Too much stress and too little sleep is the fool-proof recipe for declining long-term health
including a weakened immune system, impaired cognitive/memory function, heart disease, mood disorders, premature aging and accelerated tumor growth, among others. And it's a true, albeit unfortunate, story for too many these days. Most people require between eight and 10 hours of sleep each night, but they are far from getting it. Even those who do achieve close to that amount of sleep still may not feel fully rested and alert. For a good night's rest that leads to optimum functioning and alertness, the following best practices can help.
Create a sleep sanctuary
Today's widespread use of electric lights so disrupt the body's natural circadian life rhythms that, when it's time for sleeping, you should do so in complete darkness. Even a small amount of light can penetrate the optic nerve and thereby trigger the pineal gland which regulates the production of melatonin, a hormone involved in the body's waking and sleeping patterns. For this reason, wearing a sleeping mask or installing black-out drapes over windows may prove essential to achieving the best quality rest possible. No light should enter the room. Night-lights should be avoided when possible, and clocks or clock-radios should be covered to prevent glow. Consider the room's temperature too. Scientists favor cooler temperatures, observing that they appear more harmonious with a person's natural temperature drop, which brings the body to its lowest temperature just a few hours after falling asleep. Somewhere between 60 and 68 degrees is ideal, but temperatures higher than 70 degrees are not recommended. Wearing socks to bed can also help increase the cozy factor, while encouraging uninterrupted rest. Remember, too, that your bedroom is a sanctuary, and mixing television, work or other non-sleep-related activities can make the environment less conducive to sleeping.
Manage food and fluid intake
Watching what you eat and drink before bedtime can make the difference in a restful night's sleep. Balance your fluid intake before bedtime in a way that allows you to be hydrated without having to wake up during the night to visit the restroom. Depending on your particular tolerance, alcohol, caffeine and other drugs (prescription and over-the-counter alike) may cause sleep disturbances and should be limited, or even avoided altogether. Caffeine is not metabolized efficiently and its effects can linger in the body; whereas alcohol's drowsy effects wear off quickly, causing you to wake and have difficulty falling asleep again. It may also prevent you from entering the deeper stages of sleep, where most healing occurs. Eat only a light meal for dinner, avoiding foods to which you might be sensitive, like sugar, grains and pasteurized dairy, as they can lead to gastrointestinal issues such as bloating, gas, and congestion. Late night snacks are not recommended, due to their tendency to elevate blood sugar, delay sleep and encourage a hypoglycemic effect during the night.
Stick to a routine
Set a bedtime routine, and start early. This may include a relaxing activity, like taking a hot bath, sitting in a sauna, getting a massage or reading a light book (nothing too stimulating). Whatever your pleasure, be sure you're in bed early to best support your body and even maximize its natural detoxification processes. Staying up late can cause toxins to back up into the liver, whereas the hours before midnight are most beneficial for healing. Being in bed by 9 p.m. each night is recommended.
Wake up naturally
If you must use an alarm clock to wake, avoid those with harsh or loud alarms. The body does best when it is woken from slumber easily and naturally -- meaning when it is rested -- rather than startled out of deep dreaming by the sudden stress of an obnoxious alarm. When your sleep is truly restful, using an alarm to wake up may no longer be necessary. Establishing a consistent bedtime and waking time (meaning weekends too) can assist your body in achieving a healthy rhythm, making it easier to fall asleep at night and wake up naturally each morning.