Updated: Jul 4, 2020
I have been a chronic late-night working, early rising, burn the candle at both ends "go-go-go" person for probably 20 years. When I was in my 20's it didn’t seem like a big deal I thought I was "being productive" and rather invincible as one of those people who just doesn’t require much sleep. I almost wore it as a badge of honor thinking I can get more done than most since I am awake more hours. Fast forward to today as a mom of two small children, owner of multiple businesses, wife and just generally trying to stay afloat amidst all the other chaos, my health and appearance have begin to suffer from lack of sleep.
I noticed after my second baby though with never sleeping through the night that my skin started to age rapidly, my hair was thinning and my muscle retention wasn’t as good. HOLD THE PHONE! I am learning you don't get an award for fast aging or mental decline! I am not ready to go down this road! I need to make changes…ASAP! While I can’t prevent a 3am crying baby from waking me, I can do some things to make the hours I do sleep more impactful AND make a concerted effort to head to bed earlier at night with less impact from junk light, gadgets, late night snacking etc interfering with my quality of sleep or the ability to fall asleep quickly.
So, what do we need to know? I am a firm believer in knowing the WHY's behind anything you want to change or improve. In this post I am going to cover:
1. Why do we need quality sleep?
2. What are the stages of sleep and what happens during them?
3. How much sleep do we need?
4. What can we do NOW to get better sleep?
WHY Quality Sleep is CRITICAL:
1. Brain Clean-Up. During the day your brain generates amyloid proteins to bind up infectious particles and toxins that have made it past the blood brain barrier so they are less harmful to you. Your brain has a lymphatic system to process and clear out “trash” it is called the glymphatic system. When you sleep at night, the brain processes trash like those amyloid proteins (plaques) and removes them. BUT they are only mostly cleared out IF you have a properly functioning detoxification system AND a sufficient number of hours of sleep. If you cannot clear these plaques your brain can develop “tangles” that damage the brain. This entire process begins as early as our 20’s! If you have amyloids AND tangles you are at greater risk for developing cognitive issues. If you have chronic inflammation on top of the amyloids and tangles you are at even greater risk for memory and cognitive decline as well as dementia. This is why improving the QUALITY and QUANTITY of your sleep in very important at every age.
2. Memory. Sleep in what helps your brain convert short term memories to long term. Your brain needs to replay experiences like short video clips in your mind in order to transform them into long-term memories.
3. Healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels happens while sleeping
4. Appetite & Calorie Consumption. Sleep helps regulate ghrelin and leptin your hunger hormones so if you are sleep deprived, the risk for gain weight increases as ghrelin is released signaling hunger and leptin which would normally suppress appetite drops – so it is harder to control cravings and insatiability.
5. You need sleep for cognition, concentration, productivity, and performance
6. Improves athletic performance when you are adequately rested
7. Mange weight. Sleep helps regulate glucose metabolism so you can more easily manage your weight better
8. Muscles will repair and rebuild while sleeping
9. Improve immune function
10. May decrease the risk of depression
11. Poor sleep is linked strongly to long-term inflammation of the digestive tract (disorders like Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome)
12. Lack of sleep impacts mood and social interactions. One study found that people who hadn’t slept had a reduced ability to recognize expressions of anger and happiness. Researchers believe that poor sleep affects your ability to recognize important social cues and process emotional information. (source PubMed)
13. Reduces Stress
14. Makes you more alert
Stages of Sleep:
Stage 1: (Non-REM)
The beginning stage of falling asleep. Alpha and theta brain waves are responsible for this “daydreaming” like state. Your muscles begin to relax (with maybe a few twitches) and breathing slows some. People who practice meditation or deep prayer often hang out in this Alpha brainwave state of relaxation. As we enter Theta brainwaves it takes the average person 5-7 minutes to fall asleep (more or less depending on what you have going on internally).
Stage 2: (Non-REM)
Your heart rate begins to slow and muscles relax further. Body temperature starts to naturally lower and eye movement stops. This lasts about 20 minutes or so.
