Foundational to health, sleep can be looked at as an essential pillar to well-being, performance and chronic disease prevention. The quality of our sleep is perhaps the most important predictor of overall health. It greatly influences our mood and our ability to perform day to day tasks in an efficient manner. Let’s take a look at why sleep is crucial, how to tell if your sleep measures up and to optimize your shut eye, naturally!
Biological Consequences of Insomnia
On a fundamental level, we know that a good night’s sleep makes us feel great. Conversely, we know that a restless sleep can make us feel foggy, irritable and leaves us feeling tired. But, did you know, the benefits and adverse effects of sleep extend far beyond the day after? This is because, while we are mentally resting during the night, the body is hard at work rejuvenating and repairing mechanisms on a cellular level.
For example, chronic low-quality sleep has been correlated to:
- Reduced production of growth hormone and testosterone. This leads to impaired muscle synthesis and can inhibit weight loss
- Impaired cognitive function. In the short term, this looks like the inability to focus and retain information, reaction time is compromised and memory recall diminishes. In the case of on-going sleep deprivation, we see long-term memory impairment
- Adverse Cardiovascular and Metabolic Health. The research shows that those with poor sleep quality double their risk for a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack. In addition, studies show a roughly 25% increase in diabetes onset with chronic sleep deprivation
- A 25% increase in all cause mortality is seen in those with habitual suboptimal sleep
What Does a Good Sleep Look Like?
The literature suggests that while it’s advisable to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night, quality is more important than duration. The good news? There are several habits and hacks you can implement in your daily life to increase the quality of your sleep. First, what constitutes a good night’s sleep?
Characteristics of a Quality sleep
- Falling asleep quickly. A general rule of thumb is being able to fall asleep in less than 20 minutes, with around 10 minutes being ideal
- Sleep is uninterrupted (ie- not waking up throughout the night)
- Waking feeling rested and energized
How to Hack Your Sleep
Due to stress, environment, and well, life- these characteristics of good sleep can seem elusive. To modulate the quality of sleep, prescription sleep medication is often a go to, but comes with a whole host of consequences. Check-out these science-backed, natural strategies to have you sleeping like a baby!
- Reduce Exposure to Blue Light
Light from devices such as phones, TV’s and tablets along with LED lights and street lamps can inhibit melatonin production, the hormone that signals drowsiness
- Create an Environment Conducive to Sleep
Keep your room dark (eye mask or blackout curtains), take electronics including the TV out of your room and ensure room temperature is on the cooler side, ~20 degrees.
- Create a Schedule/Routine
The body loves rhythm. By going to sleep around the same time every night, like clockwork, you’ll eventually adapt and begin feel tired around that time. Implementing a bedtime routine, such as journaling, meditating or reading before bed eventually becomes a cue, that when registered prompts the cascade of biological processes required for sleep
- Incorporate Supplements
Supplements that support the natural sleep/wake cycle and help to mitigate stress can be helpful in ensuring optimal sleep. One compound that helps in both of these realms is 5-HTP
What is 5-HTP?
5-HTP is a supplement used in mood regulation and sleep. Its hallmark feature is that it’s able to increase levels of serotonin.
Low levels of serotonin are correlated with decreased mood, anxiety and insomnia. Since anxiety and stress can lead to a disrupted sleep cycle, 5-HTP may be able to assist indirectly with sleep by reducing anxiety and worrisome thoughts that inhibit a good night’s sleep.
A more direct way in which 5-HTP facilitates the sleep/wake cycle is by increasing melatonin production. Serotonin is precursor to a melatonin, and melatonin synthesis requires sufficient systemic levels of serotonin to be made in proper amounts.
If you suffer from insomnia or inconsistent sleep, 5-HTP can be used as a tool to help regulate the biology behind this. Since it has implications in mood regulation, there’s promise that it can help to mitigate the emotional rollercoaster that accompanies a lack of sleep.
Other supplements that can help sleep are melatonin, GABA, and herbal remedies such as chamomile, lemon balm and valerian root!
There are few things more important than a consistent good night’s sleep. By placing attention on, and creating a lifestyle that supports optimal sleep you are sure to wake up feeling refreshed, increasing your energy levels and experience a better mood. Most importantly, through setting up a solid sleep cycle, you are setting the foundation for health now and in years to come!
Author: Lisa Kowalyk, B.Kin, CNP