• Sydney Cochran, MS, RD, LD

The Importance of Sleep


Photo by Logan Nolin on Unsplash

You may be surprised to see that we're talking about sleep today! Nutrition is one aspect of overall health but it certainly isn't the only aspect. In fact, I find myself incorporating goals around sleep with my clients quite often.

Inadequate sleep not only contributes to chaotic eating patterns, but it activates the stress response, which we know can do a number on many of our body's normal processes.

You may have also heard of circadian rhythms. These are like internal clocks that run on a roughly 24-hour cycle and regulate various body processes. These rhythms are largely regulated by light and dark, so a regular sleep schedule plays a major role in their appropriate functioning. Irregular sleep habits disrupt circadian rhythms because they alter the time that you spend exposed to light and dark. These disruptions affect the release of hormones that follow a circadian rhythm, like leptin (suppresses appetite; decreases with lack of sleep), ghrelin (stimulates hunger; increases with lack of sleep), insulin, melatonin, thyroid hormones, and reproductive hormones.

This is all in addition to the effect that the stress response itself (activated by inadequate sleep) has on many of these hormones! As you can see, adequate sleep is also an important part of the puzzle when it comes to health. It is recommended that most adults get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. If you feel like you struggle to get adequate sleep, consider trying one or two of the following as a start:

Go to bed and wake up around the same time each day. Yes, weekends too! Having a predictable sleep/wake cycle helps regulate the circadian rhythms mentioned above. Even if you find it hard to go to bed on time at first, stick to the same wake-up time. This will help you develop a new sleep/wake cycle and make getting to bed on time easier. It might also help to slowly transition to a new sleep schedule. Set a goal time for going to bed and waking up and move closer to that by 15 minutes at a time so it isn't as big of a jump.

Put away screens at least 1 hour before bed. Blue light from phones and televisions is especially good at disrupting circadian rhythm and making it difficult to fall asleep. Try switching to non-technology activities before bed like reading, stretching, talking with the people you live with, or maybe putting together some snacks for the next day.

Experiment with meditation. Meditation can be a helpful way to wind down at the end of the day, particularly if you find it difficult to quiet your mind before sleep. If you've never tried meditation, Headspace is a fantastic app and has some meditations available without a subscription. They even have some geared specifically toward sleep!

Consider buying an alarm clock. If you're too tempted by your phone sitting right next to your bed, consider leaving it out of your bedroom entirely and swapping it for an actual alarm clock.

Leave work out of the bedroom. Try not to bring your computer into your bedroom either. While it may be comfortable, working on the computer while sitting in bed doesn't help with creating associations to sleep in your brain.

Cut off caffeine in the afternoon. As a general rule, try not to have caffeine after about 2:00p to make sure it doesn't interfere with your sleep. It may be worth experimenting, as some people are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine and may need to cut off earlier. If you're getting adequate and regular sleep, you may find that you don't even need as much caffeine.

Avoid being too hungry or too full. I think it is really easy to forget how much time passes between dinner and bedtime! I don't recommend going more than 4-5 hrs during the day without food and the same goes for evening. Going to bed hungry can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Snacks that combine carbohydrate and protein or fat, like yogurt with granola, cheese and crackers, or trail mix are a great choice. Going to bed stuffed after a large meal can lead to discomfort and can exacerbate conditions like acid reflux, making it difficult to sleep. If you feel really full, try a short yoga or stretching video or drink some ginger tea to aid digestion.

Make time for yourself during the day. A lot of times, late at night feels like the only time we have to ourselves and we want to make the most of it, which results in inadequate sleep. Try setting aside even 30 minutes during the day to do something for yourself. Yes, this may mean saying to to someone or something else, but this time is non-negotiable. If you regularly take time for yourself earlier in the day, you may not feel the strong pull to stay up late into the night for some "me-time".

#lifestyle

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