We all love sleep, as we should. But is the sleep we are getting adequate? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, let’s talk about the effects of poor sleep and different ways we can improve our sleep quality.
The physiology of sleep is complex, but we do know how important it is for our bodies physically and mentally. Lack of sleep or lack of quality sleep over the course of days, weeks, months, or even years can take a major toll on your body and your mind. We will see a decrease in athletic performance, academic performance, focus and even happiness. It is also common to see an increase in pain even if there is no injury present. As musculoskeletal doctors, it can be easy for us to point to specific structures within the body and blame them for causing pain. But what if they aren’t the culprit, and lack of sleep is causing an increase in stress and a decrease in your pain threshold? We may not actually know unless a sleep study is conducted, but we should never ignore the role that sleep plays in pain and overall well-being.
It is still true that adults need 7-9 hours of sleep at night, and we want that to be high quality sleep. We sleep in 90 minute intervals, so it is normal for us to wake up and toss and turn a couple times a night. If you have one bad night of sleep, don’t worry about it. But the idea that you can “make up for it” the next night is a myth and shouldn’t be used as a crutch.
Let’s go over a few tips that can help improve your sleep quality.
Going to sleep and waking at the same time everyday is one of the best ways to ensure you will get an adequate amount of sleep. We all have stressors and things going on in our lives. One way to help clear our mind is to write down all of those things on our mind. So about 2 hours before you sleep, write down all of things that are bothering you or are on your mind. This will help unload your mind and prepare you for sleep. Along those same lines, having a wind down routine can be very beneficial as well. This can include dimming the lights, having a cup of decaffeinated tea, meditating, or anything else you like to do to relax. In the morning, try and get outside and view sunlight for anywhere from 10-40 minutes; this will help you wake up and be more alert during the day.
Caffeine—the kryptonite of many of us. Caffeine can be great for increasing energy and focus, but we consume too much of it. I am guilty of this too, as I sip on my third cup of coffee this morning. We don’t have to eliminate caffeine to improve sleep, but we need to consider how much we are taking in, and when we consume it. First of all, we want to let our bodies naturally wake up. Limiting caffeine intake for about 90 minutes after you wake up will allow your body to build natural energy and not have reliance on caffeine to be awake. Secondly, caffeine has a half life of about 5-6 hours. All this means is that it takes about 5-6 hours for half of the caffeine we ingest to leave our bloodstream. Taking this into consideration, we should cease caffeine intake about 8-10 hours before we plan to sleep. This will allow adenosine to attach to their receptors and cause us to feel tired.
A glass of wine or two at dinner has become a staple for some people. We all know alcohol is a sedative, meaning it will help us sleep better, right? Not entirely. It is a sedative but has negative impacts on sleep. It can cause us to lose consciousness faster but decreases the quality of sleep we are getting. It will also cause us to wake more often in the middle of the night. So every glass of wine that is consumed with dinner will decrease the quality sleep we are getting and can actually cause decreases in growth hormone release over time.
Everyone loves naps. Going through chiropractic school, it felt like I lived off coffee and naps. You might be thinking I am going to tell you “naps are bad for sleep”. But naps can actually be very beneficial for some people. Everyone has a different tolerance for naps. It is important to keep your naps short, between 20-30 minutes. Also try to stagger your naps 8-9 hours from when you plan to sleep. If naps tend to keep you awake at night, then they may not be for you!
Maybe more important than what we previously discussed is the environment that you sleep in. First, keeping your room as dark as possible is important. This could mean getting black out curtains, removing night lights, removing clocks from the room so you do not feel inclined to check the time constantly throughout the night. Keeping the room colder can be beneficial as well. Our body temperature decreases as we sleep, so keeping the room cool with help your body cool down a little quicker. Fans or white noise can give some people a good dull noise to help them sleep, but try and avoid music or the TV on in the background as this can stimulate your brain and interrupt your sleep!
Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep, is an excellent resource that goes much deeper into all this information. Or if you are a podcast listener, Dr. Andrew Huberman talks with Matthew Walker on his podcast “Huberman Lab” about all this information. Give some of these quick tips a try to improve your sleep routine and ultimately improve your overall health, longevity, and quality of life!