Waking Up to the Science of Sleep

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It could be work stress, financial issues, or simply your body fighting against the urge to rest. Many of us are unable to sleep throughout the night. 

The Link Between Your Health and Sleep

Traditionally, health professionals have seen insomnia as a symptom of other health problems. Recently, research has shown sleep problems may raise the risk of health-related issues in the long-term. 

A lack of sleep is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and other chronic diseases

Recent research published by the American Diabetes Association found one week of sleeping for five hours or less per night can reduce insulin sensitivity in healthy men. 

Ever tried to work after having only a few hours of sleep? Then, you will recognize the severe impact sleep has on your cognitive performance. 

Our brains cannot function effectively without restful sleep. Data from the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators shows over 20% of car accidents in Canada result from sleep-deprived driving.

There’s a critical connection between restful sleep and a healthy mind and body.

So, what proactive changes can you make today to improve your rest?

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Stick to a Clear Schedule

It may feel as if you have to stream just one more episode of your favourite show. But what about the damage that extra half an hour is having on your sleep cycle? 

Setting a schedule means waking up and going to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends.

This consistency helps to re-enforce your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle and so that you build a steady circadian rhythm: You’re alert during the day and tired when it’s time to rest. 

If you find you cannot sleep within 20 minutes of going to bed, get up and enjoy a relaxing activity. Read a book or listen to a podcast in another room. 

Your body will eventually tire, and you can head back into the bedroom. 

Building this consistency helps improve your sleep patterns for the long-term.

Make Physical Activity Central to Your Daily Routine

Without physical activity, you’re unlikely to burn off the energy from the food you consumed throughout the day. You may feel wired before you go to bed. Not the ideal state to try to achieve restful sleep.

Creating a daily physical routine will help you both stay in peak condition and tire your muscles and brain for the night. 

However, try to avoid too much physical activity within an hour of your usual bedtime. Physical activity raises your cortisol levels, which stimulates your central nervous system and limits your ability to rest. 

Commit to Stress Management

There is no getting around it: Life in this world is stressful. As if a global pandemic isn’t enough of a worry, we also face rising housing costs, relationship issues, and our favourite sports teams just refuse to win. 

Take the time to analyze issues that are causing you stress. Consider how you can manage your current stress levels by removing stress-inducers. 

You might also look to activities such as yoga and mindful meditation. Look into your many options for stress management. A qualified health coach can be your guide. They can discuss your stresses with you and help you build effective strategies in response. 

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Build Your Ideal Sleep Space

The environment in which you sleep can play an instrumental role in your sleep quality. Start by removing all sources of light. No, you don’t have to throw your phone out the window each night. That could become expensive! Simply finish your text chats and shut down your YouTube videos. Then place your phone on a side table where you can’t see it. 

Use light-blocking window blinds if you find that streetlights are shining brightly into your bedroom. Try to block out as much sensory input as possible as you begin to rest. You can also try earplugs or an eye mask. 

The goal is to create an environment in which you’re comfortable, with no outside influences competing for your attention.

Limit Daytime Naps

You cannot catch up on lost sleep. Research published in Current Biology shows recovery sleep fails to undo the damage caused by days of going without effective rest. Try to avoid napping during the daytime, as this can disrupt your regular sleep cycle. If you feel the need to nap, try to limit your nap time to 30 minutes. 

Try to avoid taking a nap after 3 p.m., as this can severely impact your ability to get deep sleep during the night.

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Speak to Your Doctor About Sleep Apnea Symptoms

Sleep apnea or obstructed breathing is a common cause of sleep deprivation in adults.

It might be that your partner continually wakes you up because you’re snoring. Or you might find you wake up struggling to breathe. 

These are both key signs you may be experiencing an airway blockage. Speak to your primary care doctor about these signs. They can conduct tests on your airways to determine if you achieve sufficient airflow during sleep. 

Make Restful Sleep a Priority to Improve Your Health

Adopting these strategies now can help protect your mind and body against potential health issues in the future. 

Don’t wait to make this all-important change. Listen to your body and create the perfect environment for that all-important deep sleep.  

Even just one restful night can set the tone for many years of optimal health and comfort. 

References:

Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, “In Search of Sleep”, https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/in-search-of-sleep, June 2020, Accessed: July 19, 2021

Orfeu M. Buxton, “Sleep Restriction for 1 Week Reduces Insulin Sensitivity in Healthy Men, American Diabetes Association”, https://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/59/9/2126, Sept. 2010, Accessed: July 19, 2021

Highway Safety Roundtable, “Driver Fatigue: Falling Asleep at the Wheel”, Canada Safety Council, https://canadasafetycouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/newsletter-apr-2009.pdf, April 2009, Accessed: July 20, 2021

Depner, Christopher M., Melanson, Edward L., et al., “Ad libitum Weekend Recovery Sleep Fails to Prevent Metabolic Dysregulation during a Repeating Pattern of Insufficient Sleep and Weekend Recovery Sleep”, Current Biology, March 2019, Accessed: July 20, 2021

Johns Hopkins Medicine, “The Dangers of Uncontrolled Sleep Apnea”, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-dangers-of-uncontrolled-sleep-apnea, Accessed: July 20,2021

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