For optimal function and vitality in our bodies, sleep is often the overlooked and underappreciated component. According to neuroscientist, professor and author of the book, “Why We Sleep,” Matthew Walker states, “Sleep is Mother Nature’s best effort yet to counter death.”
According to the CDC, one in three adults do not get enough sleep (between seven to nine hours) on a regular basis. People often pride themselves in pulling all-nighters or going to bed late in order to complete work tasks. However, this is not conducive to long-term health. Harvard Medical School shows a correlation between lack of sleep and chronic health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
If you identify as a person who is getting well under the recommended amount of Zzz’s, I highly advise introducing or prioritizing a bedtime routine. Shifts in diet, routine and environment can get you sleeping more soundly, which means you have a higher chance of warding off disease and feeling refreshed in the morning.
Sleep and the Gut
Nutrition not only plays a critical role in body function, but it also aids sleep patterns and cognitive function. Foods interact with the body through the microbiome in your gut. This microbiome is composed of bacteria that work to support the body, thus creating a healthy detoxification system.
The gut has direct communication with the brain via the vagus nerve — researchers are still uncovering this fascinating and enigmatic connection. One interesting development has shown that there is over 400 times more melatonin produced in the gut than in the brain, therefore demonstrating that the amount of sleep you get could be directly correlated with how healthy your gut is. (For more info on how to heal your gut, read my article “Giving Back to Your Gut” in the November 2020 issue).
There are foods that can also enhance this melatonin production, such as cherries, goji berries, eggs, milk, fish and nuts. Try sprinkling some cherries and goji berries on some organic Greek yogurt for a healthy after-meal dessert.
Another critical component to sleep is magnesium. Magnesium is necessary for hundreds of metabolic processes in the body, including relaxation. Consuming foods such as dark chocolate or cocoa, sea food, nuts, seeds, edamame and grass-fed meats can be extra beneficial as they are great sources of magnesium. However, be very careful not to consume chocolate or other foods that could possibly contain caffeine in the evening, as caffeine can trick your brain’s adenosine receptors. Your body builds up adenosine throughout the day, and it’s the chemical that alerts your brain it’s tired and time for bed. Another option is drawing a relaxing epsom salt bath which can help with magnesium absorption and relaxation.
Working alongside nutrition is the nighttime routine you create to ease the process of falling asleep.
The first step is scheduling time to wind down. For example, if you know you need to wake up at 6 a.m., you should be in bed (and asleep) by 10 p.m. However, many people can’t immediately fall asleep right when their head hits the pillow. If you fall into that statistic, you may need an extra hour to relax and be in a good position for sleep. Here are some methods to help wind down:
Dim the lights: Use soft lighting and turn off any unnecessary lights, as excess light exposure from electronics can throw off your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock that determines your sleep and wake cycle — and it is directly linked to light exposure. This means that, if you have excess light exposure in the evening, it can take you out of balance. Switch electronics to night mode. When it is time to sleep, use an eye mask or invest in blackout curtains to block out any lights in the room.
Drop the temperature: The recommended temperature while you sleep is between 60-67 degrees. The cool temperature helps lower your core temperature, which allows you to remain asleep. When the core temperature is elevated, it sends a wake-up signal to the body.
Get organized: A busy mind is often the main culprit that interferes with a good night’s sleep. Before you wind down, write out a to-do list for the following day, as well as any thoughts that seem to be circulating in your mind repeatedly. Having a pen and paper near your bed to jot things down can also be helpful. A relaxed state is often when our creativity is at its highest. Having a place nearby to capture these thoughts can take the pressure off of recalling them the next day.
Building a better sleep routine is all about consistency. Sleep and wake schedules are recommended to be the same time every day (including weekends) to improve your body’s circadian rhythm. Carving out time for these habits will be the backbone toward building a life of health and happiness.