“It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.” — John Steinbeck
Ah to sleep, to dream. Sleep is the panacea for so many physical and emotional ailments that I consider it to be the most important part of my health regimen, above nutrition and exercise. For most of my life I have not been a great sleeper. I tend to fall asleep too late and wake during the night. After years of poor sleep, the very idea of sleep used to cause me anxiety which in itself keeps one from a good night’s sleep.
Things to Know
- We need 7-8 hours of sleep each night. A very small part of the population (about 1%) can get by on less due to a genetic anomaly and I am not part of that 1%.
- Blue light, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, anxiety, lack of exercise, and modern life in general are some of the major culprits for the epidemic of lack of sleep.
- Chronic loss of sleep increases our risk for dementia, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, hormone dysfunction, emotional lability, increased appetite, colds and flu, and an earlier death.
- During sleep, the Glymphatic System literally washes the brain. Cerebrospinal fluid bathes the brain and clears out toxins and debris that have settled there during the day. Whoa, right?
- Sleep improves learning by consolidating memories from the day. This means if you want to keep learning, sleep on it.
- Sleep improves creativity and helps us problem-solve. A few examples are:
- Mary Shelley wrote the book Frankenstein based on a dream
- Paul McCartney wrote the song Yesterday from a dream
- Dmitri Mendeleev solved the Periodic Table from a dream
- Sleep lowers blood pressure, repairs body tissues, regulates blood glucose, improves the immune system, and allows for a host of other physical benefits to keep us alive and energetic.
Tips and Tricks
So, I’ve tried everything. Ambien (I call this the “Four Hour Pill” because it wakes most people after four hours of sleep), benzodiazepines, and a host of other medicines used off-label for sleep. I’ve tried to invoke Morpheus and Hypnos. I have listened to podcasts, binaural beats, and books on Audible. After all of this I think I’ve finally solved it, for myself at least: sleep hygiene. It ain’t sexy but it works.
- I shut devices down early and read a real book so that blue light doesn’t inhibit release of melatonin.
- I wear blue blocker glasses if I need to be on the computer late or absolutely must watch a show (Big Little Lies anyone?).
- I set my thermostat to 68. Our bodies need to cool down 2-3 degrees for our best sleep. Some people think I’m nuts but it works.
- Tip: Taking a hot bath/shower before bed helps your body release heat = decreased core temperature. I know this sounds counterintuitive but it is not.
- I keep my room as dark as possible. This includes covering all the lights in the room. You know those little lights on air filters, chargers, etc.? I cover mine with painter’s tape. Perhaps you can come up with a more stylish solution than blue painter’s tape.
- Avoid alcohol in the evening, at least within a few hours of sleep. The problem with alcohol is that it sedates the brain, it doesn’t put it to sleep, and it causes us to wake multiple times during sleep and depresses our dream sleep.
- My favorite sleep tracker, the Ōura ring has proved this to me time and time again. Not only is my dream sleep (REM) disrupted, by my heart rate stays elevated from alcohol resulting in a less restful and restorative sleep.
- Bright light first thing in the morning. This can either be a walk outside or a gadget like the Human Charger. I use mine when I have my morning coffee.
- Supplements to take at night: Magnesium, Doc Parsley’s Sleep Remedy (game changer for me), and CBD oil (I use Spruce).
When it comes to sleep, I am the Princess and there are a lot of peas in my sleep world. While I sleep better now than I ever have, there are still some nights when sleep eludes me. Oh, to be human. But when this happens, I silently recite poems I have memorized. Invictus is my go-to.
Last, if you are having one of those nights where sleep just isn’t your buddy, don’t fret too much about it. Worry doesn’t help and remember that no matter what time it is, someone else somewhere is struggling with sleep too, probably on the same block where you live.