Are you awake more often than you would like, especially during these stressful times? Here are tips to help you decide if you're doing everything right to get your best night's sleep, as well as the latest on supplements for dreamland.
Make Sleep A Priority
Organizations have developed numerous sleep hygiene tips to help you slip into sleep and stay asleep. The National Sleep Foundation, for instance, recommends doing things like establishing a regular relaxing routine before bed, setting up a sleep-friendly environment so that the temperature is between 60 and 67 degrees and the room is dark, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, and getting regular aerobic exercise.
Although these strategies are certainly worth following, they won’t work unless you first shift your attitude about sleep. “You need to view sleep as an investment, not an expense,” says Michael Grandner, PhD, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson. “Just as you have to invest money to make money, you also have to invest in sleep, and though it might take time, it’ll pay off in the long run.”
That starts by realizing that bragging about sleeping too little is akin to boasting about eating five Big Macs in one sitting. Instead, schedule sleep in your to-do list, and make sure you’re aiming for at least seven hours.
“Although everybody has a different sleep need, most people need between seven and nine hours,” says Britney Blair, PsyD, CBSM, a California-based clinical psychologist and behavioral sleep medicine specialist.
Don't Force Sleep
You should also know that you can’t force yourself to go to sleep. For example, if you’re running a race or giving an important presentation the next day, telling yourself when you crawl into bed that you have to sleep will backfire. “Sleep isn’t something you do, but rather something that happens to you when the situation permits,” Grandner says. “If you try to force yourself to sleep when you’re not ready, you’ll then be up and drive yourself crazy trying to fall asleep.”
Instead, go to bed when you’re sleepy—you should fall asleep in fewer than 30 minutes, Brown says—and know that one bad night of sleep won’t kill you, even if you have a big event the next day. “It’s less about the sleep you got last night and more about the sleep you got in the last week or two,” Grandner says. In other words, if you’ve been maintaining good sleep overall, one or two nights of bad sleep won’t hurt you, which is why it helps to bank your sleep a week or two prior to important events.
Another comforting fact? Studies show that people rarely have two bad nights in a row, let alone three, meaning that you will eventually get a good night’s sleep, Grandner says. If, however, you’re having sleep problems at least three nights of the week for at least three months, you could have insomnia and should seek help from a sleep specialist.
You should also know that waking up several times during the night is normal. Good sleepers actually awaken five to eleven times, but because sleep has an amnestic property, you won’t remember most of them, Brown says. Unless, that is, you break a cardinal sin and see a clock face or a turned-on TV. “If your eye catches something of interest, you’ll wake up and won’t be able to fall right back to sleep,” he says. Worse, any worries you have will seem more terrible at night, namely because of the way your brain is hardwired, making you think less rationally and more emotionally. Give yourself permission to let go until the morning, when you’ll be able to rethink it.
But what if you wake up and can’t fall asleep? Get out of bed (it should only be used for sleep and sex anyway) and do something that makes you sleepy like reading or listening to soothing music, Grandner says. As soon as your eyelids get heavy, return to bed.
Just don’t rely on sleep medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription. Although they can help you sleep, especially in cases where you’re facing a short-term stressor, they’re not designed for long-term use; you can become dependent on them and so tolerant that you have to keep taking more, Blair says. Instead, two to four days is about the maximum you should use them.
Meanwhile, some supplements, including melatonin, could improve sleep naturally.
L-theanine for adult mind and rest
“Our findings suggest that L-theanine has the potential to promote mental health in the general population with stress-related ailments and cognitive impairments,” said doctors conducting this study of nine men and 21 women, average age 48. Participants had no major psychiatric illness, but were interested in reducing stress and improving sleep quality.
Over a four-week period, men and women took a placebo or 200 mg of L-theanine per day. Participants self-rated their symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sleep quality. Those taking L-theanine got to sleep sooner, woke up less during the night, and took less sleep medication, compared to placebo. Symptoms of depression and anxiety also improved more for L-theanine than placebo, as did verbal letter fluency; the ability to list words beginning with a specific letter. Doctors said L-theanine stimulates alpha brain waves for a relaxed but alert mental state. (Reference: Nutrients; 2019, Vol. 11, No. 10, 2362)
DHA for adolescent sleep
Adolescents often have trouble falling and staying asleep. In this study, doctors measured omega-3 levels in 405 girls and boys, average age 14, and monitored sleep through a wrist-mounted sensor for seven days.
As levels of DHA increased, length of time sleeping also increased, with kids with the highest DHA levels sleeping 32 minutes longer than kids with the lowest omega-3 levels. Higher DHA also helped kids get to sleep earlier on weekdays and weekends; 45 minutes earlier for those with the highest DHA levels.
Discussing the findings, doctors said adding DHA supplements along with maintaining regular bedtime routines could benefit sleep during adolescence. (Reference: Journal of Nutrition; 2019, nxz286, Published Online)
Ashwagandha improved sleep quality in adults: Mental alertness improved
Ashwagandha is an ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese remedy which medicine today considers an adaptogen. An adaptogen is a natural substance with anti-fatigue, nerve, and immune-supporting properties, which helps the body adapt to many types of stress.
In this study, 50 men and women, aged 65 to 80, who entered the study reporting low sleep quality and poor mental alertness on waking, took a placebo or 600 mg of ashwagandha per day, and periodically answered a variety of sleep and quality-of-life questionnaires.
Compared to placebo, participants taking ashwagandha began reporting improvements in sleep quality and better mental alertness on waking, beginning at four weeks and continuing through eight and 12 weeks.
Discussing the findings, doctors said, at the study dose of 600 mg per day, participants taking ashwagandha consistently reported improved quality of life, quality of sleep, and waking mental alertness, and that ashwagandha was well-tolerated and safe. (Reference: Cureus; 2020, Vol. 12, No. 2, e7083, Published Online)
Society’s views on sleep are starting to shift toward scientific realities, and you can be part of the change by making sleep a priority. Sleep when you die? Not anymore. You’d rather sleep to live.
BetsyHealth Note: This article is for educational purposes only. It is not designed to treat, prevent or cure any disease. Consult your healthcare provider before taking a supplement, especially if you have a medical condition, including being pregnant or nursing, or take prescription or over-the-counter medications. For example, herbs can be contraindicated with certain medications. Many supplements have an effect on blood clotting.
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Article copyright 2020 by Natural Insights for Well-Being and Alive Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.