Which of these situations have happened to you?

  • Tuning out at an important client meeting despite efforts to stay focused.
  • Begging off from Friday night out with friends three weeks in a row because of tiredness.
  • Midday lethargy that improves slightly after taking a cup of coffee.
  • Your spouse or children complain that you’re not listening.
  • Dozing off halfway through a movie.
  • Getting breathless soon after you start exercise.
  • You’ve got dark circles under your eyes no amount of concealer can get rid of.

Ticking off even just one of the above could indicate problems with sleep.  The good news is you don’t need to spend a fortune to get high-quality sleep.

It’s much more than just your body going on “sleep” mode.

In the book, “Fit for Life II: Living Health,” authors Harvey and Marilyn Diamond list sleep as the fourth element of health after air, water, and food. Our busy lifestyles produce more things to do in a day and we often sacrifice sleep. We assume shaving off a few hours from something we spend a third of our day doing wont hurt.  But It will!

Energy is what keeps us functioning and we use it up every day.  When we ran out of energy, we are in a state of enervation.  Sleep is when the body regenerates energy even as  other  important processes are also taking place – tissue repair, healing, cell replacements, and moving waste for elimination. When you limit sleep, you stop your body’s natural energy-recharging mechanism.  You don’t think twice about working on your presentation until 2 a.m, a mere few hours before you leave for a business trip.  But that’s no different from packing your laptop and leaving the charger! You’ll be running on empty.

There’s no such thing as oversleeping.

How much sleep is enough? Enough is when the body has reloaded on lost energy and completed the other processes mentioned above.  Depending on the day’s energy expenditure and the quality of sleep, some people manage well with 6 hours while others absolutely need 10.  Ideally (when we don’t allow energy drinks and artificial stimulants to interfere) we sleep when we get tired.  And when the body is ready, we then naturally wake up.  There’s no such thing as oversleeping because your body simply claims the sleep it needs. It warns you when your energy levels are low. Don’t “dismiss” the message – like you would on your cell phone.

Quality over quantity: Make every sleeping minute count.

So you’ve set your alarm, switched off the lights, and are looking forward to a restful sleep.  Two hours later, you’re still staring at the ceiling while your mind replays the day’s scenes or tomorrow’s list of To-Do’s.  When that happens to me, I know the culprit is afternoon coffee, a cola drink, or chocolate and I kick myself for forgetting!

Here are other factors that affect good quality sleep.

Food:

Caffeine may not affect other people’s sleep quality, but a heavy dinner will.  Eating a lot at dinner, especially when meat is part of the menu, requires increased energy expenditure for digestion.  Harvey and Marilyn Diamond ascribe to food combining and following the body’s circadian rhythm.  To be in rhythm, don’t eat beyond 8:00 p.m. or at the very least, not within two hours of sleeping.  Otherwise, the food is poorly digested because of dwindling energy.  It’s like downloading a huge file on Torrent with just 5% of battery life.

Air:

During sleep, the assimilation process – absorbing nutrients from digested food – also takes place. Oxygen from fresh air is needed and greatly aids the process.  We know from 4th grade Biology class that humans inhale beneficial oxygen and exhale harmful (to humans) carbon dioxide. If you sleep in an enclosed room, you are breathing stale air so don’t be surprised if you wake up tired.  And the more people you share that enclosed room with, the more stale air (carbon dioxide) you breathe in.  Open your window to allow fresh air in.   Turn off your air conditioning.  Consider a small portable fan placed a comfortable distance from you.  You save on energy plus its soft whirring sound can lull you to sleep.

Bright lights:

When nighttime and darkness comes, the body naturally produces  the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin.  Light affects your body’s ability to produce melatonin. During winter season when the nights are longer, the body produces melatonin earlier in the night. Conversely, bright lights filtering into your bedroom will slow down your body’s production of melatonin.  Put on a sleep mask or tie a scarf around your eye area to simulate darkness necessary to get quality sleep.  This works well too when you need a quick cat nap during the day.

Electromagnetic Field (EMF)  Exposure:

EMF is an invisible area of energy that surrounds wiring and electric devices. Joseph Mercola, alternative medicine and osteopathic doctor, explains the EMF components.

Electric field is created by voltage or the force which pushes the electricity through wires.  Electric fields can be shielded physically by walls or other barriers.

Magnetic field is created by the current or amount of electricity being pushed and is concerning because it can travel through barriers over long distances and is hard to block.

EMF exposure comes from cell phones, computers and wireless internet, non-corded portable phones, electric alarm clocks, lamps and wiring, among others.  Dr. Mercola’s advice: Turn off everything electrical in your sleeping area, including WI-FI (modems/routers), cell phones, and portable phones.  Position your head at least 3-to-6 feet from electrical outlets.

Exercise:

The National Sleep Foundation “2013 Sleep in America Poll” surveyed 1000 adults, between the ages of 23 and 60.  Major findings showed:

  • Self-described exercisers report better sleep.
  • Vigorous exercisers report the best sleep.
  • Non-exercisers are more sleepy at daytime.
  • Exercise at any time of day appears good for sleep.
  • Less time sitting is associated with better sleep and health.

This is the first poll result that shows spending too much time sitting might negatively affect sleep quality.

The bi-directional relationship between sleep and exercise was the subject of researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.  The effect of sleep on exercise was immediate, with subjects managing only short exercise sessions after sleeping poorly.

Aerobic exercise (20-30 minutes) improves sleep quality but try not to exercise within two hours of bedtime.  And it’s best to skip exercise if you slept poorly the previous night.

More Good-Snooze Tips:

Clinical psychologist and sleep expert Michael Breus, PhD offers realistic, practical advice:

  • Take your highest caffeine content beverage in the morning and taper through the day. Starting at 2 p.m, switch to fruit juice or water.
  • Try not to use the bedroom except for sleeping and intimacy to gain “stimulus control” that associates the bedroom with sleep.  If you need to read in bed, use a book light to avoid direct light in eyes.
  • Sleep at the same time every night so your body gets into a rhythm.
  • Practice Jacobsonian muscle relaxation techniques – tensing and relaxing muscle groups.

If you think it’s a hassle to work at getting enough quality sleep, revisit the situations listed at the start of this article.  Are you willing to sacrifice your health, relationships, and career due to a weakened  immune system, impaired mental alertness, and irritability or inattention?  Getting a good night’s sleep is natural, expense-free protection against challenges thrown your way.  When you sleep like a baby, you can make child’s play of work-life stress. The bonus: clear, bright eyes – no dark circles, no puffiness, and no concealer necessary.

Featured photo credit: kakisky via morguefile.com

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