I wanted to follow up my progress on my quest for improving quality and quantity of my sleep. I wrote a post about the importance of sleep back on June 17, 2017. To read it click here. Food/nutrition followed by exercise typically get all the attention when it comes to healthy living and maintaining a healthy, lean body but you can forget all of that if you are not sleeping well.
For starters, I will briefly discuss a book I recently finished, Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker, PhD. I found this book absolutely fascinating. Walker is a PhD sleep researcher with many years of experience of both researching and performing clinical studies all revolving around sleep and its effect on humans. This book was well written and although it was fairly scientific and nerdy it was a fairly “easy” read as Walker kept it entertaining and had plenty of humor. This book really dives into the “nitty-gritty” of WHY we need good, quality sleep and explained the multiple risks and health conditions individuals set him or herself up for if they do not get good sleep on a regular basis. To sum it up, poor sleep quality and/or quantity put you at risk or is correlated with increased risk for pretty much every disease out there: cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease/dementia, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, so on and so forth. He also really focuses on the danger of driving or performing other tasks requiring while sleep deprived and how extreme sleep deprivation can mimic alcohol drunkenness (sometimes worse). An interesting point he made is that teenagers are wired to go to bed late and sleep in longer and our societies schedule of early start times for teens is really working against them when it comes to brain development and learning. I think we all inherently knew this but it carries more weight when it comes with evidence basis and when presented by a PhD researcher. If you are into scientific reads and like to know all the details I highly recommend this book. If you just want to know the basics and what you need to do or don’t do then just read blog posts from nerds like me who read the books!
My sleep journey:
Over the past year or so I have focused more on obtaining better quality and quantity of sleep. Overall I’ve done well, averaging 7-7.5 hours of sleep most nights and some nights getting 8+ hours of solid sleep. It hasn’t been without its ups and downs though. I have realized just how sensitive I am when I eat something I don’t typically eat, such as pizza or a heavy meal at a restaurant, and how this typically negatively affects my sleep. I get the same effect if I drink any alcohol, especially red wine. When I do drink, which is infrequent, it is rarely more than 1 or 2 drinks but that is enough to mess my sleep up (Why We Sleep confirms just how detrimental ANY alcohol is to sleep QUALITY). Heavy food and/or alcohol makes my heart race, my body uncomfortably warm, restlessness and causes overall insomnia which sets me up for a very bad following day! So what am I doing about it? I’m avoiding heavy food and very rarely consuming any alcohol. If I do have alcohol my go-to drink is Tito’s in LaCroix or some other naturally flavored carbonated water and I have one drink max and try and have it no later than 2-3 hours before bed to minimize the disruption of my sleep. I have also cut out any caffeine after noon as this oftentimes negatively impacts my sleep creating restlessness and difficulty falling asleep. In addition to avoiding substances that mess up sleep, back in December I received a hand-me-down Fitbit Flex I’ve been using to track sleep. It’s not super sophisticated but it’s been helpful and monitoring trends. Overall, I’ve done great this year with sleep but then Daylight Saving happened….
Although Daylight Saving is known to disrupt sleep, I had never experienced any significant effect of this until this year. For several days following the “spring forward” effect, my sleep was MESSED UP! I was falling asleep fine for the most part but would wake up around 3 am and would have a heck of a time going back to sleep. This happened for several days and I felt like absolute garbage. Thankfully, this has mostly resolved although a couple of nights this last week I awakened around 3 am but was able to fall back asleep fairly easily. I’m hoping this completely goes away soon.
Other habits include trying to keep the same bed and wake times every day as able (around 9:30 pm to bed and awake 5-5:30 am). As I mentioned I am tracking sleep with my Fitbit Flex. I also am trying out a free sleep app called “Sleep Cycle” which provides more details than the Fitbit. Another huge important aspect to good sleep is obtaining as much exposure to sunlight as possible which helps regular circadian rhythm. As the weather warms (which seems hopeless at this point since it snowed like 3 inches last night!) I will try and get outside more for leisurely walks, bike rides, baseball practice or to play with my kids. I avoid any bright lights or blue lights from smart phones or other devices within 2 hours of bedtime as this can decrease melatonin release. I try and relax leading up to bedtime which involves sitting with my family and/or reading or something like that.
The take home point is that good sleep is vital for good health, both immediate and long-term. If you are not sleeping well, then all the healthy eating and exercise may not really matter all that much as you will still be at increased risk for developing chronic diseases. Quality sleep is quickly climbing to the top of my list, or maybe tied with nutrition, as the most important thing we can do for lifelong health and prevention of acute and chronic disease.