So, two weeks ago I posted an article about making changes if you have an autoimmunity or an invisible illness. If you haven’t read it yet check it out here.
Maybe you’re ready to change, but where do you start? Over the next several weeks I will be releasing different things that you can start changing. Even small habit/lifestyle changes can make big impacts in your daily living. Below is our first topic to target:
Exposure to screens can disrupt the hormones that help regulate our sleep cycles. Melatonin, a major hormone responsible for preparing the body for sleep, is suppressed when exposed to screens. Consider limiting phones, tv, tablets, etc. before bed in order to improve sleep time and sleepiness at night. Even 30 minutes can make an impact, but 1-2 hours is more ideal.
This is part of the reason that screens suppress melatonin. Maybe you can’t totally give up screens before bed. So what do you do? You can turn on night mode or the color/nighttime mode in order to reduce exposure to the blue-violet light. This turns on a reddish-orange tint that can help prepare your body for sleep.
This is the opposite of blue-violet light. White light contains all colors of light, including blue light. If you switch out one or two light bulbs to use at night that are pure red light it can do wonders for helping you feel sleepy before bed. They’re super cheap on Amazon and it’s a really easy adjustment. All you have to do is flip a switch before bed and let the light do the work.
We sleep better when the room is cold. Your body starts to recover if your body temperature drops. If you’re hot, your body won’t rest. Your body also won’t rest if you’re too cold. The goal would be to sleep with the air between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. If you wake up sweating at night that’s not good. So unless you have a medical condition that causes night sweats think about making this adjustment to get more restful sleep.
I just spent 2 weeks in the Arctic Circle, in February, and it was very dark. This can have an affect on my hormones that influence my sleep (melatonin and cortisol being the two big players). Consider light alarm clocks or black out curtains in these situations. Our mood isn’t the only thing affected by light. You can also use eye masks while you sleep to block out light from street lamps or other lights that may disrupt your sleep.
Fans, air humidifier, white noise machines, anything that can create a dull noise can allow you to block out any sounds that may keep you awake – a noisy roommate, a snoring partner, a dog barking, birds chirping, a garbage truck, etc. Fans and air humidifiers have other purposes as well (temperature and air quality). Another way to block out annoying sounds are a simple purchase of ear plugs! These can be uncomfortable or fall out though, but it is a simple adjustment and small storage.
I live in California. Sunny and beautiful and mostly clean air, except when we have fires. This year we had some of the most destructive fires in the history of the state. The smoke drifted hundreds of miles and clogged the entire Bay. This made breathing extremely difficult. Thankfully we had an air purifier and an air humidifier to help with this. Our world is polluted. So, especially if you live somewhere with poor air quality, consider investing in something that helps not only your sleep quality, but the overall quality of your health.
When was the last time you evaluated your pillow?The shape of our neck should dictate the shape of our pillows. Firm, soft, and everything in between should depend on what’s comfortable. I actually switch based off of the stress I’ve had that specific week. Stress, airway, and head posture can all be related (see more below) and that can affect how your neck feels and looks and thus the pillow that will help your body relax.
- Airway: This is a really lengthy topic. There are lots of ways that your airway may be limited. If your airway has any limitations (nasal, oral, etc.) then it will affect how much air you can inhale, how much air you can exhale, the strain you need in order to breathe, neck and head posture, etc. Believe it or not, forward head posture may not only be from staring at a screen. Forward head posture can actually be related to the development and structure of your airway. If you have a limited airway then it will affect how your breathe when you sleep and an avalanche of other factors that affect your biochemistry, hormonal function, and quality of sleep. This may not be something you can change though, but it is something worth being evaluated. If you wake up feeling tired and not rested even when you sleep 8+ hours a night you should probably see a sleep specialist who understands the airway. Other people to consider finding are oral maxillofacial surgeons, ENT’s, airway focused dentists, myofunctional therapists, and airway focused physical therapists.
- Sleep apnea: Directly related to airway. When you have sleep apnea you literally stop breathing and your body jolts you awake to resume breathing. This puts stress on your cardiovascular system and your central nervous system. Addressing this is very important for sleep quality. If you wake up tired every morning you may want to dive deeper in to this. Even mild sleep apnea can have a significant impact on your quality of sleep. If you wake up multiple times throughout the night due to a stressful event like not breathing it can put a lot of stress on the system that the body doesn’t recover from. Something to consider as well is that simply addressing sleep apnea with a CPAP machine may not be enough. Check out this research paper. You might need to address the actual airway itself to breathe better instead of forcing air in to your ribcage. CPAP machines help you feel more rested, but it’s just masking the symptoms, it’s still not solving the issue of your limited airway.
- Nasal breathing: This again is related to the structure of your airway. If you have a deviated septum, a narrow nasal cavity, a blocked nasal cavity, etc. this can lead to mouth breathing. Mouth breathing can lead to dehydration, change in blood pH, change in heart rate, and can expose you to more infections/allergies that make you sick and can actually continue this loop of difficulty in breathing.
- Snoring: this is a sign of sleep apnea and lack of nasal breathing. If you snore consider seeing a sleep specialist to be further evaluated. This may tell you a lot about the structure of your airway and if you need to see a specialist about possible interventions (myofunctional therapy, orthodontistry, or oral maxillofacial surgery).
Meditation and Breathing
This may directly impact how quickly you fall asleep and the quality of sleep that you get. Getting your body ready for bed also means shutting your mind off from the day. When you are stressed out at work or because of the kids or because of the argument you got in to with your friend your mind and nervous system is a stressed, or it’s ready to fight state. This does not equate rest. This will make it harder to fall asleep even if you’re tired. You may not be able to fall asleep and you just lay in bed tossing and turning with your mind racing. Breathing and meditation are two ways to help your system relax and start the process of preparing to rest. If you’re interested in what specific breathing exercises to look in to I have several resources you may be interested in so leave a comment below and we can talk further.
Sleep duration and the time that you go to sleep seem really obvious and yet it’s one of the biggest things that people don’t change. Most people need more than the amount of sleep that he or she gets. So 6 hours of sleep really isn’t enough. Especially when you add in the fact that the sleep is interrupted and the quality is poor because she is breathing through her mouth and she had been staring at a screen for over 8 hours today at work and then 2 more hours once home. Even if you claim to be a night owl you do have the ability to change certain habits and go to bed at an earlier time. Think about going to bed earlier so you can actually get an appropriate amount of sleep. 8 hours of interrupted sleep are better than 5 hours of interrupted sleep so even if you can’t change anything else about your sleep you can at least give yourself more time to try and recover.
Keep an eye out for next week’s post in order to see what you can’t change about sleep. If you want specific advice on where you can improve your sleep hygiene let’s talk.
Also check out these resources on sleep:
Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
Lucy Hendrick’s has a really good article
Lance Goyke has a really good article