By Lisa Profera MD
When was the last time you had a good night’s sleep? You try to be Wonder Woman during the day—juggling family, career, aging parents, and just everyday life. You can’t be a super woman when you don’t sleep well. Whether it’s the baby crying or hormones flashing, poor sleep not only takes its toll on your ability to get things done; it can have long-term effects on your health.
The importance of sleep is just as crucial to your health as eating and staying hydrated. When we sleep, our body is recovering and repairing itself as well as processing the information and experiences of the day. Research has shown that without proper sleep, our bodies may increase fat storage, making it difficult to lose weight. Our hormone balance may be thrown off, too. This can affect sleep. Mood swings, depression, and decreased ability to cope with stress may occur. Impaired cognitive functions such as making decisions, learning and recalling information, and driving safely (due to decreased reaction time) can have a huge negative impact on our lives and the lives of others.
Adults need about eight hours of sleep each night. We go through four or five 90-120 minute sleep cycles a night, which consist of three stages of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep followed by a REM (rapid eye movement) phase. The deepest, most restorative sleep happens during Stage 3 NREM. Unfortunately, as we age, we spend less time in this phase as compared to children and adolescents. Stage 3 sleep is also responsible for the feeling that we had enough sleep by reducing the sleep drive. When we haven’t spent enough time in this restorative phase, we feel tired and groggy. Our organs and tissues regenerate during this phase. It is also important for muscle recovery and repair and overall immune function.
Good sleep hygiene is as important as personal hygiene. The average adult needs 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep to function properly. There are no shortcuts. You may be able to get by with less here and there, but the negative effects can add up quickly. It is helpful to develop a sleep routine, just as you have a bathing routine. Try to find ways to consistently wind-down about an hour before bedtime and stick to it. For the multitaskers out there, a nice relaxing bath or a hot shower can accomplish both. Turn your bathroom into a mini-spa every evening by dimming the lights and listening to some soft music, ocean sounds, rain, crickets, or whatever you find pleasing. Use some high-quality calming essential oils in a diffuser, or add a few drops to the shower wall or floor (away from the path of the water), or add them to Epsom salts and toss them into the bathtub. Practice positive empowering affirmations; you can even post them on the bathroom wall or mirror. Be grateful for all you have and let go of the negative things that may have happened during the day.
Another way to support good sleep is to adhere to the same bedtime and wake time on weekends as well as week days. Eating healthy meals, getting regular exercise, quitting smoking, and reducing caffeine and alcohol intake can also help. Make sure your bedding and pillow are comfortable. Stop using your electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime and keep them out of your bedroom if possible. Use “NightShift” or other blue-light dimming programs on your phone and computer screens.
Create an environment that promotes good sleep—declutter your bedroom, remove any job or work-related items. Don’t answer texts or emails in your bedroom. Remove the TV. Make the bedroom the room for sleep only. Drink a cup of caffeine-free herbal tea such as chamomile or bergamot. For those of you having trouble with the laundry list of things to do the next day, keep a pad of paper and a pen nearby so that you can jot down any pressing thoughts and get your mind settled back down. Sleep in a dark room or wear a mask. Consider wearing earplugs if noises disturb you (only if appropriate, this may not apply for moms with young children). Try “white noise” or other soothing sounds (sound machines or apps).
More caffeine is not the answer. Some people are genetically predisposed to being slow caffeine metabolizers, so caffeine can linger in their system for many hours after consumption. This can affect sleep and throw off your natural sleep-wake cycle. About 60 million Americans have trouble with sleep. Most of us are averaging less than seven hours a night. This is not enough time for us to accumulate the amounts of REM and NREM sleep our bodies need. In general, I do not recommend prescription or over-the-counter sleep medications, as these are synthetic compounds with side effects and may cause dependency. These medications play a role in short-term correction of serious sleep issues under the direction of a doctor, but they are not meant to be used regularly.
More natural sleep aids include melatonin, L-theanine, cannabidiol, copaiba, and lavender. Melatonin is a copy of the hormone made in our pineal gland that helps promote sleep. Taking melatonin can be helpful for people who experience delayed sleep phase disorder, jet lag, and shift work, and may be appropriate for short-term use. Long-term use of melatonin or taking too much melatonin may actually worsen sleep and disturb your natural sleep cycle. Dosing, quality, and consistency of the product can vary widely.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in certain teas and also in mushrooms. It has a chemical structure that is similar to glutamate, which helps transmit nerve impulses in our brain. L-theanine boosts levels of GABA, dopamine, and serotonin (neurotransmitters that play a role in sleep). By reducing feelings of stress and anxiety, L-theanine can also improve the quality of sleep without causing sedation and grogginess.
Cannabidiol (CBD, found in hemp and cannabis) and copaiba oil (made from the sap of copaiba trees grown in the Amazon) both affect our endocannabinoid system by binding to CB2 receptors. They help balance all of our systems to promote homeostasis. By calming the mind and body, CBD, copaiba, and other sources of beta-caryophyllene (black pepper, ylang ylang, melissa, and others) can support good sleep in a natural way.
Lavender’s positive effects on calming mind and body are well-researched. It has been shown to work on two different pathways to support sleep and relaxation: 1) by blocking serotonin reuptake, and 2) by modulating NMDA receptors, producing a calming effect on the nervous system. Some other naturally-occurring substances that help promote sleep are valerian root, magnesium, passion flower, ginkgo biloba, glycine, and tryptophan.
The average person spends 36% of their life sleeping. This should not be construed as a waste of time, but rather a vital part of your overall health and well-being. Without adequate sleep, everything else unravels. Focusing on things that support the deepest, most restorative aspects of sleep can be the best thing you can do for the 64% of your life that you are awake. Dive into the deep and enjoy great sleep!
LISA PROFERA, MD
Owner and Founder of PROJUVU MD
Aesthetics and Lifestyle Medicine in Ann Arbor, MI
doTERRA Essential Oils Wellness Advocate
BEMER Independent Distributor
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