep is really important as you age and without being able to measure it you will have no clue if what you are doing is improving it or not.
Another important consideration is that the optimal sleeping position is on your back. Check out the video below and learn why you should sleep on your side. I have found that it takes some practice, but I have noticed an improvement in my deep sleep.
That said, Back to Dr Mercola’s information and his recommendations on how to improve your sleep. You can read the full article here.
Dr Mercola’s 50 ways to improve your sleep
|1. Sleep in complete darkness, or as close to it as possible. Even the tiniest bit of light can disrupt your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin, thereby disrupting your sleep cycle. Even the tiniest glow from your clock radio has the potential to interfere with your sleep.
So, close your bedroom door, get rid of night lights, and use blackout shades or thick drapes. If shades are out of your budget, use a well-fitting eye mask. Refrain from turning on any light at all during the night, even when getting up to go to the bathroom. If you absolutely have to have some sort of night light, use a red bulb.
|2. Keep the temperature in your bedroom no higher than 70 degrees F. Studies show the optimal room temperature for sleep is between 60 to 68 degrees F.
Keeping your room cooler or hotter can lead to restless sleep. When you sleep, your body’s internal temperature drops to its lowest level, generally about four hours after you fall asleep. Scientists believe a cooler bedroom may therefore be most conducive to sleep since it mimics your body’s natural temperature drop.
|3. Sleep naked. Something as simple as sleeping naked may do the trick if you don’t want to crank down the temperature on your air conditioning. One of the established benefits of sleeping in the buff is improved sleep quality, in part by preventing overheating.
One study showed a surface skin temperature difference of as little as 0.08 degrees F (or 0.4 degrees C) led to sounder sleep.28,29,30 Studies have also found sleeping in the nude has several other health benefits, including improved metabolism and blood circulation.
|4. Conquer sound pollution. Like temperature and light, sound can be a disruptive factor that’s keeping you awake. An inexpensive pair of earplugs can eliminate most noise.|
|5. Eliminate electric and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in your bedroom. These can disrupt your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin, and are a significant contributor to mitochondrial damage and dysfunction, which is at the heart of virtually all chronic disease.
EMF exposure has also been linked to neuronal changes that affect memory and your ability to learn.31 EMFs harm your body’s mitochondria by producing excessive oxidative damage, so “marinating” in EMFs all night, every night, can cause or contribute to virtually any chronic ailment, including premature ageing.
Ideally, shut down the electricity to your bedroom by pulling your circuit breaker before bed. If you have neighbours on the other side of the wall, floor or ceiling, consider installing a Faraday cage (copper- and/or silver-threaded fabric) around your bed. If you live in a high-rise and have neighbours beneath you, place the Faraday fabric on the floor beneath your bed as well. This may significantly improve your sleep quality.
However, even if you completely shut off the electricity in your bedroom 2 out of 3 people will still have electrified rooms. This is what happened to me, and when I used sophisticated body voltage measurements I was able to detect this.
This is a result of electrical fields (not electricity) transferred into your home by the electric utility and spreading in your home. This can be remediated with some effective types of paint shielding that is then grounded to form a Faraday cage, which stops the fields from entering your bedroom.
|6. Shut down your Wi-Fi at night. Another really important step is to turn off your Wi-Fi at night. It would be best to hardwire your home so you have no Wi-Fi 24/7 in your home, but I realize many are unwilling or unable to take this step. It’s important to realize that the Wi-Fi in your home is nearly always more of a danger to you than what’s coming from outside your home.
You can confirm this by measuring the microwave signals with a meter, and seeing what your exposure is. The fact is, you don’t need Wi-Fi while sleeping, so this is a wholly unnecessary exposure that is easily remedied by turning it off.
|7. Move alarm clocks and other electrical devices away from your bed. If these devices must be used, keep them as far away from your bed as possible, preferably at least 3 feet. Keep your cellphone as far away from your bedroom as possible if it must be on. If you keep it in your bedroom, either shut it down or put it in airplane mode.|
|8. Avoid using loud alarm clocks. It is very stressful on your body to be suddenly jolted awake. If you are regularly getting enough sleep, an alarm may even be unnecessary.
