Oh, our precious sleep! For some, it comes naturally and not much thought goes into it. For others though, it is a constant struggle and the thought of laying down to sleep is daunting. The CDC stats tell the story. Many of us are not sleeping enough and/or sleep quality is compromised. The CDC defines short sleep as less than 7 hours in a 24 hour period. They surmise about 30% of our country is not sleeping enough. Lack of sleep plays a role in a number of disease states; diabetes, CVD, inflammatory, and chronic pain conditions, in addition to setting us up for accidents in the home and on the road.
Here are a few things to reflect on in the name of optimal health. How much sleep do you get? What is the quality of your sleep? Do you wake feeling rested? Are you tired during the day? It is well worth your time to start getting answers to these questions and the way to do this is to start tracking your sleep. Sleep tracking can be done well by simply noting the answers to these questions in a journal on a daily basis. This allows one to start putting the pieces of the sleep puzzle together. As you do this, notice when you tend to sleep better and wake refreshed. Also, notice what was going on before a night of poor quality sleep. Some of these are easy to figure out. For example, poor sleep can be due to caffeine late in the day or too much caffeine, the stress in relationships, or on the job. Even too much blue screen on a device before sleep can set the stage for a night of tossing and turning. I’ve personally noticed that working out in the evening can get me jazzed up and lead to many wakings during the night (as well as too much water drinking after 6 pm).
For those who like tech and are interested in more sophisticated ways of tracking sleep, there are a plethora of sleep tracking devices to choose from. A few that I like after much research are the Oura Ring, Fitbit, and Apple Watch with sleep apps. Let’s break these down. The Oura Ring is known as the gold standard in the world of sleep tracking. Yes, it has a higher price tag (watch for discount codes around the holidays). However, the detailed sleep tracking info, heart rate variability, pulse, and temperature reading it provides, serve as an overview of your health status. It also gives you a readiness score based on your sleep that you can use to assess whether to hit it hard at the gym or go easy. The information it provides is second to none. To learn more about the Oura Ring go to www.ouraring.com.
The Fitbit is available at a lower price point and offers a number of models to choose from. The Fitbit has more features relative to activity than the Oura Ring. A premium subscription to the Fitbit app ($10/month) will give you a host of additional features including advanced sleep analytics, as well as many guided wellness and movement programs. Learn more at www.fitbit.com
Finally, the Apple Watch is the classic tracking device. Known more for its heart rate and activity tracking capabilities, it does a nice job of sleep analysis when paired with an app. Some are free, some are a nominal cost. Which tracker you choose really depends on what features you value most and if you are comfortable wearing a ring overnight or ok with a watch around your wrist.
Once we have gotten into the habit of tracking our sleep, we can commence with correcting our sleep deficiencies. I like to track not only the length of my sleep but also the amount of REM and deep sleep I get (I’m a little obsessed and very competitive with myself). The best sleep hacks I have found to enhance and optimize my sleep are as follows:
Blue light blocking glasses. This is mandatory if you like to use a device before bed and have a tough time shutting it down 1-2 hours before sleep. Blue blockers do a pretty good job of blocking out blue light from devices. The blue light suppresses melatonin secretion and tells our brain it is still daytime. Most blue blockers have a gold to amber tint which simulates dusk. This wavelength allows the circadian rhythm to align with the natural sunset and darkening of the sky. I put mine on as soon as it gets dark. If you want to test out a pair look for blue-blocking glasses on Amazon. Usually around $8.00. For the more serious sleep hacker go to www.truedark.com or one of the many other higher-end providers to get optimal blue light blocking, solid amber tint, and some cool looking frames. Personally blue blockers have made the biggest difference in my sleep and were worth the investment.
Dim the lights once the sun goes down or switch out light bulbs in your bedroom to red bulbs. Exposure to red light at night helps your body to switch off and get ready to sleep.
Melatonin. Now I know that melatonin does not work for everyone. I prefer a chewable tablet that I dissolve slowly in my mouth. I never take more than 3 mg. Many clients I work with have been taking up to 10 mg. I recommend starting at 1.5 and working up to 3 mg if necessary. Melatonin creates a drowsy feeling within 20 minutes of taking it and I am able to fall asleep quickly. If I miss that initial drowsy feeling, I don’t reap the benefits as much.
Raw honey. If you are one who wakes up consistently at 3 am, it may be due to a drop in blood sugar or energy in the body. The body thinks it is in an energy crisis and wakes you up. 1-2 teaspoons of raw honey (it must be raw) before bedtime can provide the liver with the boost of glycogen it needs to keep things running all night.
Racing thoughts before bedtime can be a sign of anxiety. Try journaling or doing a brain dump of what’s going on, bothering you, or making a list of things to do tomorrow. Taking PharmaGABA, a natural source of GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) at the manufacturer’s recommended dosage can be quite helpful in quieting the mind. GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps the body to relax, go to sleep, and stay asleep. Low levels can interfere with this process.
Lastly, giving thanks for 3-5 things that happened to you during your day can allow the body to peacefully drift off. Gratitude practices really create a shift in the way we feel about ourselves, our lives, and the world around us. Try it for a week and notice what happens!
Ultimately, there are many ways to optimize our sleep. If you try the above recommendations and still have problems, it may be time to work with a practitioner and go deeper. Hormonal imbalances, gut issues, and nutrient deficiencies can all be related to an inability to get restful sleep. Working with a practitioner and doing specialty testing can be a quick way to get to the root cause so that you can wake feeling refreshed, full of vitality, and ready to embrace the day!