There are many resources online for good info on sleep, so I will not attempt a major review. Here are just a few tips:
- Sleep is one of the foundations of health. It is also a foundation of enjoyment and fulfillment in life. Sleep is not just about tissue repair and brain rest – having adequate sleep is a major factor in resilient mood, learning, problem-solving and more.
- Talk to your doctor about any sleep issues you are having. Although there are many things you can do to try to improve your sleep, you don’t want to miss out on the step of finding out whether there are any medical issues that are part of the problem.
- Your circadian rhythm underpins the quality of your sleep. Prominent factors affecting your circadian rhythm include:
- light exposure and timing,
- food and nutrition, and meal skipping and meal timing
- activity levels in the day, and activity timing
- stimulants (like caffeine) and stress responses and effective rest/repair/relaxation
- I think darkness in the bedroom is very important. How dark the room looks when you first turn off the light is misleading. Your eyes adapt quickly to the darkness, within a few minutes. My rule of thumb is that ideally the room should be dark enough that when you first turn off the light, you can’t see your hand when held in front of your face (clearly, if you look at your hand against a brighter background, such as a window, you will see it in silhouette, so that would not be a good test). Within a few minutes, you will start to see many shades of grey in the room, and be able to see your blankets, pillow, hand, etc.
- safety always comes first, so you will need to consider your individual situation. If you have impaired vision (such as cataracts, retinal diseases, etc.) or your eyes adapt less well to the dark (for example, low vitamin A status will do this), you need to be able to move across the room without tripping, stubbing your toe or stepping on some object. You may want to use some combination of (1) scanning the floor before bed to be sure there are no obstacles, (2) having a bit more general light in the room and/or (3) using a small flashlight kept by the bed (so the floor can be illuminated, with minimal extra light reaching the eyes).
- “blackout” type curtains are useful and I found them to be much less expensive than I expected. At a certain well-known large international-chain furniture store, I got a pair for under $30 with tax. You can hang them on a curtain rail directly, or use special hooks to attach them as “liners” to your drapes.
- if you are not in a situation where this would be offensive to your neighbours, one option is to just incorporate into your routine that you put a piece of cardboard or foam-board (or similar) in the window when you go to bed, and remove it first thing when you get up. Light-weight foam boards are available in stationery stores, in many colours.
- some people wear “blindfold” eye coverings while they sleep.
- Many people find that having fresh air, particularly moving fresh air, in the bedroom is fundamental. If you’re lucky, this can be readily obtained by simply sleeping with your bedroom window open. There are many situations where this is not practical or not effective. For most of the year, I find my sleep is much improved by using a small fan. I position the fan just at the entry to the bedroom, on a stool. This way the sound of the fan is further away and does not bounce off the walls nearly as much. I point the air flow so that it causes a general movement of air in the room. I don’t want it blowing strongly on my face. Angling the fan upwards, so that the air flow bounces off the ceiling, is good for this, and combines well with having an open window. The air coming in from an open window is almost always going to be cooler than your bedroom air, so it will tend to drop towards the floor. A “room-size” fan will generally be about $25.00 -$35.00 and hopefully you can find a smaller, less noisy, one.
- The hormone melatonin plays an important role in sleep and in tissue repair and inflammation. You start to make more melatonin in the evening, well before your usual sleep time. Exposure to bright light inhibits your production of melatonin. For this reason, consider practicing “light hygiene” in the evenings and at night. See the pages on light to learn more about this topic. Small changes to your home and your evening routines can have a big impact. For example, make sure that in your kitchen and in your bathroom there are options for using small amounts of light in the evenings – such as using only the light in the stove fan hood or plugging a “night-light” that has a control switch into one of the electrical sockets.
- You can help to “anchor” and promote the strength of your circadian rhythm by being mentally and physically active in the day. If your days are routinely “low-key” and dull, your sleep will tend to be less consolidated and effective.
The many effects of inadequate sleep – far more than simply exhaustion:
From Endocrine Today, August 2015:
“Endocrine effects of sleep loss go beyond exhaustion” LINK
There is a lot in this article, so it is worth clicking to read. A couple of quotes:
“ “The endocrine system is almost like a microcosm of all aspects of sleep loss,” M. Safwan Badr, MD, a professor and chief of the division of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, told Endocrine Today. “I don’t think people are focusing enough on all the adverse consequences of sleep loss, insufficient sleep, sleep deficiency — whatever term we use — on the endocrine system, cardiovascular system, on blood pressure, cognition and mortality. And they’re all, to some extent, probably connected.” “
“ “There have been a number of different renditions [of sleep restriction studies] … and the studies have been consistent that in less than a week of sleep restriction — which is typical of the contemporary adult — there is a large decrease in insulin sensitivity,” Van Cauter told Endocrine Today. “And the beta cell, instead of being able to compensate by producing more insulin, is not compensating. Therefore, the risk of diabetes is increasing.” “
This video was made as information for people with bipolar disorder.
However, it is >90% just a very well-done overview of use to anyone.
Sleep and Cleaning Your Brain
A recent finding is that processes occur in our brains while we sleep, which act to “clean” the brain.
- this would suggest that the amount and quality of sleep may be a factor in how well this occurs and whether enough cleaning is done
- a recent article suggests that sleep position can influence this, by influencing glymphatic flow in the brain during sleep (study done in mice and rats, so not confirmed in people).
“the glymphatic pathway – filters cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) through the brain and exchanges it with interstitial fluid (ISF) to clear waste.
The process resembles the lymphatic system that clears waste from organs in other parts of the body”
“Could sleeping on one’s side reduce risk of Alzheimer’s?”
Published online at Medical News Today, Aug 6/15 LINK
- “ In The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers say their findings suggest sleeping in the lateral, or side position – as compared with sleeping on one’s back or stomach – appears to help the brain remove waste products more effectively and may thus reduce the chance of developing neurodegenerative diseases. Increasingly, research is showing that sleep is important for brain health. Studies suggest that the brain is better at removing waste products when asleep than awake. And researchers are also discovering that poor sleep is linked to an increased risk of dementia. In The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers say their findings suggest sleeping in the lateral, or side position – as compared with sleeping on one’s back or stomach – appears to help the brain remove waste products more effectively and may thus reduce the chance of developing neurodegenerative diseases.
- For their study, the researchers focused on a complex system in the brain that clears away harmful substances that threaten to disrupt the normal function of cells and tissue. The system – called the glymphatic pathway – filters cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) through the brain and exchanges it with interstitial fluid (ISF) to clear waste. The process resembles the lymphatic system that clears waste from organs in other parts of the body. The glymphatic pathway is most efficient during sleep. It clears away potentially toxic chemicals from the brain – including amyloid beta and tau proteins. Build-up of these proteins is a known hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. “
- This study was done in mice and rats, and has not been confirmed in people.