Final edition of the Sleep Matters Series from NJ Recovery & Wellness. Check out Pt. 1 Here.
Did you wake up groggy or feel as if you didn’t get enough sleep, even though you thought there was nothing different in your daily routine? Did you know that after a few days of poor sleep we could actually be sleep deprived and not functioning at our optimal levels? This is why understanding that Sleep Matters More Than We Realize is important. We don’t learn much about why we should get our daily eight hours of quality sleep throughout our lives. But in reality, it could end up being one of the largest improvements in your quality of life if you make it a priority.
Sleep, as we discussed in Pt.1 of this series, is complicated from the neurological level, nutrition level, and lastly the physiological level. How can we have good sleep hygiene if it takes so much work to just improve? Well, inside Pt. 2 of the sleep series from NJ Recovery & Wellness we will explore six tips and tricks that can be considered the most crucial and effective in building good sleep hygiene.
These tips and tricks are the importance of regularity, how to establish quality, the length, factors of nutrition, bedroom routines, and why late-night workouts are not good. I know what you are thinking, that in reality, you get good sleep after a workout or a late-night snack helps you fall asleep. Hopefully, this blog will be enlightening on the fact that these normal routines and cultural norms can actually be harmful to your sleep.
If you have not checked out Sleep Is More Important Than We Realize Pt.1 I recommend you do that before reading this blog post. Not only did Pt.1 discuss the differences between Non-Rapid-Eye-Movement (NREM) sleep and Rapid-Eye-Movement (REM) sleep, it broke down the length in each and function. It also discussed different ways that perceived sleep aids could potentially help or harm your actual sleep throughout the night. Either way, we are here now and if you choose not to read Pt.1 just remember it will put these tips and tricks into the broader perspective of why sleep is important.
Six Tips and Tricks
Regularity can be thought of as maybe the most important feature of good sleep hygiene. This might come as a surprise to many since it is not thought of as something that plays such a crucial role in our education about sleep. But your body has an internal clock that is set in a rhythmic way that it establishes when to fall asleep.
Let’s use an example: have you ever stayed up later than a normal time for yourself and received a “second wind” during that time? The NBA Finals’ second game playing this past week in Phoenix Arizona is a perfect example of this scenario. The game begins at 9:30 pm Eastern Time and you typically fall asleep between 10 pm and 11 pm, but the game won’t be done before 1 am. Around 11:15 pm you begin to doze off while watching the game, only to be awoken by the halftime buzzer. After which, you no longer feel tired as if you received a “second wind.”
This “second wind” sensation is a physiological phenomenon in which we have a small cortisol release that inhibits adrenaline, thus we rewake even though we will be out of balance with our biological clock. This biological clock we are talking about is known as our circadian rhythm or the wake/sleep clock. It is also one of the major reasons why having sleep regularity is important to our sleep quality. If you have ever tried to stay up all night you might of had this "second wind" effect between 6 am to 9 am, which is our standard awaken time associated within our circadian rhythm. That is why you recieve that second wind, but only to have a crushing blow around noon when the flood gates open to the melatonin release that begins.
Say you lay down in bed from 11 pm to 7 am. That is eight hours of sleep! Congratulations, a successful full night of sleep has been accomplished. Not so fast though, there is much more than just the amount of time your eyes are closed which goes into the length of your sleep.
Did you wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom? Do you actively recall waking for a few minutes in between rolling over? Did your significant other wake you when they got home? My personal favorite, did you fall asleep with the TV on? If any of these are true, that means the length of your sleep was actually shorter than you might think.
The reason being that we do not recall a few minutes before we actually fall asleep, but if you become fully conscious in the middle of your sleep it means you might not as been sleeping as deeply as you might have thought. Thus, you might be “asleep” for eight hours that night, but only receive 6 hours of effective sleep.
Modern science has shown that nutrition plays a crucial role in every factor of our health. The obvious one is the effects of nutrition on our physical health. But the more modern discovery is that nutrition affects our mental health. This has been coined the brain-gut axis in which our YouTube channel has many videos discussing. One of the key factors in our gut flora through something called the vagus nerve helps produce a little more than half of all the neurotransmitters in our brain. Quite literally, what you eat makes you feel a certain way.
