Sweet Dreams: What, Why and How in the world do I get some?
When I am just sitting down with a patient for the first time, this is the topic we start our conversation with. Why? It comes at the end of the day. You would think we would start with breakfast or something similar. But how do you feel the next day when you don’t sleep well? How does the next day go when you sleep great? Has it been a while since you’ve slept great?
What is good quality sleep?
How much sleep do you need? Experts settle on 7-8 hours but it is really important that this includes getting into REM and Deep stages of sleep to get “restorative sleep”.
In basic terms, restorative sleep happens when brain activity during sleep helps restore your body and mind, essentially resetting you for another day of activity.
Only the last two stages of sleep, deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, are considered restorative,
During deep sleep, the body repairs and regrows tissue, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system.
REM sleep, the stage where you typically dream, is essential for learning, memory, and cognition.
There are 3 stages of sleep and when you spend most of it in the light stage or even awake, you will no doubt experience fatigue, brain fog, mood changes and more.
How do you know if you’re getting restorative sleep? There are devices out there to track your sleep and how much time you spend in each stage. They are pretty fascinating, but are they necessary? They can be helpful when you are trying different lifestyle modifications or supplements to help you sleep and you want to know some hard data that can help you decide what might be working. But, I bet you KNOW when you have slept really well when you wake up feeling alert and ready for the day!
Why is this important? Most of us need to be sharp during the day. Whether we are a top-level executive, mom running a busy household or a student, teacher, entrepreneur and on and on. Who doesn’t desire to be on top of their mental game? Restorative sleep helps our brains work better, period!
What are your relationships with your loved ones looking like right now? There is no doubt that poor sleep makes us grumpy! How could we show up better for the people we care about? Less irritable? Less sensitive? More energy to do fun activities together? I can look back on 23 years as a mother and I can tell you that my least “proud” moments happened after being deprived of sleep.
But it is much more than just these vague but tangible things. Research is really supporting that tissue and bone growth is supported and our immune function is improved with restorative sleep. Amazing! Think about how much babies sleep and how fast they grow!
So HOW do we get Restorative Sleep? This is the biggest stumbling block usually. You’ve likely heard this message before. It is a trendy topic for good reason as we have seen. But it doesn’t usually happen just because we want it to! It takes some real intention on our parts to achieve.
What are your stumbling blocks? Blue light, alcohol, partner snoring, trips to the bathroom, joint pain, hot flashes or night sweats?
Sleep Hygiene: This is the intentional effort to be consistent with behaviors that support good quality sleep and your natural circadian rhythm.
Follow a consistent sleep schedule: Varying your bedtime or morning wake-up time can hinder your body’s ability to adjust to a stable circadian rhythm. It is actually more important to awaken at the same time every morning than going to bed at the same time.
Get daily exercise: Activity during the day can support your internal clock and help make it easier to fall asleep at night.
Avoid caffeine: Stimulants like caffeine can keep you awake and throw off the natural balance between sleep and wakefulness. Everyone is different, but if you’re having trouble sleeping, you should avoid caffeine after noon.
Artificial light exposure at night can interfere with circadian rhythm. Experts advise dimming the lights in the house and not using any electronic screens (phones, tablets, computers and TV) 1 hour before bedtime and keeping electronics out of the bedroom.
Keep naps short and early in the afternoon: Late and long naps can push back your bedtime and throw your sleep schedule off-kilter.
Keep your environment cool, clean and comfortable. If you suspect your mattress is causing pressure points and pain, then invest in a new one. Your temperature should be on the cooler side and bedding should be light and comfortable.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but food and alcohol can really disrupt your sleep. Sure, that glass or two of wine may help you fall asleep, but it absolutely disrupts your sleep about 3-4 hours later. Same with a full stomach at bedtime.
There are some supplements that may help. This is not a “one size fits all” and may take some experimenting to find the right one for you. Magnesium, Pharma-GABA, L-theanine, 5-HTP, Melatonin and Valerian Root are some. I often find combination products that include several of these things help the best for most people.
For women, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) can be a real game changer for insomnia. Certainly, it can improve symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats but can help in other ways as well. Often time, temperature changes will wake us up and then the thoughts take over!! This can make it hard to get back to sleep when we are then thinking about all the things that need to get done tomorrow or remember the things we forgot today. Or even worse, we start to really worry about the stressful things in life and then lying awake feels like another stressor. Sound familiar??
If it does, I encourage you to really take inventory. It’s something I say a lot. What are your barriers to a good night’s sleep and what action can you take to improve it?
It is truly one of my favorite topics to help patients tackle. Because, when we get that quality, restorative sleep we can truly become the best versions of ourselves!
Dr. Anne Morgan