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The Lifestyle Vision to Healthy Sleep Habits

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By Deepak Santhiraj, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

healthy sleep habitsAs day-light savings inevitably descends for the fall season, we give consideration to the necessity of understanding sleep science. According to scientific evidence, those who are sleep-deprived have poorer memory, impaired thinking skills, and react more slowly during conversations.

Sleep restores the body and mind and creates optimal functioning during the waking state. High blood pressure, obesity, stress, and anxiety with poorer mental health are common conditions of those that suffer from impaired qualities of sleep and unrest. Sleep has continued to hold measures of fascination for medical practitioners, scientists and researchers, as well as the general public for centuries. Yet, only recently within the last half of the century has sleep science gained critical ground for research and practical implications.

The brain has limited energy at its disposal and must either be aware and awake or asleep and cleaning. Sleep states allow for us to wash away the brain’s waste chemicals and toxins from the day for simple maintenance. As we receive a better quality of sleep, this will lead to better brain health and overall well-being in addition to a greater enjoyment of our waking state of life.

Never settle for anything less than the full power and potential of your brain health in any given day. There are many lifestyle factors that impact the ability for maintaining sound sleep.

If you’re looking to develop healthy sleep habits, here are some tips to consider:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule and go to bed each night consistently at the same time.
    • Reading, drinking tea or a warm drink (non-caffeinated), and a relaxing activity that indicates to your body that it is time to wind down will help to set and regulate your body’s internal clock. Creating a relaxing bedtime ritual is a necessity to get your body into a calm state for sleep.
  • Take a hot bath or shower 90 minutes prior to bed time.
    • Allowing your body temperature to cool down by 1 degree or lower can promote a healthy sleep state.
  • Add melatonin to your nightly routine.
    • Melatonin can help your body regulate to the sleep that it needs. The pineal gland of the mid-brain is the body’s main source of the hormone melatonin. Once darkness falls, the peak levels of melatonin increase between 3 and 4AM typically and regulates the biological circadian rhythm of the body. Make sure to consult with your physician before adding melatonin to your sleep routine.
  • Incorporate magnesium and zinc into your diet as a lifestyle.
    • There are conventional approaches for treating sleep problems, and more homeopathic routes can additionally benefit your body to promote a sleep rhythm. The roles of magnesium and zinc are proven to have vital functions for regulating sleep cycles in the body.
  • Maintain a regular bed time and wake-up time if you are struggling with insomnia.
    • Contrary to what we think will help our body sleep better and regain the lost hours of sleep, we must focus on what will actually help us get rest rather than prolonging the sleep problems in the long-term. Train your body to think that your bed is the place for sleep. Read more here.
  • Put away technology, digital media, and any electronics as part of the sleep etiquette.
    • Recent studies have found that about 60% of the globe has slept with their smart phones in their hands at some point. Although light exposure during the day has many benefits – blue light emitted from these devices can diminish melotonin production, shorten total sleep time, and increase frequency of nighttime awakenings.
  • Implement progressive muscle relaxation as part of your sleep ritual.
    • Progressive muscle relaxation can help to release any tension within the body and remove any tension ebbs such that your body can get sound sleep.
  • Know how many hours of zZzZzZz’s you should be getting per night.
    • The National Sleep Foundation recommends specific hours of sleep based on your age. The new system of sleep classification, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, is divided into N for non-REM sleep and R for REM sleep. N sleep has drowsy, light, and deep sleep cycles whereas R sleep has dreaming sleep. A healthy adult sleep cycle lasts 90 minutes, and each night has 4-5 cycles. Your consideration for level of rest and sleep state is based on the varied factors of your age, health, and needs in any given season.
  • Tweak your daily schedule, if necessary.
    • If you have an elementary-school age child or adolescent in the household, consider the biological rhythm of your child’s body and assess if there can be a way to tweak the daily schedule to get more sleep. The Oxford Handbook of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Sleep and Behavior said that high school students tend to perform better in courses that meet later in the day, and perform better on cognitive tests when they are given in the afternoon. An adolescent response to an early school start time might be to consume more caffeine, which leads them to feel “tired and wired” and will promote more risky behaviors with academic expectations and current school schedules.

In our day, sleep trackers, smart phone apps, digital media and electronic devices alongside health articles all contribute to describing the downside to sleeplessness and the benefits for becoming more sleep conscientious. Getting enough sleep is seemingly all about increasing in job, physical, mental, and even athletic performance. We are now invited to guard our sleep and savor this dreamy realm that leads to better performance and improved decision-making, forcing us to get disconnected from the external world and connect with our deeper selves in the night watches.

