When is the last time you had a blissful, deep, and restful sleep? Even if you can remember, chances are this is not happening on a nightly basis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, adults should get at least 7 hours of sleep each night for optimal health. But to be clear, optimal health does not just refer to feeling great the next morning. Optimal health is the reduction of the chances of developing a range of health conditions, such as lowered immune system function, weight gain, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and early death.
Sleep helps your brain detox
The brain does not turn itself off when you sleep, instead, it goes through a range of activities.
An essential part of brain health is detoxification. The brain needs to remove toxins from itself in the same way as the rest of the body does. The clearing of toxins happens when we are in the deepest sleep cycle. When you are in non-REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep, the environment in the brain is optimized to flush the brain and remove toxins and potentially harmful protein waste. One such protein is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
We do not often think of the brain as an organ that needs special care, however, once you understand how important rest is to brain health you may be motivated to change a few habits to get you sleeping well.
New habits that will help you sleep well
Unplug and wind down
Many people are in the habit of watching TV or scrolling through social media until they can’t keep their eyes open anymore. Researchers have found the blue light from TV and electronic devices suppress melatonin production and shorten our sleep time. It is best to put the electronics away and shut the TV off at least an hour before bed. Consider relaxing with a good paper book or magazine instead and give your eyes a break from the screen.
Studies show that consuming caffeine up to six hours before it’s time to sleep can lead to lower quality of sleep and sleep disturbance. As a rule, you should stop drinking coffee by 4 pm. However, you may want to experiment with slowly cutting back to one cup or less in the morning and see how it affects how you feel during the day and how well you sleep at night.
Make your bedroom a sleep haven
Your bedroom should be used for sleep only. There should be no distractions such as a TV or a laptop. Limiting the use of our bedroom for sleep can help us shift from activity to rest when it’s time to go to bed.
Gentle stretching and slow breathing before bed
Stretching and slow breathing helps wind down your nervous system and can help you let go of the events of the day. When we stretch we release tension in our body. Slow breathing literally shifts your autonomic nervous system into a calm state and brings your awareness into the present moment. This is an optimal state to be in before sleep.
Taking care of yourself is a daily responsibility. If you are stressed and not getting enough sleep, consider making some changes to your lifestyle. If you are struggling to relax at night, therapy is also an option.
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Jennifer Lauren Arceneaux, LMFT is a licensed Psychotherapist and Marriage and Family Therapist.
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