Sleep is often the most underrated factor relating to overall health, recovery, and body composition. Why? Because we are adults living in a world that tells us that we are not working hard enough if we’re sleeping too much. The relationship between ageing and sleep is an inverse one because we live in a world that emphasizes a life of burn out and constantly being on the go in order to be successful. After all, sleep is for the weak, right?
As a child some of us slept a LOT. And when I say a lot, I mean like our parents used to double check that we were still actually breathing. Fast forward to being an adult, working a full time job, and having coworkers agree in a roundtable fashion that they only sleep 4 hours a night and if by some chance there is an outlier who happens to sleep 8-9 hours a night, jaws (and food) hit the table. Maybe the specifics don’t all apply, but you get the point. All of this is to demonstrate that as we grow older, there is a lack importance placed on sleep and it falls to the wayside in the average American’s everyday life.
But why shouldn’t it when other things are so important? Because when we consistently lack sleep (7 hours a night is typically the recommended minimum) the following things can happen (and more):
↑ Increased inflammation
↑ Increased depression/anxiety
↓ Decreased cognitive abilities
↓ Decreased immunity
↑ Increased appetite/hunger cues -> potential for increased weight/body fat
↑ Increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and consequently, heart disease
Much like nutrition, the specifics of what we can do to improve our sleep can be individualized, however, here are some basics:
Create a bedtime routine: Create a routine that will allow you to relax. Keep it simple so that it’s not an added stressor filled with complications.
Keep a consistent schedule: Try to wake up and go to bed around the same time every day.
Limit consumption of liquids close to bedtime: This may be an obvious one, but the more you drink directly before bedtime, the higher your chance to wake up during the night for a trip to the bathroom.
Keep room temperature cooler at night: Sleep quality is optimized in cooler temperatures for most people. 66-68 degrees is typically a good range.
Turn off electronics at least 30 min before laying down: Blue light suppresses our brains’ release of melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep and wake cycle.
Utilize blue light blockers and blue light filters: See information above about effects of blue light J. iPhones now have “night mode” and you can set a schedule for this. For computers, f.lux is a good solution, but blue light blocking glasses are an option as well.
Limit caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant. It’s best to drink in the morning and avoid in the afternoon/close to bedtime due to its half-life of about 5-6 hours.
Avoid alcohol close to bedtime: Alcohol can reduce quality of sleep by keeping you from entering REM stage, which you need to complete the sleep cycle fully.
No more counting sheep: Try not to create a negative feedback loop by worrying and stressing that you can’t fall asleep. this can make it even harder to fall asleep. Sometimes the best thing to do is get out of bed and try to move around until you feel tired again.
It should also be noted that some medical conditions can impair sleep and may be best to be addressed with a doctor if inability to fall asleep or stay asleep is a recurring issue even after practicing better habits surrounding sleep.