The first step to understanding how sleep affects your overall health requires that you take action and change your sleep habits. One night of disruptive sleep influences our ability to make decisions, how we process our thoughts, our reaction time, our mood, and so much more. We’ll likely spend our day feeling exhausted and discouraged. It leaves us unable to perceive what is going on internally and with our overall health.

Our body’s circadian rhythm responds to light and darkness. That’s why we’re encouraged to sleep when it’s dark and remain active (awake) during the daylight.

What is the circadian rhythm?

It is the body’s 24-hour biological clock that regulates our sleep/wake cycle and almost every human physiological process including our metabolism, immune function, cell regulation, hormone production, etc.

Sleep is a complex naturally occurring process that affects the way we function and everything in our bodies, every system and type of tissue. It is crucial to proper mental, physical health, improves quality of life, and good quality sleep is as essential to survival as food and water.

While we sleep, vital process in the body are protected and restored. Recent studies suggest it also helps remove toxins in the brain.

Forgoing sleep is associated with several chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, depression, cancer, and increased risk of death.

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), the amount of sleep needed depend on your age:

  • Newborn: 0 – 3 months – 4 – 17 hours
  • Infant: 4 -12 months – 12 – 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
  • Toddler: 1 -2 years – 11-14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
  • Preschool: 3 – 5 years – 10-13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
  • School Age: 6 – 12 years – 9-12 hours per 24 hours
  • Teen: 13 – 18 years – 8-10 hours per 24 hours
  • Adult: 18 – 60 years – 7 or more hours per night
  • Adult: 61 – 64 years – 7-9 hours per night
  • Adult: 65 years and older – 7-8 hours per night

Data from the CDC show that one-third of adults in America don’t get enough sleep due to lifestyle choices and occupational demands.

If you have trouble sleeping, here are important tips to optimize your sleep:

01. Increase natural light exposure as much as possible. Go for a walk, have breakfast and lunch outdoors. Walk a dog. Organize your schedule in a way that it includes time in nature. Try for at least 30 minutes a day to start. Natural light exposure during the day helps adjust circadian rhythms, improves quality and sleep duration.

02. Reduce your exposure to artificial light at night. Limit the use of electronics at least 3 hours prior bedtime. Remove anything that emits light from your bedroom like alarm clocks, computers, TV, etc.

03. Create an environment that invites you to a good night sleep. Dim lights. Use blackout shades. Buy an organic mattress, pillows, and chose good quality and nontoxic furniture. Adjust the temperature to an optimal level. Make it as comfortable as possible.

04. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Avoid long naps.

05. Limit caffeine consumption to the mornings, and seriously think about eliminating it for a month to see if it’s the cause of your insomnia.

06 Routinely exercise. If possible, exercise outdoors to increase your light exposure. Also, avoid sitting too much during the day. Stay active.

07. Eat a healthy diet like Paleo and adjust your macronutrients need according to your caloric daily index.

08. Reduce or avoid alcohol consumption. According to studies alcohol affects sleep and physiological processes that occur during sleep.

09. Practice stress relievers like mindfulness meditation, yoga, etc. Take a bath before bedtime using one cup of Epson Salt.

10. Try supplementing with a low melatonin dose. A low melatonin dose may increase your own production of it. Don’t go over 1 mg.

11. By a white noise machine. It’s been shown to be effective for sleep.

12. If you are taking medication, know their side effects. Certain drugs may prevent you from reaching deep waves of sleep. Talk to your doctor to see if there are supplementation options to replace the drugs you are taking.

13. If you don’t see any improvement with all these tips, look for underlying health conditions. Do a sleep study to search for the root cause of your sleep disturbance.

Don’t let the changes overwhelm you. Implement them one at a time to see what works for you. Be sure to track your results.

With modern life and all the distractions, we need to make quality sleep a priority.

By Elianni Gaio