Alternatives include a sun alarm clock, which wakes you up by gradually increasing the intensity of light, thereby simulating sunrise, or a talking alarm clock, designed for the visually impaired. I use the latter, as it allows me to sleep in complete darkness. If I need to know the time, I just press a large button, and the clock audibly tells me the time.
|9. 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). One of my absolute favourite sleep aids is 5-HTP. 5-HTP is the hydroxylated form of tryptophan and easily passes your blood-brain barrier when it is converted to serotonin, thereby giving mood a boost and enhancing sleep and then to melatonin.
I believe this is a superior approach to using melatonin. In one study, an amino acid preparation containing both GABA (a calming neurotransmitter) and 5-HTP reduced time to fall asleep, increased the duration of sleep and improved sleep quality.32
|10. Take magnesium malate or glycinate before bed to increase body relaxation.|
|11. Reserve your bed for sleeping. If you are used to watching TV or doing work in bed, you may find it harder to relax and drift off to sleep, so avoid doing these activities in bed.|
|12. Consider separate bedrooms. Recent studies suggest that, for many people, sharing a bed with a partner can significantly impair sleep, especially if the partner is a restless sleeper or snores. If bedfellows are consistently interfering with your sleep, you may want to consider a separate bedroom. Pets may also need to be banished if their presence impairs your sleep.|
|13. Get to bed as early as possible, ideally between 9 and 10 p.m. My personal target is to actually be asleep by 9 p.m. Your body (particularly your adrenal system) does a majority of its recharging between the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.
In addition, your gallbladder dumps toxins during this same period. If you are awake, the toxins back up into your liver, which can further disrupt your health. Prior to the widespread use of electricity, people would go to bed shortly after sundown, as most animals do, and which nature intended for humans as well.
|14. Don’t change your bedtime. Go to bed and wake up at the same times each day, even on the weekends. This will help your body to get into a sleep rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep and get up in the morning.|
|15. Cannabidiol (CBD) oil. Another alternative is to take CBD oil. By bringing tissues back into balance, CBD oil helps reduce pain, nerve stimulation and muscle spasm. It also promotes relaxation and has been shown to improve sleep.|
|16. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. This could include meditation, deep breathing, using aromatherapy or essential oils or indulging in a massage from your partner. The key is to find something that makes you feel relaxed, then repeat it each night to help you release the tensions of the day.|
|17. Avoid drinking fluids within two hours of going to bed. This will reduce the likelihood of needing to get up and go to the bathroom or at least minimize the frequency.|
|18. Go to the bathroom right before bed. This will reduce the chances that you’ll wake up to go in the middle of the night.|
|19. Avoid eating at least three hours before bedtime, particularly grains and sugars. These will raise your blood sugar, delay sleep and raise your risk of acid reflux. Later, when blood sugar drops too low (hypoglycemia), you may wake up and be unable to fall back asleep.
Aside from that, eating too close to bedtime can harm your health in other ways. If you consume more calories than your body can immediately use, there will be an excess of free electrons, which back up inside your mitochondria.
These electrons are highly reactive and start to leak out of the electron transport chain in the mitochondria. These excess electrons wind up prematurely killing the mitochondria and then wreak further havoc by damaging your cell membranes and contributing to DNA mutations. There’s compelling evidence to suggest this type of mitochondrial dysfunction is one of the keys to accelerated ageing.