If all this is true about nutrition’s effects on physical and mental health, wouldn’t that mean it would be crucial to sleep? Sleep does account for nearly a third of our lives. Well, nutrition is critical in multiple ways. Not only does your diet influence your sleep but so too does the timing of your eating. This could be a blog post in itself due to the complexity of the subject, so we are covering the bare basics of how nutrition can affect your sleep.
An often overlooked way of perceiving this is when we see parents give little children candy or sweets before bed or during their naps. Naturally, we all shake our heads and say that children will have a sugar rush not long after eating/drinking that. Why are we as adults so much different though, especially since we eat a more diverse serving of foods or drinks before bed? An example would be the evening cocktail or glass of wine, which not including the fact that alcohol affects sleep on its own (check out Pt. 1). It is the fact that those cocktails or wines will have calories included in them, which means it makes our digestive system go to work just like food.
A more common example would be evening ice cream or a warm glass of milk. The reason these are prime examples isn’t only because they are such normal occurrences in our culture, but because they are dairy. Dairy specifically has lactose inside of it, which our digestive systems have to work overtime to digest. For many of us, we take for granted the truly amazing features of our digestive systems, but they work hard to make sure our food is taken care of.
4. Avoiding Screens/Bedroom being for sleep
Everybody knows that viewing screens before going to bed can be detrimental to your sleep. But with modern smartphones, many have settings to make the screen getting easier on your eyes at sunset. The best strategy possible is to set it for the screen to change from Sunrise to sunset which all IOS and Android devices allow. The reason being is Blue Light.
Blue Light can be detrimental to your sleep as it is stimulating to the brain. Unlike most other lights we view on a daily basis, blue light specifically causes our brain to reduce the secretion of neurotransmitters like melatonin. The easiest way to think of it is that our brain recognizes blue light as a way to know if it is daytime or nighttime. So when at night we are viewing blue light it confuses our brain, thus making it more difficult to fall asleep and have continuous sleep.
Now we discuss the effects of your bedroom and how your bed should be meant for sleeping and not other activities, especially eating! Now take a second and consider all the things you do in your bed other than sleep, now that you have done that, think about what you do in your bedroom that isn’t sleep. For many of us, we might watch TV, play on our phone, play video games, do work even and many other activities. Covid-19 for many has fundamentally changed their relationship with their bedroom.
The reason this is a problem is due to something called association. Associations are when we begin to form a connection between concepts, behaviors, or events. So for example, if you only sleep inside your bed your body will naturally associate the bed with sleep. Thus, making the ability to sleep easier when you lay in your bed due to that associating factor. Whereas, if you work, sit on your phone, or watch TV in bed our brain does not just associate sleep with your bed, but these other stimulating activities.
When individuals begin to form habits for lifestyle changes, whether that be an addiction, working out, or even diet we associate specific feelings with these activities. Somebody who is in pain will drink, thus numbing the pain. That association begins to form that pain will go away if you drink. For somebody who works out, there is ample research showing working out will produce neurotransmitters like dopamine which will leave you feeling happy after the workout. Thus, as your body gets stronger, your routine becomes more adjusted, you enjoy working out more due to the association with that feeling afterward.
These associations with your bedroom are important because not only can it be a reason why you might not feel tired while laying in bed. It also will aid in building that regulatory schedule for sleeping more than any other activity.
5. Avoiding Working out three hours before bedtime
For a lot of us who work standard hours for our jobs finding the time for physical fitness is difficult. It should also be expressed that physical activity is crucial and this section is not meant to dissuade you from building that routine. But, research has shown that working out within three hours before attempting to sleep can harm your ability to sleep. There are multiple reasons why, but an easy way of explaining would be your body is still coming down from that stimulation.
Physical activity is taxing on our bodies, especially if you are getting your heart rate up. The after-effects take time for your body to relax and adjust back to a normal physiological state. Of course, you might feel as if afterward you are tired or relaxing. But in reality, this process takes a little more than three hours for these systems to get back to a relaxed state.
If you own a smartwatch of some sort and have the ability to easily track your heart rate, there are many other ways to see how relaxed your physiological state is. Monitoring your Resting Heart Rate (RHR) is an easy and effective way to monitor this. The average adult should have a resting heart rate between 60 and 100 beats per minute (BPM), but the lower the better for a relaxed state, and the higher could mean you are anxious, recovering, or stressed out.
