More Sleep and Less Stress for Optimal Health
Two commonly overlooked issues that contribute to health include sleep difficulties and excessive stress. In this article, you’ll discover why they are problems to take seriously. Fortunately, you’ll also find some easy tips and simple lifestyle strategies to minimize their impact on your life.
Part I: Sleep and Your Health
Out of each of our 24-hour days, we spent approximately one-third of it asleep.
You may think of sleep as a time for your brain to shut down for rest. However, sleep is really an active process rather than a passive one. While your metabolism goes down somewhat, no evidence suggests that major organs or systems in your body shut down while sleep.
On the contrary, many important processes take place during sleep. Processes such as healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels, muscle growth and repair, and even increased secretion of some hormones.
Research suggests that the quantity and quality of sleep greatly affects memory and learning. Each day, we access a massive amount of information. During sleep, bits of this information transfer from short-term memory to more long-term memory in a process known as consolidation.
Sleep Issues are Common
Despite its importance, the CDC warns that over 1/3 of adults in the U.S. fail to get enough sleep on a consistent basis.
A National Sleep Foundation poll discovered that 58% of American adults reported trouble sleeping within the past year.
The most common sleep issue is having difficulty falling asleep.
Other troubles include:
- Waking up early and having difficulty falling back asleep
- Waking up multiple times during the night
- Feeling unrefreshed when you wake up
Trouble sleeping is more commonly found in women than men. It also tends to get worse with age.
Effects of Too Little Sleep
Without an adequate quantity of quality sleep, we develop what some experts call a sleep debt.
Troubled sleep patterns can affect energy levels, judgment and concentration, and mood.
Sleep difficulties may also affect stress hormones and immune function, and contribute to an imbalance in the inflammatory response. Good sleep is necessary for healthy aging and lifespan.
So how much sleep do you really need?
According to the Mayo Clinic, adults require 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night for optimal health. And contrary to popular thought, older adults need just as much sleep as younger adults.
Sleep Strategies for Better Health
Here are some beneficial strategies health experts advise to help with difficulties falling or remaining asleep.
- Keep a consistent schedule for waking up and going to bed. This helps keep your circadian rhythm “internal clock” from being disrupted.
- Maintain a regular pre-bedtime ritual. Many people sleep better when they use a “winding down” pre-sleep routine. This could include gentle stretching, journaling, meditating, or using aromatic essential oils like lavender.
- Keep noise and light in your bedroom to a minimum. These environmental factors can disrupt sleep quality and quantity. Darkness signals your brain to emit melatonin, with a drowsy and calming effect. Reduce light from your phone, computer, TV, and all electronic devices.
- Create a comfortable space. Knowing that sleep occupies a third of your life, it’s a smart idea to invest in a high quality mattress. Keep your bedroom temperature to around 65 degrees for the best sleep.
- Limit caffeine consumption for eight hours before bedtime. And in general, you might want to stop drinking any fluids within a couple of hours of your bedtime.
- Limit daytime napping to 20 or 30 minutes to make sure it doesn’t interfere with your sleep cycle.
- Check out snoring issues with your doctor.
- Consider taking melatonin or other sleep-supporting supplements. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate your sleep cycle. Since it promotes calm and relaxation, people with trouble sleeping or even jet lag may benefit. Melatonin is considered safe at the correct dose. However, check with your physician first as it can interfere with some medications.
Part II: The Importance of Dealing With Stress
Our bodies have developed specific responses to stress as a way to protect us from dangerous situations. When a car comes out of nowhere as you’re crossing the street, you must be able to spring into action in order to avoid the danger.
During this response, the adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol hormones to elevate heart rate and get blood flowing to allow us to escape. This known as the “fight-or-flight” response.
Unfortunately, today many of us are under a continuous state of stress. Money worries, career pressures, family responsibilities, and so many other issues conspire and add to our “stress account.” This keep our stress levels elevated.
Stress and Health
When stress levels remain elevated, the body continues to produce stress hormones, affecting your heart rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
Stress also impacts your immune system, cardiovascular health, and can create issues with inflammatory balance.
Helpful Natural Remedies to Manage Stress
Fortunately, you can find many simple and natural lifestyle strategies to help manage stress in your life. Here are some of them:
- Remain active. Develop a routine including some activity most days of the week. Exercise not only helps with stress and mood, but can also enhances overall health.
- Eat stress-mending foods. Some foods linked to stress reduction include blueberries, spinach, bananas, broccoli, fish, oranges, and walnuts.
- Minimize alcohol and stop smoking. Substances such as these can exacerbate stress.
- Avoid or minimize consumption of coffee or other caffeinated beverages.
- Learn some simple relaxation techniques, activities such as visualization, meditation, or yoga.
- Consult with a counselor or other professional. If stress is becoming unmanageable, seek out a counselor, psychologist, or advisor.
- Start keeping a journal. Writing things down can help point out issues leading to excessive stress.
- Take advantage of 5-minute stress relief breaks throughout the day. Stress accumulates throughout the day, so mini-breaks can help.
- Consider nutritional supplements containing ingredients that help with stress. For example, the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha supports healthy cortisone levels.
Note: This article is not intended to offer medical advice. Consult with your health care provider for more specific information.