|20. Take a hot bath or shower before bed. When your body temperature is raised in the late evening, it will fall at bedtime, facilitating slumber. The temperature drop from getting out of the bath signals your body it’s time for bed. It will also help if you finish your shower with a cold rinse.|
|21. Take a sauna followed by cold immersion in an unheated pool or shower, two to three hours before bed. This combination helps activate your parasympathetic nervous system to induce relaxation, allowing for a sounder, deeper sleep.|
|22. Wear socks to bed. Feet often feel cold before the rest of the body because they have the poorest circulation. At least one study has shown that wearing socks to bed reduces night waking. As an alternative, you could place a hot water bottle near your feet at night.|
|23. Put your work away at least one hour before bed (preferably two hours or more). This will give your mind a chance to unwind so you can go to sleep feeling calm, not hyped up or anxious about tomorrow’s deadlines.|
|24. Avoid watching TV right before bed. Even better, get the TV out of the bedroom or even completely out of the house. It’s too stimulating to the brain, preventing you from falling asleep quickly. TV disrupts your pineal gland function.|
|25. Minimize use of electronics, both during the day and in the evening. Electronic screens are major sleep thieves, robbing you of the ability to fall asleep quickly. Research has shown that the more time you spend on electronic devices during the day, and especially at night, the longer it takes to fall asleep and the less sleep you get overall.33,34
Teenagers who used electronic devices such as MP3 players, video games, tablets, smartphones and/or computers for more than five hours a day were 3.5 times more likely to get fewer than five hours of sleep per night. They were also 49 percent more likely to need more than an hour to actually fall asleep.
|26. Swap out LEDs and fluorescent light bulbs in your home for incandescents. LEDs and fluorescent lights emit blue light that is not balanced by red and near-infrared frequencies.35 Incandescent lights emit red and near-infrared wavelengths and very little in the blue wavelengths, making them a far healthier type of lighting in general.
Once the sun has set, the lower the light in your home the better. Candlelight is ideal. Salt lamps are another option that will not have an adverse impact on your health and sleep quality.
|27. Use blue-blocking glasses after sunset. While amber lenses work, glasses with red lenses actually work even better, as they not only block blue light but also yellow and green. You can get inexpensive amber glasses and red glasses on Amazon.|
|28. Install blue-blocking software on your electronic screen devices. Iris is the absolute best one and I have used it for many years. If you use Iris at night, you won’t need blue-blocking glasses.|
|29. Reset your circadian clock. Expose yourself to bright sunlight in the morning and/or around solar noon to “set” your master clock, and to avoid blue light exposure after sunset for the same reason.36|
|30. Listen to relaxation CDs. Some people find the sound of white noise or nature sounds, such as the ocean or forest, to be soothing for sleep. An excellent relaxation/meditation option to listen to before bed is the Insight audio CD.|
|31. Read something spiritual or uplifting. This may help you relax. Don’t read anything stimulating, such as a mystery or suspense novel, which has the opposite effect. In addition, if you are really enjoying a suspenseful book, you might be tempted to go on reading for hours, instead of going to sleep.|
|32. Journaling. If you often lie in bed with your mind racing, it might be helpful to keep a journal and write down your thoughts before bed.|
|33. Short-circuit worry with creative distractions. If worry has you in its grip, try thinking of something else that interests you but is of no importance. Sleep expert Neil Stanley, Ph.D., said, “I fly a lot, so I imagine I have my own private jet and how would I arrange the furniture on it. If you’re someone who likes going to music festivals, what would your lineup be?”|
|34. Reduce or avoid as many drugs as possible. Many drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, may adversely affect sleep. In most cases, the condition causing the drugs to be taken in the first place can be addressed by following guidelines elsewhere on my website.|
|35. Avoid caffeine. At least one study has shown that, in some people, caffeine is not metabolized efficiently, leaving you feeling its effects long after consumption. So, an afternoon cup of coffee or tea will keep some people from falling asleep at night. Be aware that some medications also contain caffeine (for example, diet pills).|
|36. Avoid alcohol. Although alcohol will make you drowsy, the effect is short-lived and you will often wake up several hours later, unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol will also keep you from entering the deeper stages of sleep, where your body does most of its healing.|
|37. Avoid foods you may be sensitive to. This is particularly true for sugar, grains and pasteurized dairy. Sensitivity reactions can cause excess congestion, gastrointestinal upset, gas and other problems.|
|38. Exercise regularly, but not within three hours of bedtime. Exercising for at least 30 minutes per day can improve your sleep. However, don’t exercise too close to bedtime or it may keep you awake. Studies show exercising in the morning is the best if you can manage it.|
|39. Lose excess weight. Being overweight can increase your risk of sleep apnea, which can seriously impair your sleep. Please refer to my nutrition plan for recommendations.|
|40. Have your adrenals checked by a good natural medicine clinician. Scientists have found that insomnia may be caused by adrenal stress.|
|41. If you are menopausal or perimenopausal, get checked out by a good natural medicine physician. The hormonal changes at this time may cause sleep problems if not properly addressed.|
|42. Get out of bed. Rather than tossing and turning, allowing frustration to grow, get out of bed. Try writing your thoughts down; just be sure to keep the lights dim. Telling yourself you’re going to try to stay awake instead may also have the paradoxical effect of making you sleepy. The reason for this is because once you’re OK with being awake, your frustration and arousal level drops, making it easier to fall asleep.|
|43. Do some controlled breathing exercises. Breathing is both an involuntary and a voluntary process. You can alter the speed and the depth of your breathing, and you can choose to breathe through your mouth or your nose. These choices lead to physical changes in your body.
