We all know that quality sleep is essential for health. Sleep is the prime time for our bodies to clean house, repair, rejuvenate, and even burn fat. When was the last time you popped out of bed feeling rejuvenated? Whether it is getting to sleep or staying asleep, millions of Americans toss and turn at night. Here are some key steps to improve sleep quality. Begin today and start getting better sleep in as little as 7 days!
Step 1 – Set a Consistent Bedtime
Adults on average need 7-8 hours of sleep each night. So, if you want to get up at 6:00AM, then you should be in bed with lights out by 10:00 to 10:30 PM. In healthy adults, it takes 5-15 minutes to fall asleep. If it takes you longer to fall asleep, then you need to work on your wind-down or relaxation routine and sleep hygiene. Take a look at some of these factors as discussed below.
A consistent bedtime is a fundamental concept. Parents set a consistent bedtime for their young children to establish a routine and external structure. This routine and consistent bedtime, however, changes with teenagers, college and older individuals with work demands, social schedules, and free will. A consistent bedtime schedule often gets bent out of shape with shorter sleep times during the work week and then catch-up sleep or late nights on the weekends. Think about your track record over the previous months and even years. An occasional departure from the consistent bedtime is not a major concern for most individuals. Rather, the concern is being consistently off schedule which wreaks havoc with our internal clocks.
Our bodies can certainly be flexible with sleep-wake schedules. There is no doubt about that, but in the last century with the globalization of electricity and now 24/7 schedules, the consistent bedtime that parallels the natural day-night circadian rhythm is challenged in no small way. Ultimately, quality restorative sleep is challenged. Regular schedules and consistent bedtimes in conjunction with day-night/light-dark circadian rhythms are at the core of healthy physiology, body clocks, restorative sleep and waking refreshed.
Understanding Your Master Clock
Humans and other mammals have a master clock set deep within the brain’s hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN, a control switch of 20,000 nerve cells, responds to light and dark signals in our environment through our eyes and retina. Its task is to coordinate body rhythms across the entire body and relies on the cues from day-night/light-dark signals. It sets a consistent rhythmic tone in the body.
The result of this rhythmic beat influences clocks in the rest of the body. Body rhythms and body clocks, also known as chronobiology, regulate numerous processes. Cortisol levels that wake us up in the morning, thyroid hormone rhythms, AMPK master enzyme switches that turn on metabolic fat burning, immune cells, gut motility and digestion, liver detoxification, and even the normal clean-up time in the brain known as glymphatics all rely on the internal clocks and synchronization. Every single cell in the body has a clock. These body clocks rely on the SCN and the day-night cycle.
If we break this pattern, grogginess, fatigue, brain fog, changes in appetite and food cravings, changes in bowel habits, mental acuity, memory, physical stamina, thyroid hormone release, adrenal cortisol rhythms, neurotransmitter release, leptin, AMPK fat burning enzymes, detoxification, etc. become challenged and out of sync. The more that we can follow a consistent sleep-wake schedule that follows the natural day-night schedule, the more in sync our body clocks will be. This is fundamental for great sleep and all of our cellular function.
Step 2 – Limit Electronics and Blue Light 2-3 Hours Before Bedtime
Your master clock relies on light-dark signals in the environment. So, in addition to the consistent bedtime schedule, we must address light-dark signals. Today’s environment and technology provides more interruption and challenge to natural light-dark signals than any other time in the history of mankind. Temptation to stay up and do computer work, watch movies or TV may seem acceptable relaxing activities but the lights affect the nervous system.
Sleeping with a night light, street lights filtering in the bedroom, and bright alarm clocks are common intrusions in the bedroom that affect the master clock. Bright LED light and especially blue light tell your brain that it is daytime and interfere with the natural release of the sleep hormone melatonin. Light exposure also awakens sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight/excitatory) and causes a release of glutamate, a wakeful, stimulatory neurotransmitter.
This may be a tough one, but it’s important to avoid the use of electronics at least two hours before your bedtime. Many experts recommend stopping use of devices with LED lights like computers, smart phones, iPads, and TV even three hours before bed because of their light exposure intensity.
EMF or electromagnetic fields from these devices or wireless and wired technology can also disrupt sleep as it impacts melatonin and increases free radical stress in the brain. EMFs create other concerns and are now considered a ‘po