Allie’s Corner: How to Sleep Like a Pro
We are delighted to introduce “Allie’s Corner,” where our favorite Physician Assistant Allie Nowak, certified in functional medicine through the Kresser Institute, shares tips on how to invite greater health and wellness into your everyday life.
A whopping 40.6 million American adults – 30 percent of the population – are sleeping six or less hours per night, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep deprivation can lead to health problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer, anxiety and more.
If you are not allowing enough time for sleep, nothing is going to change! The amount of sleep needed varies from person to person, but most adults require seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
So how much sleep do I need? To begin, start by allowing eight hours for sleep. I encourage my patients to track their sleep duration every day over the course of a month. You will likely notice patterns indicating whether you need more or less. If you’d like to be a bit more specific, try the following experiment:
- Test your reflexes on humanbenchmark.com for the first three days.
- Add 30-60 minutes of sleep for 30 days. You can do this by going to bed earlier (recommended if you tend to be a “night owl”) or waking up later.
- Test your reflexes (again) on humanbenchmark.com to see if they have changed. If they’ve improved, you’re on the right track.
- Check in with how you feel—do you feel better now that you’re getting more sleep? Probably! Track your symptoms as you go through the experiment to determine how you feel with extra sleep.
In addition to adequate duration, pay extra-close attention to the following factors that improve sleep quality and may be standing in your way to a more restful night.
Control your exposure to light
Light is the primary driver of our circadian rhythm and sleep/wake cycle. Controlling our exposure to light is a powerful way to regulate sleep. The first step is reducing your exposure to light at night by:
- Avoiding or minimizing the use of computers, TVs, tablets and phones two hours before bedtime. Use programs like F.lux to reduce blue light emitted from these devices.
- Cover alarm clocks or anything that emits light in your bedroom;
- Use blackout shades and/or an eye mask to make your bedroom as dark as possible;
- Wear orange glasses at night to block blue light and reduce exposure.
The second step is increasing your exposure to sunlight during the day. Consider:
- Taking a short walk when you wake up in the morning or over the lunch hour;
- Eating breakfast outside when spring finally arrives;
- Using a light machine.
Move your body
Adequate physical exercise will improve your sleep. Pay attention to the time you spend being sedentary and try walking more, taking the stairs or scheduling walking meetings, when possible.
Optimize your sleep nutrition
Some people do well eating a smaller dinner while others do better with a bedtime snack. In general, it is best to go to bed neither overly full nor hungry. You should also make sure your diet isn’t too low carb or low fat, since these types of diets can also lead to sleep issues.
Cut caffeine and alcohol
These two items can have profound effects on sleep, so they’re best left out if you’re having issues. If you are currently drinking a lot of coffee, I recommend weaning off it, rather than stopping cold turkey.
Manage your stress
We need to develop strategies to quiet our mind and body prior to bedtime. Many of us go about our day jumping from task to task and then expect to hit the pillow and immediately fall asleep. Calm your system by implementing stress management techniques like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi, an Epsom salt bath and more for good sleep.
Create a relaxing environment
A relaxing environment is helpful for quality sleep. You can do this by:
- Only using your bedroom for sleep and sex—avoid using electronics in the bedroom;
- Controlling the temperature of the room—most people do best in a slightly cool room;
- Getting a comfortable bed;
- Reducing the noise level or using a noise machine to block it out.