If you are a parent then you have been through it, or are going through it right now... sleep training! Getting your little ones' on a sleep schedule, for their benefit and your sanity. We read all the books, listen to all the experts and advice from other Moms so that we get that schedule just right. And look out anyone who tries to mess with the routine. Call in the middle of bedtime and be prepared for an earful. We spend so much time and effort on this because we know how important it is. A late night for our kids means cranky and tired the next day and no one wants that. So why then, as adults do we not follow the same advice?
We seem to wear it like a badge of honour. "Oh I stayed up too late last night and now I am soooo tired." This elicits sympathy of course and we lap it up. But why? We know it's important to get enough sleep, but neglect to spend the same amount of effort on our own routine as we did for our kids? Lets take a look for a moment at what the benefits of a good night's sleep are.
1. Decreased cardiovascular risk
Those who sleep less than six hours a night may have up to a five-fold increase in risk of a heart attack compared with those who log between 7 and 8 hours a night. By getting the recommended 8 hours a night you are protecting your heart which translates into a longer life.
2. Better food choices
Sleep deprivation reduces sensitivity to insulin, the key blood-sugar-regulating hormone, making it harder to metabolize blood sugar properly. Short sleep also boosts levels of ghrelin, the 'hunger hormone', while reducing secretion of leptin, the satiety hormone, that helps us feel full. With these hormones out of balance we will be more likely to make less than ideal food choices. It makes sense that being starved for sleep could lead to weight gain—even if only for the fact that being awake longer gives us more time to eat.
3. Control of inflammation
Research indicates that people who get less sleep—six or fewer hours a night—have higher blood levels of inflammatory markers called C-reactive protein than those who get more.
Inflammation is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature aging.
4. Reduced Stress
Research has shown that lack of sleep changes the way you perceive a stressful situation. If you only get 6 hours of sleep, a situation will feel more stressful than it would had you gotten a full 7-8 hours. Stress it not so much about what happens to us, as how we respond to it and when we get enough sleep, our ability to deal with stresses becomes easier.
Setting up a Bedtime Routine
Setting up a routine to follow at bedtime, like any new habit, takes time and a lot of effort at first. If you stick with it, the benefits to your health will be well worth it. Lack of sleep could be the reason you are not losing weight, or why you find yourself short-tempered, or losing focus in the middle of your work day. All of these things affect our quality of life.
Is it really necessary for you to stay up so late? Are you doing anything important or are you just up because you feel it's too early to sleep? I think that a lot of times, we are up doing nothing anyway. Maybe watching TV or playing on our phone, checking Facebook one more time etc. Being up late occasionally will not affect our overall health, yet if we consistently burn the midnight oil, the consequences are real.
Tips for a good nights sleep
1. Turn off all electronics
One hour or more before bed it's a good idea to turn off all electronics. Screen time before bed keeps our brain stimulated because of the blue light emitted. Instead of watching TV or looking at your phone, opt to read a book, or have a conversation with your spouse.
Deep breathing exercises or meditation brings the levels of our stress hormone, cortisol down. This allows melatonin to rise naturally, helping us to get into REM sleep. If cortisol levels stay elevated, you will not produce enough melatonin.
3. Eat a small snack containing tryptophan
Tryptophan is an amino acid, a building block of protein, and is a major precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is know as the happy hormone because it makes us feel good. It also is responsible for feelings of relaxation. It has been used in supplement form to treat depression, anxiety, bipolar dissorder, ADHD, memory loss and PMS. By raising serotonin levels before bed with a light snack rich in tryptophan, you can induce a relaxed state and make it easier to fall asleep. Tryptophan helps you fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and awake less often in the night. Try having a whole egg or a small amount of nuts or seeds before bed to see if this works for you.
4. Set a regular sleep and wake time
Going to bed at the same time and waking at the same time is important in that it establishes a rhythm and a regular cycle for body processes. One important cycle it helps regulate is cortisol which is produced by the adrenal glands. Cortisol is secreted when blood sugar levels are low, like overnight when you have been fasting. Levels will fluctuate somewhat through the day but the overall trend is high levels in the morning to get us moving and then a slow decline through the day, with lowest levels at night so that we can produce adequate melatonin and fall sleep. When we go to bed a drastically different times every night, this rhythm does not get well established and we have difficulty with fluctuating energy levels through the day.
5. Use Essential Oils
Create a relaxing environment using essential oils. Lavender, Roman chamomile, and vetiver are a few great choices for diffusing in your room.. The relaxing scents can lower cortisol levels and help you fall asleep faster.
6. Make your room dark
Sleeping is a very dark room will promote a more restful sleep. It is very important to our circadian rhythm to sleep in total darkness. Any light source will hit the optic nerve in your eyes and stimulate brain activity, raise cortisol levels and body temperature even if this doesn't fully wake you to consciousness.
If you are having trouble losing weight, struggling with daytime fatigue, mental fog, lack of energy and/or poor physical performance, I suggest you look at how well you are sleeping and get that on track first. It can go a long way to improve many aspects of your life.