Slow, deep and steady breathing activates your parasympathetic response while rapid, shallow breathing activates your sympathetic response, involved in releasing cortisol and other stress hormones.
The combination of controlled breathing with counting can be particularly effective when your mind refuses to shut down at night, as it gives your mind something to focus on. One breathing exercise involving counting that you could try is the 4-7-8 breathing technique taught by Dr. Andrew Weil. It’s a potent remedy for anxiety, as it acts as a natural tranquilizer for your nervous system.
|44. Tape your mouth to prevent mouth breathing. While this may sound bizarre, it’s quite effective and not at all painful or risky. Simply place a small piece of medical tape (please do not use industrial types of tape which can damage your skin) across your lips. This will encourage breathing through your nose throughout the night, which has a number of health benefits aside from regulating sleep-disordered breathing that can progress to sleep apnea.|
|45. Boost your melatonin. Ideally, it is best to increase levels naturally with exposure to bright sunlight in the daytime (along with full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs in the winter) and absolute complete darkness at night. If that fails or isn’t possible, you may want to consider a melatonin supplement.
In scientific studies, melatonin has been shown to increase sleepiness, help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep, decrease restlessness and reverse daytime fatigue.
Melatonin is a completely natural substance, made by your body, and has many health benefits in addition to sleep. Start with as little as 0.25 milligrams (mg) and work your way up in quarter-gram increments until you get the desired effect.
|46. Use a natural sleep aid such as valerian root. Studies have found valerian root helps improve the speed at which you fall asleep, depth of sleep (achieving deep sleep 36 percent faster37) and overall quality of sleep.38
Start with a minimal dose and use the lowest dose needed to achieve the desired effect, as higher dosages can have an energizing effect in some people. Typical dosages used in studies range between 400 mg and 900 mg, taken anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours before bed.
|47. Drink chamomile tea. This herb is typically used in the form of infusions, teas, liquid extracts or essential oils made from the plant’s fresh or dried flower heads. It has sedative effects that may help with sleep, which is why chamomile tea is often sipped before bed.|
|48. Tap for insomnia. One of my favourite remedies for insomnia is the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). Most people can learn the basics of this gentle tapping technique in a few minutes. EFT can help balance your body’s bioenergy system and resolve some of the emotional stresses that are contributing to your insomnia at a very deep level. The results are typically long lasting and improvement is remarkably rapid.|
|49. Limit daytime naps, and avoid napping after 5 p.m. Last but not least, if you’re tired during the day, you may be tempted to take naps. This, however, can make it more difficult to fall asleep later in the evening, so limit naps to 15 or 20 minutes, and don’t nap too late in the afternoon.|
|50. Use a sleep tracker. Many fitness trackers now include sleep tracking software that can be quite useful, allowing you to evaluate the effects of different strategies. For example, did that afternoon coffee disrupt your sleep? Did morning exercise make it better but evening exercise made it worse? How long does it take you to actually fall asleep, and how much earlier must you go to bed to get a full eight hours of sleep?|
Another fabulous resource for everything you need to know about improving your deep sleep is Dr Ben Greenfields blog and this ost on sleep, deep sleep decoded. I could not possibly add anything to what Dr Mercola and Dr Greenfield have said about sleep. I recommend you take note of how important your sleep is and take steps to optimise it.
Nigel Howitt, Treehouse Farm
December 1st, 2020