Ask people what steps they need to take to get healthy and you'll hear the typical, rote responses: Eat better, exercise more, etc., etc.
What if I told you that one of the biggest things you can do to improve your overall health is to get more sleep?
You read that right more sleep!
This should be the easiest of my 10 Steps to Health for you to add to your life, because Im basically asking that you do more of nothing.
People happily super-size their meals and buy the biggest flat screens but, despite a stack of research supporting its health benefits, sleep is the one area that people willingly skimp on! This leads to a world full of overworked, overstressed and overly-fatigued men & women slamming down lattes and Red Bulls just to get through another day.
At any rate, millions of people dont get enough sleep at night. And its costly.
You feel like crap when youre sleep-deprived or the day after an all-nighter because your body is honestly struggling to function. Every system is affected by a lack of sleep, and over time you will develop a sleep debt that MUST be repaid!
Ever wake up two hours before your alarm is set to go off, wide awake and mentally as clear as you've been in days... only to fall back to sleep and wake up in a zombie-funk when your alarm finally does buzz you awake? What's that about? Do you have insomnia?
Probably not. Once again, the latest scientific advice draws from looking way back into our distant past.
Pretend youre back in the Stone Age again. Nightfall comes and it's time to sleep in a cave, under the stars, or in a Man vs. Wild-style shelter you built for yourself. Do you think youll get a full 8 hours of restful, undisturbed sleep?
Dont bet on it.
Back in those times it was normal (smart, actually) to wake up every few hours just to get a feel for your surroundings. You never knew when that pack of wolves might pass through on a night patrol! Your body is still hard-wired this way.
Most people stir, or even wake, around 2 or 3 am for this same reason. If this happens to you, dont stress out or think somethings wrong with you. Its just your inner Stone Age DNA trying to keep you alive. Embrace it, and chances are youll be quite rested in the morning.
Ways to get better sleep:
Your circadian rhythms are your internal clock that tells you when to go to sleep and when to wake up. They are controlled almost exclusively by environmental light.
Even in this chaotic world, we figured out over thousands of years that the ONE constant was that the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening. It happens like clockwork, except those times when we mess with our clocks. This is why birds and squirrels with no alarm clocks are busy going about their day when you look out the window with your crusted-over eyes.
A big problem most of us have is we dont get enough sun exposure. Research shows that the more rays you catch during the daylight hours, the better youll sleep at night. So help this natural process by breaking out of your office during lunch, going for a walk or a hike, or riding a bike outside.
(Side note: the earlier you exercise during the day, the better you will sleep at night. Evening exercise throws off your circadian melatonin production, so think about that if you y head to the gym later in the day.)
Another problem comes from not having a nightly ritual that tells us its time to go to bed. Let your body know its nighttime by dimming the lights in your place an hour before bed.
But our biggest problem is technology. TV's, computers and smart phones emit blue wavelength light just like that BIG BLUE SKY outside. Your brain interprets this as still being daylight (even if it's 2am) and suppresses natural melatonin production. Do yourself a favor and put the gadgets to sleep then you do the same!
Theres nothing on TV past 10pm that cant be relegated to TiVo or even [gasp] ignored completely. Time-wasters like web browsing or checking Facebook status updates have zero productive value.
Then get into bed 15 minutes earlier than you usually do. If theres a TV in your bedroom, throw the remote under the bed! Even the most boring show can trigger neuronal patterns in your brain that will keep you awake.
If you can, sleep in a completely dark room. I mean, like, pitch black. Pure darkness will seem weird at first, but your body will love you for it.
Your only job until morning is to breathe deeply and relax. Think about everything you are grateful for in your life. Let the tension of the day go; at this point there little or nothing you can do about it until morning anyway.
A magnesium supplement like Natural Calm can also help. So does a nice, easy stretching routine.
How much sleep is enough? It varies from person to person. Some people are just fine on 6 hours a night, while others cannot function on anything less than 9.
Getting enough sleep makes you more resilient to daily stressors, gives you more energy (duh), boosts athletic performance, improves mood, enhances memory and also helps slow down the aging process. So there you go.
Hate getting sick? Your immune system requires a lot of energy to run, so its at its most active while youre asleep (thats why you get sleepy when youre sick). So supercharge your body and start getting more sleep starting tonight!