The Epworth Sleepiness Scale and the Fatigue Severity Scale have both been used to assess general levels of sleepiness, estimate measures of weariness, and determine if there is a likelihood for a sleep disorder. In 2009, a company in Massachusetts assessed thousands of Americans using a personalized sleep monitor to indicate how much natural light, deep sleep, and dreaming sleep each individual had each night. Sleep researchers were able to understand that the average American sleeps 6.8 hours a night, with healthy adults receiving 7-9 hours, and teens needing 1-2 hours more while newborns under two months old needed 12-18 hours each night.

Between adolescents and college students, cross-sectional studies are now finding that youth are at greater risk for not fulfilling the required amount of sleep the body currently needs, and the majority of health departments across high school and college campuses are addressing the importance of sleep with greater vigilance for retaining memory, learning and growing, and the impacting reality of sleeplessness on overall student performance and academic achievement. Research showed that those students that received restorative sleep were better rested, less irritable, and more alert on their campuses. The American Academy of Pediatrics called for later shift in school start times and stated, “The urgency and the magnitude of the problem of sleep loss in adolescents and the availability of an intervention that has the potential to have broad and immediate effects are highly compelling.”


The Research on Sleep

These scientific investigations and advancements in brain research now have critical influence over how we currently think and respond to the human body’s needs during the states of sleep and wakefulness. Based on findings by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, new connections are made between sleep deprivation and increased risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.

Advancements in the medical literature as The Philosophy of Sleep (Robert Macnish, 1827), Sleep and Its Derangements (William Hammond, 1869) and contemporary publications as the Anatomy of Sleep (Edward Binns, 1842) and the seminal work Sleep and Wakefulness(Nathaniel Kletiman, 1939) among others all paved the way for modern sleep research and provided evidence for the nature of sleep, promoted understanding of the body’s physiology of sleep states, and also brought new discoveries about brain activity during sleep cycles. Ground-breaking data and technological capabilities have brought accredited sleep centers, organizations of sleep professionals, and experts rehearsed in sleep research into new frontiers. Sleep becomes triggered when two regions of the brain communicate with one another; likened to two orchestra conductors attempting to play the perfect tune, when the instruments play in harmony, we fall asleep more readily.

With historic roots in a marketable and globalized status symbol focused on economic growth, post Cold War America entered into heightened global competition with other nations. Americans started to perceive themselves as falling behind both in the arms race and the space race, and our nation entered into a wave of unease and self-doubt that continues to this day. Citibank chose its famous slogan in the financial industry in 1978 and campaigned again in 2008: “The Citi never sleeps… Opportunities never sleep; the world never sleeps… That’s why we work around the clock, to turn dreams into reality. That’s why Citi never sleeps.” Additionally, the tragic example of the “salaryman” that portrayed an unfailing dedication to work, the company’s vision, and negligence of life outside of work became more predominant in post Cold War America. Being at work until the supervisor leaves, entertaining clients until late at night, waking up early for the morning commute, and having an unwavering loyalty to the company’s success were all injected as part of America’s work culture. Yet, employee stress and burnout led to national epidemics and a burgeoning sleep crisis that has reached major life deprivation. Jonathan Cary in 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep describes it:

Sleep poses the idea of a human need and interval of time that cannot be colonized and harnessed to a massive engine of profitability, and thus remains an incongruous anomaly and site of crisis in the global present. Both the Gallup Poll and the National Sleep Foundation cite that sleep deprivation, of those getting less than 7 hours a day, is a global crisis. Yet, when sacrificing sleep for the sake of productivity, Americans are now creating a negative cost within the economy for absenteeism or presenteeism (when employees are physically present at work but not mentally focused). Researchers are now reporting that Americans are going to their jobs tired, less energized, and accomplishing less due to sleep deprivation within our information-based global economy.

New Sleep Patterns for a New You

You would be surprised on how developing healthy sleeping patterns can change your productivity, relationships, mental health and overall lifestyle. If you are still having problems, we have counselors on staff that may be able to offer additional techniques and resources. We’re always here to listen.


Recommended Resources:

  • The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Timeby Arianna Huffington
  • Sound Asleep: The Expert Guide to Sleeping Well by Chris Idzikowski
  • Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day: A Doctor’s Guide to Solving Your Sleep Problems by Robert Rosenberg
  • Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success by Shawn Stevenson
  • The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep is Broken and How to Fix It by W. Chris Winter