Sleep is a crucial component of a happy & healthy life. During the day, our bodies are focused on getting calories and making energy for us to move, work and stay alive. During the nightly sleep cycle, our body relaxes, repairs itself and gets ready for the next day. If we don’t sleep enough, our body can’t repair its muscles, maintain memory function and release the hormones we need for healthy functioning. Most people need between 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night, but according to the National Sleep foundation (NSF), a majority of Americans report having sleep problems at least a few nights per week.
Why Modern People Have So Many Sleep Problems
Our bodies evolved to live in harmony with the sun and moon – long before electric lights were invented. We are genetically encoded to awaken with first lights of the morning sun and to ‘wind down’ and relax in the evening when it used to be too dark to safely walk around. “The nerves in our eyes detect levels of light and send them to a ‘biological clock’ in our brain called the SCN, which regulates a sleep-wake cycle called the circadian rhythm,” says Dr. Bomi Joseph, a consultant to the Peak Health Center in California. The levels of light are measured against other cues such as temperature and social activity that suggest what time of day it is and how the body should adjust its functions accordingly.
For most of human history, we were active all day and did very little at night. Electricity did not become common in homes until the 1930s. Then, for the first time in history, electricity encouraged people to stay up and do social & physical activities long after dark. In the 1940s, TV became a way of life and people stayed up late, starting into a screen that sent blue light into their eyes – telling their brain it was daytime and to ‘wake up.’ Processed foods made it easy to have a snack anytime without cooking: eating at night signals to the body that it needs to make energy. In addition, modern people spend more time lonely and stressed out by technology than in previous generations.
A lifestyle that revolves around electric lights, TVs, computers, social media, smartphones, snacking, alcohol, and socializing late at night creates inflammation and it throws off the biological clock. That’s why we have so many sleep problems in the 2020s.
Spend time outside as Much as Possible
Our biological clock is reset when it is exposed to light early in the morning. It also “expects” exposure to bright natural light for several hours per day. Most modern people spend too much time indoors and barely get sun except in brief bursts, which confuses the circadian rhythm. You’ll sleep best when you are outside for at least 6 hours per day, so go for walks, read or work outside on the patio, and spend as much time in nature as possible.
Limit Exposure to Blue Light at Night
“Blue” light, which is emitted by most screens and bulbs, signals to your brain that it’s daytime and makes it hard to sleep at night. Install blackout curtains in your bedroom. Make your house lights as dim as possible after dinner. Install blue light blocking on your computer screens and phones. Turn off screens and listen to calming music after 9pm to ‘unwind’ your body. Relaxation is a natural prerequisite for sleep.
Eat & Exercise Early in the Day
Exercise increases your metabolism and “fires you up” – so all exercise should be done early in the day, no later than 6pm. Digestion stimulates the biological processes and makes energy, so you should try to consume nothing but water for at least 4 hours before bed. “Alcohol can help you fall asleep but it ultimately causes sleep disturbances, particularly later into the night. Alcohol consumption is not healthy or safe at any level,” says Dr. Bomi Joseph.
Eat Sufficient Calories but Not Too Many Carbs
During the day, a metabolic waste product called adenosine slowly builds up and reaches peak levels late in the evenings, when it makes you feel sleepy. You need to eat sufficient calories to let adenosine levels build up. But it’s important to eat for balanced blood sugar – which means eating a good combination of proteins, fats and leafy green vegetables without excessive carbohydrates. According to Dr. Bomi Joseph, too many carbohydrates causes blood sugar swings, and ‘low blood sugar’ is the most common reason for awakening in the middle of the night.
A lot of insomnia is caused by high levels of inflammation that disrupt neurotransmitter levels. The easiest way for many people to lower levels of inflammation is simply to avoid eating wheat and dairy, because they are two of the most common food allergens. Avoid smoking and alcohol, hydrogenated oils and artificial flavors, colorings & sweeteners.
Following the above suggestions will help you get better sleep, naturally! Better sleep means better concentration, better moods, better physique, better health and a better life. You are worth it, so make the lifestyle changes necessary to make a better night’s sleep a reality.