Stage 3/4: (Non-REM)
This is a transition from light sleep to deeper sleep as slow Delta waves begin to emerge. This is the stage needed to feel rested and refreshed in the morning. It occurs in longer periods during the first half of the night. Your heartbeat and breathing slow to their lowest levels during sleep. Your muscles are relaxed and it may be difficult to wake you. Delta waves are in full effect as your progress in this stage.
Stage 5 (REM)
This typically begins 90 minutes after we fall asleep. Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep is when we are dreaming which means increased respiration rate and brain activity. Your eyes dart back and forth quickly. Your body systems become more active while your muscles actually become paralyzed, which seems quite paradoxical but it prevents you from acting out your dreams. The thalamus which acts as a relay for information from the senses to the cerebral cortex is active, sending the cortex images, sounds, and other sensations that fill our dreams.
According to PyschCental “Sleep does not progress through all of these stages in sequence, however. Sleep begins in Stage One and progresses into stages 2, 3, and 4. Then, after Stage Four sleep, Stages Three, then Two are repeated before going into REM sleep. Once REM is over, we usually return to Stage Two sleep. Sleep cycles through these stages approximately 4 or 5 times throughout the night.”
If we don’t get sufficient hours to sleep every night you can see how we aren’t truly getting rest and recovery time because we aren’t cycling enough through the stages allowing the body to do what it needs to cleanup, grow, repair and recharge.
“Two internal biological mechanisms–circadian rhythm and homeostasis–work together to regulate when you are awake and sleep.
Circadian rhythms direct a wide variety of functions from daily fluctuations in wakefulness to body temperature, metabolism, and the release of hormones. They control your timing of sleep and cause you to be sleepy at night and your tendency to wake in the morning without an alarm. Your body’s biological clock, which is based on a roughly 24-hour day, controls most circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms synchronize with environmental cues (light, temperature) about the actual time of day, but they continue even in the absence of cues.
Sleep-wake homeostasis keeps track of your need for sleep. The homeostatic sleep drive reminds the body to sleep after a certain time and regulates sleep intensity. This sleep drive gets stronger every hour you are awake and causes you to sleep longer and more deeply after a period of sleep deprivation.
Factors that influence your sleep-wake needs include medical conditions, medications, stress, sleep environment, and what you eat and drink. Perhaps the greatest influence is the exposure to light. Specialized cells in the retinas of your eyes process light and tell the brain whether it is day or night and can advance or delay our sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to light can make it difficult to fall asleep and return to sleep when awakened.”* (excerpt taken from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/)
How much sleep should you aim for:
According to the CDC the breakdown is as follows:
Newborns (0–3 months): 14–17 hours
Infants (4–12 months): 12–16 hours
Toddler (1–2 years): 11–14 hours
Preschool (3–5 years): 10–13 hours
School age (6–12 years): 9–12 hours
Teen (13–18 years): 8–10 hours
Adult (18–60 years): 7-plus hours
Adult (61–64 years): 7–9 hours
Adult (65+ years): 7–8 hours
How to Get Better Sleep:
1. Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that I speak a lot about for helping to lower cortisol and chronic inflammation as well as combat symptoms of anxiety, but it has also been used for hundreds of years for memory and brain support by reducing brain inflammation and improving the clearance of amyloids (the brain plaques I spoke of earlier).
a. Try taking 500-600 mg before bed.
b. Turmeric, brahmi and L-serine have also been found to help promote the clearance of
c. Making Golden Milk a great evening beverage choice (click for recipe)
2. Turn off the gadgets before the sun goes down. Put house lights on a dinner switch if you can. Lowering of light signals to the brain that your body needs to start producing the chemicals and hormones necessary for sleep (lowering cortisol and creating melatonin). The hypothalamus, a peanut-sized structure deep inside the brain, contains groups of nerve cells that act as control centers affecting sleep and arousal. Within the hypothalamus is the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) – clusters of thousands of cells that receive information about light exposure directly from the eyes and control your behavioral rhythm*.
If you must be on a computer of phone or even the TV try blue light blocking glasses.
Your brain makes melatonin (the key hormone responsible for the sleep-wake cycle) from serotonin in response to it getting dark outside. You fall asleep a lot faster if there is a spike in melatonin. Artificial light confuses the brain.
