Question: Have you ever woken up with only a few hours of sleep to your name, and felt tired and groggy throughout the day?
If so, then you understand the importance of getting enough Zzz’s the night before. In fact, it is recommended by the National Sleep Foundation
that adults aged 18 to 64 to get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. For those under 18—from teens to infants—the number is higher, starting between 8-10 hours of sleep for teenagers. Adults 65 and over are recommended to get between seven and eight hours of sleep. So, no matter the demographic, sleep is very important.
Importance of Sleep
It might be surprising to know that sleep affects so many aspects of your life. It impacts your level of safety throughout the day (try driving when tired, for example), along with your mental and physical health. It also affects an individual’s quality of life—being completely present for yourself, co-workers, family, and other people you interact with throughout the day is one of the benefits.
While sleeping, your body works to maintain the healthy functioning of the brain, along with physical health. Sleep is important for development and growth with children and teens. Sleep is important because it aids in:
Proper Brain Function
While you are asleep, the brain gets ready for the following day. A well-rested evening will improve your ability to learn, because during sleep a person’s brain is developing new pathways to help retain information. So, no matter what activity you choose to do—from playing piano to learning math—it’s important to sleep so that you have the ability to pick up this information as efficiently as possible.
Without enough sleep, your brain might have problems with decision-making and problem-solving. You might have trouble having control over your emotions. There are also links to suicide and depression. For children and teenagers, a person will have difficulty staying focused, which will impact grades, adding lots more stress.
Mental and Physical Health
Sleep helps to repair heart and blood vessels. It keeps hormonal balance and helps to control blood sugar levels, keeping diabetes at bay. It keeps your body safe from foreign substances with your immune system. It’s funny how you can get sleep and recover better from illness.
Performance Throughout the Day
With enough sleep, you’ll be at peak productivity. Without it, you might take longer to finish assignments, and won’t respond quickly enough. You’re not alert or focused, either. Also, have you ever seen someone nodding off in class or somewhere? This is referred to as “microsleep,” which isn’t something that is desired when a day calls for one’s full attention. It’s when you sleep when you would “normally” be awake. It can’t be helped, because you really are tired and need sleep.
If you drive drowsy, or have a meeting and fall asleep during the office, these are examples of microsleep. They say that drowsy sleeping causes 100,000 accidents per year
. And, no matter the job, tiredness can lead to workplace accidents. Imagine someone such as a chef, or a health professional such as a doctor (or better yet, a surgeon) who is working with very little sleep. With the amount of precision that jobs such as these require, one would only hope that professionals in these fields, for example, received the right amount of sleep.
Not getting enough sleep can lead to a number of problems:
- Heart disease
- Issues with mood
Importance of Vitamins and Minerals
A deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals can lead to trouble sleeping. Low amounts in magnesium are linked to insomnia. Without enough potassium, a person will have trouble staying asleep at night. A deficiency in Vitamin D might also cause a person to fall asleep during the day.
Melatonin is one key nutrient that your body needs. Your body produces melatonin naturally, usually more before going to bed and less as you wake up. Melatonin is one nutrient that is important for a good sleep cycle. It impacts a person’s circadian rhythm and internal clock.
The pineal gland, found in the middle of your brain, is what produces melatonin. As the day wanes and darkness sets in, the pineal gland starts to produce melatonin which flows into the bloodstream. Melatonin will make a person sleepy and, during sleep, your melatonin level will stay high.
At the rising of the sun, however, levels of melatonin go back down because the pineal gland stops producing melatonin. Basically, as a person feels more and more awake in the morning, this is a sign that the pineal gland has reduced or stopped producing melatonin throughout the day. The amount of melatonin released into the bloodstream will vary throughout the day—more will be released when you are sleepy or sleeping, and less when you’re awake.
Tips for Sleeping
Improve your body’s ability to get melatonin.
Don’t do things that interfere with your body’s natural ability to produce melatonin. Your body will produce more melatonin, for example, if it’s more exposed to sunlight or extreme darkness. Melatonin supplements are a good option, too, although you should be sure to take only what is required, which is either 0.25mg or .5mg. Larger doses might make you less tired, so take the recommended amount. Also, cherries are a good, naturally occurring source of melatonin.
Get enough magnesium.
A number of factors could lead to magnesium deficiency, including diabetes, age, unhealthy kidneys, alcoholism and medication. Many who suffer from alcoholism, for example, have low levels of magnesium, and unhealthy kidneys can lead to a loss in magnesium.
