The importance of sleep and its relationship to our overall health has for many years been a focal point for various research studies. Continuous findings from these studies are of great relevance to our increasingly sleep-deprived modern day societies. For example, surveys carried out in 2013 have shown that 40% of Americans sleep less than 7 hours a night on average. Yet statistics change fast nowadays considering lifestyle choices and their impact on our health are changing exponentially.
Behavioural Risk Factors
Healthcare professionals and practitioners have been emphasizing the importance of good sleep for years. It is no longer a friendly health advice anymore – it is turning into a public health problem. Lack of good sleep manifests in various degrees of health or behavior related effects. The most common ones we have all experienced at some point are: fatigue and exhaustion during the day, impaired memory & concentration, sour mood and decreased attention. The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey in 2009 had shown that 23.2% of the adult U.S population (49.2 million) had problems with concentrating on things due to insufficient sleep and 18.2% (38.8 million) had problem remembering things.
Even more concerning are problems related to our health in general. These include a weakening of our immune system (thus making you vulnerable to respiratory problems such as common cold and influenza); Obesity and weight management problems due to a decrease of the hormone Leptin (signals the brain that we are full) and an increase of the biochemical Gherlin (stimulates the appetite) ; Sleep deprivation also prompts your body to release higher levels of insulin after you eat, increasing fat storage and the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes; Last but not least, sleep deprivation also increases the risks of cardiovascular problems since during sleep we restore our blood vessels and heart.
Why are we not getting enough sleep?
There are a whole list of reasons why we are getting less sleep, or equally important, decreasing the quality of our sleep. Most of them have to do with our unconscious lifestyles. Stress, improper diets, frenetic task-management and over-working are all common causes but other equally important factors have to do with how we actually sleep or rather put ourselves to sleep.
Here are a few important practical tips gathered from various sources that can be important aids or allies to your sleep routine. Do not be fooled by their simple appearance and even if you must have heard about some of them before, they are not to be ignored or taken for granted. These simple hacks can drastically improve the quality of your sleep, hence your health, whether you are insomniac or would simply like to sleep better.
Food, Herbs & Supplements
Diet has of course an impact on the quality of our sleep whether it is sourced from our daily nutrition or from supplementary sources such as herbs and non-prescription drugs.
Tryptophan-laden Foods: These are foods that either contain good amounts of Tryptohan or are helpful in processing it more easily in the body. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is metabolized into Serotonin and Melatonin – two neuro-chemicals that regulate our cycles of sleep and wakefulness. Such foods include: Walnuts, Pretzels, Tuna, Honey, Kale, Shrimp and lobster and chickpeas
Herbs: Some herbs have been used for centuries for their sedative or sleep-aiding properties. These herbs are typically made into a tea infusion and drank before sleep to calm the nervous system and promote better sleep. Some of the most commonly known herbs and flowers are: Chamomile, Valerian root, Lemon Balm and Passion Flower.
Supplements: Various supplements can be bought online or over the counter without prescription because of their having negligible side effects, if at all. Some of these supplements are either extracts from the above-mentioned herbs or contain amino acids such as tryptophan. Some are also taken as both mood enhancers and aids for better sleep such as the popular New Mood by Onnit.
Although we can obviously make the connection between good bedding equipment and better sleep quality, we often overlook its importance. A four-year-long study has once and for all cleared any doubts about this. Mattresses are of course the most important factor to consider when choosing your new bedding equipment.
Yet there is a lot of myths and misconceptions as to what makes a good mattress such as for example the idea that a mattress has to be ‘firm’ or ‘hard’ to support the back. In reality what supports the back is having the mattresses fit the natural curvature of the spine – something achieved by memory foam mattresses. New generation memory foam mattresses called Gel Memory Foam Mattresses have been recently launched by one company named Ghostbed. These gel memory mattresses offer even better support than ordinary memory foam and also contain ‘continually aerated foam’ for avoiding heat retention.
The general setting of your sleep space and environment can also be a determining factor as to whether you fall asleep effortlessly or stare at the ceiling for hours among tosses and turns. Some people consider preparation for sleep as highly important and it is often turned into a ritualistic setting thus creating the right mood for sleep.
There are a whole lot of objects and aids that can be used for creating the right atmosphere conducive to a good night’s sleep. The right use of light and sound are definitely the best-known tools.
Binaural Beats & White Noise: Most people like myself, use binaural beats to entrain the brain into entering slower brainwave states such as the Alpha and Theta levels that are needed for calming and eventually entering into sleep mode. Some of these binaural sounds also contain white noise which many people find as soothing or sleep-inducing.
Lighting: Light is also an important factor to consider before sleep. For instance, using electronic equipment before sleep can disrupt the circadian rhythm because of it emits ‘blue light’ which tricks the body into believing it’s daytime. Hence refraining from using such equipment a few hours before sleep definitely helps. Some lighting equipment such as Himalayan Salt Lamps are also said to have sleep improving benefits.