The Importance of Sleep
As a mother of four, I know too well how sleep deprivation can cause irritability and mood swings. But did you know that not sleeping enough can increase your risk of many diseases? Even health agencies state that lack of sleep is a public health epidemic. Maybe you also struggle to get a good night's sleep, so check out these tips!
How much sleep is enough?
The general guidelines suggest that an adult (26 - 64 years old) should sleep around 8 hours. Of course, children and teenagers need more and seniors less sleep. Be honest, do you get those eight hours of sleep every night? Unfortunately, lack of sleep cannot be caught up during the weekend so it's very unwise to party until late and expect to catch up on Sunday.
It shouldn't come as a surprise if I tell you that you should sleep in the dark. But with public lighting in cities, electronic devices close to our beds and night lamps, we can hardly speak of total dark. However, light has a profound effect on sleep. Light exposure at night stimulates alertness and can lead to frequent awakenings. Melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain's pineal glad, is often known as the "sleep hormone" or the "darkness hormone." Melatonin influences sleep by sending a signal to the brain that it is time for rest. This signal helps initiate the body's physiological preparations for sleep: muscles begin to relax, feelings of drowsiness increase, body temperature drops. Melatonin levels naturally rise during the early evening as darkness falls and continue to climb throughout most of the night, before peaking at approximately 3 a.m. Levels of melatonin then fall during the early morning and remain low during much of the day. Evening light exposure inhibits the naturally timed rise of melatonin, which delays the onset of the body's transition to sleep and sleep itself. That is why a sleep routine that includes a gradually darkening environment can help. Dim the lights a full hour before bedtime. Also, curtains or shutters and an eye mask worn at night can help to protect against light.
In our fast paced world, the widespread use of digital technology with light emitted from all those screens is yet another disruptive challenge to better sleep. Avoid screen time an hour before going to bed: turn off the television, computers and tablets, and put your phone away for the night. The light from digital devices contains high concentrations of blue light, a wavelength of light that research has shown is especially detrimental to sleep. If you have to work at computer in the evening, wear blue-blocking glasses (to read more about their benefits read this article) and install the f.lux app which makes the color of your computer's display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.
If you are sitting in an office whole day and don't get bright sun exposure during the day, your pineal gland which produces melatonin, will not recognise the difference between night and day and will not optimize your melatonin production. Therefore, make sure to get at least 15 minutes of BRIGHT light exposure every day.
Meditation, Journaling, List making, Warm bath and shower
When I had my first child, I tried to do everything as I was told. First time mothers usually don't listen to their instincts and let doctors and family tell them what is (or what they think is) best for their child. However, this can be fairly different from mother's instincts. Mother intuitively knows that letting her baby 'cry it out' and putting it to a bed in another room is not right. After many sleepless nights when I had to wake up, stand up, take my screaming child out of her bed, breastfeed it, put it back to her bed (as gently as I possibly could) and lay down again for another hour, I stopped with this nonsense. While searching for clues how to handle my poorly sleeping baby, I've found a method called co-sleeping. Co-sleeping is nothing more than what it sounds and what mothers did for thousands of years - sleeping with their child in the same bed (or on a mattress, floor etc.). Unsurprisingly, this method turned out to be the most effective for a good night's sleep for a baby and for the mother as well. Some doctors consider co-sleeping dangerous and they advise against it as they think a mother could cover the baby's head with a blanket or suffocate it with a part of her body. I strongly disagree with this. However, always keep in mind that babies should sleep on their backs, on a firm surface, and in the absence of secondhand smoke, under light blanket and their heads should never be covered. Mother should not be on medication, take drugs or consume too much alcohol.
For even more tips on how to sleep better, go to Dr.Michael J.Breus's (also known as The Sleep Doctor) page.
Wishing you a good night's sleep!