Checking your RHR is even a fantastic way to track your restfulness, recovery, and overall health. There is ample research showing that RHR is a predictor of health in multiple ways. Here are a few tips if you can monitor it daily before you get out of bed after waking.
If you had a stressful week, whether it is physical or stress-related and you see your RHR is higher than normal. You should rest and relax for a day or two as your body is trying to recover.
If your RHR is increasing over a long period, there could be an activity that is causing it. Overconsumption of caffeine or other stimulants could be the cause. An increased RHR means your heart is working harder for longer periods which is not great.
If you are RHR is increasing after a few days of lack of sleep or breaking your sleep regularity, it could be that you are restless. For many, we perceive sleep deprivation as a lack of sleep for long periods or a big reduction in sleep. But sleep deprivation can be caused by a few days of poor quality sleep.
Sleep quality can be difficult to measure without the appropriate tools. Luckily for the vast majority of individuals who read this blog post have access to a smartphone. Even better, you might own a smartwatch!
If you did read Pt.1 of this series, you will remember the different perceived sleep aids that people will use to “enhance” their sleep. But as we discussed they actually do not enable better sleep quality. Alcohol is a popular tool to enable better sleep, but as we discussed that is not true because it reduces REM sleep. While drinking caffeine too late in the afternoon will negatively affect sleep since it has a half-life of 5 to 7 hours. Depending on your sensitivity, it could be even longer!
Ways to track quality have developed further than we could have imagined just a few years ago. As we said at the top of the section majority of readers will own a smartphone, there are numerous ways to track sleep quality, which a document under the Free Wellness Apps section on our resources page called "Sleep Tools pdf" is listed. This document will run through some of the free and subscription tools that are readily available to everyone for tracking sleep quality. Some analog ways of tracking quality could be to keep a sleep tracking diary, which we include the NJ Recovery & Wellness sleep diary under homework on our website.
Without using tools, judging how good your sleep quality has been can be extremely difficult as we might only judge it off a few days. Which, does not give you a fair judgment of long-term sleep patterns. If I said to you, how did you sleep seven days ago, would you recall? Most likely not, this is why using a sleep diary is not only useful but necessary if you do not want to use a digital sleep monitor.
Sleep takes up about a third of our lives. We are also the only mammals that intentionally limit the amount of sleep we get. We all have important things to do during the day and throughout our lives. But this does not justify losing sleep. Sleep is most likely one of the most important physiological aspects of our lives, without it we would struggle to function. As discussed in Pt.1 and in Pt.2 only a few days of poor quality sleep can lead to the side effects of sleep deprivation.
Just like most of us, we all have goals in our lives we are trying to accomplish. Whether that is to lose weight, get stronger, learn more, and so on. Well without sleep, these goals become extremely difficult! This is one reason why tracking sleep quality plays such an important role in our lives. It might be one of the easiest yet best ways to track our general health and wellbeing.
Each one of the six tips and tricks for improving your sleep we discussed is rooted in the primary function of routine and intentions. We all have routines that we follow for multiple different activities, whether that be our morning coffee before starting work or even our pre-workout before going for a workout. Secondly, intentions are just as important as with anything. If you walk into something thinking it won’t work out or that it is useless, most likely you will not enjoy that activity no matter how much or valuable it can be.
How often do you hear people in your life pick a television show, sports game, or some other event they can watch later oversleep? Probably a lot more often than not. The sad part is that for many of us we do this not because we don’t like to sleep, but because we choose to value something over sleep. This is why intentions matter, going to bed late or staying out with friends is okay once in a while. But limiting our sleep daily for other activities can have detrimental effects on our well-being and long-term health.
Something to consider in closing. The importance of sleep has been stated throughout this two-part series. With that, it should be said that once you build a routine of going to sleep at a certain time and waking up the following morning, over time it will naturally become a habit. Why is that important? Well because just like any life choices we make whether good or bad, change can be difficult at first. But once we get in the rhythm and habit of this change it becomes our new normal. Creating a new normal of making sleep a priority will yield multiple other benefits down the road.