March is National Sleep Awareness Month, so I’m sharing with you a book I read several years ago about sleep! I’m a big fan of Shawn Stevenson and have been listening to his podcast, The Model Health Show for many years now. His book, Sleep Smarter is one of my favorites offering insights and research about the role of sleep when optimizing our health and well-being.
Have you sacrificed sleep to get things done? With a never ending list of to-dos, sleep seems to be the last thing on our mind. However, to have the energy and serve to our fullest potential, we have to pay attention to the quality of sleep we get each night. How do you feel when you’re sleep deprived? I know I can’t fully function when I’ve had less than 7 hours of sleep.
THE VALUE OF SLEEP
Shawn Stevenson learned the value of sleep going through his health transformation journey. In college, he was diagnosed with a spinal condition called degenerative disc disease. According to Shawn’s doctor, this was an incurable disease. That his spine was rapidly deteriorating and he had a spine of an 80 yr old man. But instead of merely managing through the pain, he became proactive at learning more about his body and overall health. This led him to make changes in his diet and exercise that incredibly made the pain disappear and eventually healed him. Sleep also played a big factor during this healing process. Because of the powerful way sleep transformed his health, he knew he needed to write a book about it. If you’d like to learn more about Shawn’s story, listen to his podcast episode, My Story of Healing: The Soul and Science of Transforming Your Health.
“Always remember the value of sleep, you will perform better, make better decisions, and have a better body when you get the sleep your require…It’s a natural state your body requires to boost your hormone function; heal your muscles, tissues, and organs; protect you from diseases; and make your mind work at its optimal level…You will work better, be more efficient, and get more stuff done when you’re properly rested.” – Shawn Stevenson
Artificial blue light emitted by electronic screens triggers your body to produce more daytime hormones (such as cortisol) and disorients your body’s natural preparation for sleep.
This is a hard habit to break for many. We are lost without our devices. It’s in our hands the minute we get up to the minute we fall asleep. The ‘Social Media black hole’ have us trapped! When we scroll on Facebook or Instagram, our body releases a powerful chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is a brain chemical that causes a seeking behavior. It is then followed up by the opioid system where it gives us the pleasure of the results we seek. We get stuck in this continuous loop of constantly seeking and being rewarded.
How do you solve this problem? Look for a pleasurable alternative! For me, it’s reading a book or writing in my journal. For you, it could be listening to music or talking with your loved one.
However, if you really need to do work to meet a deadline, Shawn Stevenson recommended a blue light blocker whether it’s a pair of glasses or an application (he uses f.lux) on your computer screen. I think all smartphones and newer laptops has a nighttime setting to block out the blue light.
Electronic devices emit both electric and magnetic fields known as EMFs. EMFs cause disruption in the communication among the cells in our bodies.
EMF also affects our sleep, that it significantly disrupts melatonin secretion.
“Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland and other tissues in your body that send signals to your cells to prepare you for sleep.” When melatonin isn’t properly secreted, the quality of sleep is negatively impacted.
Best tip is to invest in an alarm clock if you use it as alarm. Or you can also turn on airplane mode and still use the alarm function.
Optimal Room Temperature for Sleep is around 60 deg to 68 deg F
What’s your thermostat setting at night? The body’s core temperature fluctuates throughout the day. At night, when your body is ready for bed, it automatically drops to prepare for sleep. Apparently, if your house is warmer than the ideal temperature it’s harder for your body to get good sleep. My daughter has complained before when she didn’t get enough sleep because she felt hot. So we now keep our house at 65 deg or even lower overnight.
Besides the thermostat in your home, you also have to check your “Internal Thermostat”. Stress and anxiety are likely contributors to an increase in core body temperature.
“…stress can arouse your system, elevate your body temperature, and unwittingly disrupt your sleep. You absolutely must have a strategy to manage stress in our high stress world today, or you can sleep in an igloo and still not be cool enough.”
Meditation increases ‘feel-good’ hormones and endorphins, lowers stress hormones like cortisol, and even reduces inflammation in the body.
Speaking of strategies to manage stress, meditation has been a proven strategy. Meditation might be intimidating to some of you, however you can keep it simple. Start with a five minute session – take a moment to focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. The trick is to do it more often throughout the day to feel calm and stay present especially during stressful moments. For me, using the Calm app has helped me stay on track. Every morning, I’ve made it as part of a routine to meditate at least ten minutes.
“As the American Academy of Sleep Medicine research showed, meditating in the morning is proven to help test subjects sleep at night. You’re creating a conscious neuro-pathway to relaxation, a buffer against stress, and a profound sense of presence that will help you sleep better in the evening.”
Remember, food isn’t just food – it’s information. And the types of food that you eat, along with the nutrients they contain (or lack thereof), automatically incite processes that determine what your body, health, and sleep will look like.
Did you know gut health affects your sleep? 95 % of serotonin, the building block for melatonin, is found in the gut! As mentioned previously, melatonin is the hormone that signals your body to sleep. The book further explains the physiology of the gut with how serotonin is produced relative to the health of your digestion. Basically, you want the bacteria (friendly and unfriendly flora) to achieve a natural balance to effectively produce serotonin and melatonin.
Here are some items listed in the book as clinically proven to damage your gut microbiome – so beware: Agricultural chemicals ie. pesticides, Processed foods, Repeated antibiotic use, Chemical food additives and preservatives, Chlorinated water.
Are any of these strategies already a part of your optimal sleep quality practice? If they are, yet you still struggle with sleep, many more tips are available in Sleep Smarter. I find myself referring to this book when I notice my quality of sleep has been sub par. Check it out for yourself!