We all love the stuff, we all do it everyday not matter how old or young we are, and it is vital for our health. This magical stuff that I’m talking about is sleep. Getting a good nights rest is my focus here.
However, here’s the problem most people have: “how do you get a better nights sleep?”. Maybe you think that you are suffering sleep deprivation like an insomnia? Is it pain somewhere in your body that is keeping you awake at night? These are some common questions around sleep hygiene. That is why in todays post I want to address questions like: how much sleep is too much or too little, why exactly do humans need to sleep, how sleep is liked into our pain levels, and lastly, 5 top tips to try get you to fall asleep tonight.
We have all asked the question at some stage: “How much sleep do we need?”
Sleep is a natural activity for all mammals, including us humans. We all need to do it on a daily basis or else we start getting very sick.
Did you know that a rat that has been sleep deprived after just two weeks will die. Falling asleep everyday is that important for your survival on this earth.
Now you know we need to to go to bed everyday to keep our bodies alive. The next most common question next is: “How many hours do you actually need to sleep for?”.
The answer to that according to Professor Jim Horne, director of Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University, the is: 7 – 7.5 hours. Seven to seven and half hours sleep per night is the normal average for most humans living in Western civilizations. This is different to the minimum amount of sleep we need in 24 hours cycle which is for 5 hours.
Our Natural Sleep Cycle
In the following video is TED talk presenter, Jesse Gamble. Jesse explains to the audience in venue in Oxford, England how our chemical sleep clocks are influenced by the light and darkness. This talk is all about explaining our natural body clocks and ideal sleep circadians. Jesse tells how some feel so awake during the daytime.
Benefits of Sleep
The biggest benefit is staying alive, but here are two more big reasons why you need turn out the lights each night.
- Your brain must rest. It is very important to help the frontal lobe cortex of our brains to rest. Being restful, but still awake does not have the same effect as going through your sleep cycles. This frontal lobe cortex is the area of our brain that provides us our thinking and behaviour.Even the deep sleep centre’s in the brain tissue do not completely rest when we are asleep. It is not fully understood why the frontal lobe cortex needs sleep to recover at this point in time.
- A good nights rest can help improve pain levels. People who have chronic pain, like fibromylagia, tend to have poor sleeping patterns. The treatment of pain
can includeand should look at how to get better quality sleep.Something I learnt from spending time with pain specialists was that we need to have a good nights’ sleep in order to get a hormone called serotonin released. We produce serotonin naturally at around 1 – 3am in the middle of the night. Have you ever found yourself awake at night around this time? Lots of people in pain wake up in the middle of the night around this time which is such a pity for helping the healing process in the body.This could be why neuropathic pain medication options include anti-depressants, like amitryptyline, to help you stay in a sleep cycle.
I mentioned chronic pain, but I find that sleep is vital even for patients in an acute episode of pain. A great example is the case when a patient is in agony from a trapped nerve pain. If you cannot fall asleep then it just makes this pinched nerve pain feel even worse than it should. That will end up making you very negative, grumpy an uncomfortable during the day with family, friends and co-workers in the office.
5 Tips to Help You Fall Asleep Easily
Here are my 5 basic tips to help you find some zzz’s and drift away into pleasant dreams tonight:
- Turn it Off – Don’t stimulate yourself TV, internet, video games, emails all stimulate your brain to be awake. Try avoid them for 1 hour before bed. If watch TV or use my mobile phone or iPad then my wife and I wear specific amber lenses to help our brains still produce melatonin to keep my circadian cycles healthy. See the best blue light blocking glasses to choose from.
- No Tea/Coffee – This another form of stimulation, that can crank up your adrenal glands to keep you awake for too long and make you anxious and jittery.
- Rest Your Mind – Easier said then done I know. Maybe try mindfulness training to stop all the thoughts in your head.
- Have a Warm Bath/Shower – Heat is a great muscle relaxant that also helps to calms your mind.
- Light Exercise – Try 20 – 30 minutes of light walking or cycling after a days work. This is to help you to release stress feelings, improve your circulation all over your body and to make you a little physically tired for the evening.
Extra Bonus Tip: Have you tried out a sleep tracker app on your iPhone or Android smartphone yet? Health apps can be a great way to try measure your personal sleep behaviour to help you fine tune your best sleeping habits. I recommend using the Sleep Cycle App? You should read the chapter on improving sleep in the Four Hour Body book by biohacker Tim Ferriss. There is even more helpful tips in his book.
Most people reading this website have back or neck pain. Patients always ask me what is the best position to fall asleep in. There are different ways which I’ll show you. However, the reality is anyway that lets you close your eyes and turn off is the best way.
- Back Sleeper: I’d recommend sleeping on your back if you have either a lower back or neck issue. If you have a pain from a disc herniation or bulge in the lumbar spine then the hook laying position helps. Here you place a pillow or cushion underneath the knees to create a slight bend.
If the cervical spine is where you problem is then having the pillow(s) slightly further down so they support the base of your neck helps. You’ll need to play with the angle of the neck with either 1 or 2 pillows. I’d recommend trying out a memory foam pillow for support.
- Side Sleeper: If you like to turn onto your left or right side in bed there are two positions for you to try. The fetal position with your knees tucked in and on top of each other. This helps to flex the lower back which can feel good with a simple back strain.
Some like to have the duvet or another pillow between the knees to help the SI joints in the pelvis to be at a better angle. Most pregnant women like to sleep with a curved pregnancy pillow.
The other position is a recovery position. You rest with a pillow tucked into the top of the shoulder with you laying more on the bottom shoulder blade then with the spine more straight and the top leg bent over at 90 degress and the bottom leg straight. The recovery position is actually how we learn how to roll as a 6 month old baby. I think resting like this helps to sooth our natural body movement patterns. You could try add a pillow to support the knee of the top leg.
- Tummy Sleeper: Some say never turn onto your stomach in bed. I say if that makes you go through all the phases of sleep and takes you into deep sleep then you are going to do it anyway. If you have neck arthritis you naturally won’t like this position. Some people with sensitive lumbar facet joints also can’t handle prolonged time with the lower back arching in too much. The best pillow for a tummy sleeper is a thin one so you can tuck an arm underneath to support your head that is turned to the side.
The Bottom Line
I really do hope either the 5 tips to better sleep or the technology apps like a sleep tracker help you get a better nights sleep tonight. I really do believe this is one part of your health you have to work on like exercise or nutrition to try get rid of and control any pain levels in your body. Remember “Sleep Time is Heal Time”. What helps you fall asleep? Why not leave a comment below.Image Credit: Some rights reserved by by Janine