*(source the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Strokes).
3. Get some natural light in the morning or around noon. Try to look at the blue sky or clouds (NOT directly at the sun! That isvery damaging to your eyes) so your retina get natural blue light to trigger the melatonin cycle. Afterall, weren't our ancestors up with the roosters and rising sun and asleep as dark set in since they didnt have artificial light and elcetronics keeping them up?
4. Step away from social media and the news – these can be time killers, emotional energy drainers and adrenaline spikers. If you are riled up by some news or what someone posted your adrenaline responsible for fight or flight will keep you more alert and awake. Focus your evenings instead on interacting with your loved ones – talking, laughing, engaging with your kids, spouse, or calling friends.
4. Deep breathing and stretching - slow deep breathing stimulates your body’s parasympathetic reaction to calm you and lower stress hormones. Breathing (especially fresh air) helps boost serotonin to help feelings of happiness and well-being which is helpful when heading to bed.
5. Feet in the grass or being amidst nature. I personally make a point that every night I am home at sunset I stand in the grass, take deep breaths and watch the sun go down. I always say out loud thank you for this day and I am grateful if I get tomorrow. I am so appreciative as every time I look at a sunset I can’t help but think “This is someone’s first and someone else’s last” so each one I see I am truly grateful for. Click here for scientifically proven ways nature helps to calm you.
6. Magnesium glycinate (400 mg before bed) – helps calm the CNS and relax muscles. (click here)
7. Meditation Apps – I like the Breethe App – You can tailor your mediations and sounds by goals (like sleep (and even by types of brainwaves), aging well, beginner meditation, improve happiness, deal with stress and anxiety, etc). I’ve only done the free content but enjoy the 20 minute Sweet Dreams Meditation – I’ve yet to still be awake at the 20-minute mark. This has been helpful for my 7-year-old on those nights she just can’t seem to wind down for bed. In their paid content, they have Deep Sleep hypnotherapy if you need to bring out the big guns to fall asleep.
8. CBD Oil (Cannabidiol) - inflammation and pain may be a cause for your inability to get good sleep, CBD oil can help that by lessening inflammation and in return the less inflammation you have the better all your systems function the better your natural hormonal balance is restored. Also, CBD has shown in some studies to reduce anxiety which can help sleep. I personally use Reset Bioscience because if its liposomal delivery being more bioavailable (meaning you get more bang for your buck because your body can absorb and use more of the formula). I combine this with 500 mg of ashwagandha at night and I feel nice and relaxed for bed when normally I otherwise would not be able to turn my brain off to even want to go to sleep.
9. Cool and dark rooms. SleepFoundation.org says, “Many sleep experts say that a cool room, somewhere around 65 degrees, makes for the best sleep, and research backs this notion. During the course of a normal day, your body temperature rises and falls slightly. This pattern is tied to your sleep cycle. As you become drowsy, your temperature goes down, reaches its lowest level around 5:00 a.m., and climbs slightly as morning begins. This is why the air in your room can affect the quality of your sleep: if it’s too hot, it may interfere with your body’s natural dip and make you more restless through the night.”*
10. Make it dark...really dark in your room. You may need black out curtains or black tape over the little blue and red lights that are on your electronics. You can also use an eye mask to make sure it is pitch dark (and more cost effective than window treatments). If you or your kids need a night light try a salt night-light that will emit negative ions and a soft yellow glow.
11. If you suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) at night and that is what is keeping you up, be sure to get more sufficient intake of the following nutrients:
Iron, B vitamins, magnesium (additional supplemental magnesium in the form of magnesium threonate may be needed) , omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and trace minerals. (fixing your diet can dramatically boost your intake, supplements should be secondary to real food)
Massaging your legs with ice or leg ice baths can help calm the ifnlammation.
Massaging legs with essential oils like lavender, cypress or frankincense in a carrier oil can help.
Boost your brains ability to produce GABA (helps RLS and brain to calm down for sleep) by taking NAC (N-acetylcycteine 500mg to 2g) and Lipoic Acid (600mg once or twice a day) - dosages taken from Dr Terry Wahls Protocol.