Also, as we age, our ability to absorb magnesium and other vitamins and minerals lessens. One way to get enough magnesium is to have a whole-food diet. This includes green vegetables such as kale, collards, and spinach. Nuts, seeds, beans, and avocados also help you to have a whole-food diet where you will get magnesium, too.
If choosing the supplemental route, magnesium threonate is a good source for magnesium because of its ability to get deep within the cell membrane. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself also having a better memory as a result of taking it—it helps with memory, too.
Implement a whole-food-based diet.
A whole-food-based diet is a great way to make sure that you have a well-balanced intake of vitamins and minerals to have a good night’s sleep. In addition to magnesium and melatonin, it’s important to have Vitamin K2 and Vitamin D. A whole-food diet will give your body a plethora of vitamins and minerals, and a natural balance.
Get enough potassium.
This mineral salt works to improve sleep, and also keeps away muscle cramps, which can jar a person from slumber at the most inopportune of times. Vegetables such as kale, collards, cremini mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, avocado, spinach, romaine lettuce, and celery are good sources of calcium.
Get rid of chemicals such as caffeine and nicotine that can negatively impact your sleep.
Stay away from caffeine, which is a stimulant and can keep you awake. This stimulant is found in coffee, sodas, chocolate, tea and pain medication. Don’t consume things with caffeine four to six hours before going to bed. Also, don’t smoke before going to bed, either. The nicotine in tobacco will also keep you awake.
Make your bedroom more conducive to sleeping.
For bats, caves are a nice sleeping environment, but, for people, not so much. However, a tip can still be taken from the quiet and dark space that bats congregate in to sleep. A dark environment that is quiet is always more conducive to sleeping that an environment with lots of light and sound. One way to create this type of environment is to sleep with earplugs or to go to sleep with “white noise,” or very soft sounds such as rain or ocean waves. Let the temperature be a comfortable 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Develop a pre-sleep routine.
Start preparing for sleep one hour before sleep time. It should include things that will let you relax and prepare for slumber. This includes a warm and comfortable bath or show. Reading is also great, or watching television, if it is a program where you won’t have the need to continue watching if it gets interesting. Don’t do work or decide to start to talk about a stressful topic. Journaling and writing out the day’s successes or problems throughout the day should also help you to wind down.
Get a comfortable mattress.
Mattresses wear out after every ten years, so if your mattress is nearing the end, make sure you get one that will let you sleep comfortably.
Don’t watch the clock.
This one makes sense for those of us who watch the clock day, morning, and night. How does it feel to wake up in the middle of the night and see that you only have a couple of hours of sleep left? It can get stressful, so to avoid this by making sure your clock is facing away from you. And if you find yourself unable to sleep after waking up, do something that makes you relax. Drinking a cup of herbal tea or listening to music are two examples of calming activities.
Develop your internal clock by staying consistent.
Work on your morning and night routines to develop a specific time to sleep and a specific time to wake, and then keep up the schedule. It can be difficult to stick to your schedule Monday through Friday, and then on Saturday and Sunday either sleep or wake up earlier or later. It throws your internal clock off. So, if you want to keep your body properly attuned to waking up and going to sleep, go to sleep at the same or similar time Monday through Sunday. Your body’s internal clock will thank you for it.
Make light work for you.
The great thing about natural light is that it is something that our normal sleep-wake cycle responds to. Light helps us to wake up, and stay awake (so lights out if you’d like to sleep better.) Open those curtains when you wake up so that the sun’s rays can shine in, and you can stay more awake.
Go to sleep only when you’re tired.
Have you ever gone to sleep only to be wide awake one hour later? It’s not a fun experience, especially when you acted as planned and went to bed at the desired time. Sometimes, however, it does happen, and one way to relax yourself from the ensuing frustration is to do something that will calm you. So, whether listening to music, reading, or journaling, do this until you find yourself calm enough to go to sleep again, but this time for real.
Get enough water.
Keep your chances low of waking up from a lack of water in the middle of the night. Instead, drink water one and a half to two hours before going to sleep, or keep a glass of water by your bedside to alleviate the need to get out of bed. Also, be sure to leave enough time between drinking water or another fluid and going to sleep, so that you won’t have to go to the bathroom.
Sleep is a very important part of the day or night, depending on how you see it. It helps to replenish our energy to be able to accomplish tasks the following day. Getting the proper nutrients and minerals—from potassium, to melatonin, to Vitamin D
—will also help to improve your sleep and, in the process, your performance throughout the day.