Americans aren’t getting enough sleep, and it’s become such a large problem that in 2011 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began calling it an epidemic.
Most adults need to sleep 7 to 9 hours a night, according to The National Sleep Foundation. (The National Institutes of Health often cite 7 to 8.)
But 37% of Americans are sleeping fewer than seven hours a night on work nights.
And even if you are getting enough sleep in terms of hours, that doesn’t mean you’re getting the right kind of sleep.
As we enter the dead of winter, our bodies actually change their sleep habits.
Humans’ sleep and wake cycles are regulated by light. Light suppresses the production of melatonin by the brain’s pineal gland. Melatonin is responsible for telling our bodies when it’s time to go to bed.
As daylight fades, the pineal gland produces more melatonin, which causes you to feel sleepy. In the morning, the gland is instructed to stop producing this hormone, which aids in waking up.
You may feel more tired in the winter because there’s less daylight, resulting in more melatonin.
You may wake up when it’s still dark outside, before the pineal gland has been instructed to shut down. And it starts up again long before we’re actually ready to go to bed.
This means it’s even more important in the winter to make sure you’re getting quality sleep — meaning, you’re entering the deepest cycles of sleep without interruption.
Which is why I would like to share with you five simple ways you can implement today to improve your sleep.
1. Eliminate caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime.
We all know how effectively caffeine can wake us up and keep us awake, but most people underestimate the true power this chemical has.
In healthy adults, caffeine affects the nervous system on average of 5-6 hours. Even if you don’t physically feel the awakening buzz you normally associate with caffeine, your body still does. And it inhibits you from falling asleep and staying asleep.
2. Stick to a regular sleep schedule.
Your body has a natural circadian rhythm that dictates the optimal time your body needs to spend awake and asleep. When you’re constantly going to sleep and awakening at different times, it causes chaos on this circadian rhythm. This leaves you groggy and tired.
As an example, look at your weekend. When the weekends come around, most of us tend to stay up later and sleep in more. Our bodies do not like this cycle disruption.
This is why you may wake up groggy on the weekends and exhausted on Monday morning. It’s very important for your body that you stick to a routine of when you go to bed and wake up.
3. Limit electronic devices two hours prior to sleep.
As we talked about before, when the sun goes down, your body naturally begins to produce a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin is responsible for telling the body that it’s time to sleep, and it keeps us asleep throughout the night.
However, a certain wavelength of light known as "blue" light suppresses melatonin. Blue light is the type of light typically emitted by devices such as televisions, computer screens and cell phones.
So when the sun goes down at night and you’re still watching TV and/or sitting in front of your computer, you’re actually setting yourself up for a less than optimal night of sleep.
Related story: Cell Phone Radiation Could be Changing Your Brain
I understand completely that the idea of eliminating electronics when the sun goes down is close to impossible for most people and their families in the age we live in.
But limiting these technologies for an hour or two before bed can profoundly change the quality of your sleep.
4. Take Cold Showers at Night.
Your body temperature is a key factor in getting a good night’s sleep.
If you’re like many Americans, you take a shower before bed. When we take a warm shower close to bedtime, we raise our body temperature, which naturally falls around 10 p.m. You simply can’t get to sleep as easily if your body is too warm.
One study by researchers in Lille, a city in northeastern France, found that "subjects fell asleep faster and had a better overall quality of sleep following behaviors that cooled the body, such as taking a cold shower right before bed." [Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep]
Not only do cold showers help you get to sleep and stay asleep, they also provide many other incredible health benefits, including:
Healthy skin and hair
Decreased inflammation in the body
5. Sleep with your phone on airplane mode
Many of you probably use your cell phone as an alarm to wake up in the morning. But the mistake many of us make is not turning on airplane mode on our phone, thus leaving the wireless signal still active.
This wireless signal gives off an electromagnetic field, also known as EMF.
Related story: The Potentially Detrimental Effects of Wi-Fi
EMF cripples mitochondria, which are the power plants of every cell in the body, and promotes oxidative damage.
In addition, it entrains the brain up to and beyond an alert state. This move is to a more stressful-beta state, which makes it nearly impossible to achieve adequate delta-rhythm sleep.
Delta-rhythm is our deepest phase of sleep when the brain, heart, respiration and organ systems slow to a sufficient extent that there is excess ATP (the body’s universal energy) available to pool inside the cells and re-energize the body.
This pooled energy, upon reaching threshold, "triggers" physiological and neurological repair, hormone synthesis, immune function and memory consolidation.
Insufficient ATP pooling, however, equals insufficient nighttime repair, hormone production, memory consolidation and immune function.
So not only does this EMF exposure not allow us to reach our deepest phase of sleep, but it can negatively affect many other bodily functions.
In other words, feeling tired and foggy is only part of the aftermath of a poor night’s sleep.
All five of these simple ways to improve your sleep can be used tonight, with hardly any hassle at all. They are simple, but highly effective and can lead to a more efficient and optimally performing you.
I would love for you to try one or all of these yourself and let me know by sending us your feedback.
As always, happy and healthy investing.