To operate at top energy and efficiency, getting a good night’s sleep—7 to 9 hours of “restorative sleep” waking up feeling rested and refreshed—is essential.
The body is self-healing, self-repairing and self-detoxifying, but only if it gets enough rest and sleep. Because all this healing, repairing and detoxifying work is done when the body is at rest.
That’s why sleep deprivation leads to negative consequences of being in a bad mood; overeating and eating the wrong foods high in starch, sugar and fat; depressed immunity; and looking years older. And why chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of all kinds of chronic disease.
Yet, government statistics show that more than ⅓ of American adults habitually get less than 7 hours of sleep a night (7-9 hours is considered healthy).
And even those who are getting enough sleep may not be getting good quality sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation, this means falling asleep within 30 minutes of getting into bed, sleeping through the night (or waking up no more than once), falling back asleep within 20 minutes if you do wake up, and waking up in the morning feeling rested, restored and energized.
So how can you get enough good quality sleep?
It starts during the day.
Our circadian rhythms, a collection of interrelated internal biological clocks that govern the release of various hormones and neurotransmitters having to do with waking and sleeping, are governed by light and darkness. Bright sunlight tells us to wake up and stimulates activity and alertness, aligning us with our body’s natural rhythms of activity during the day and getting sleepy as day turns to night.
Exercise, especially outdoors, reinforces these natural rhythms.
Staying away from stimulants, especially later in the day and evening, makes it easier to relax at night.
Since inflammation is associated with anxiety, an enemy of sleep, it makes sense that an anti-inflammatory diet, like the Mediterranean diet, high in fruits and vegetables and healthy oils like olive oil, is best for getting good sleep. At least one study found that women who ate the most fruits and vegetables were more likely to get optimal amounts of sleep. To make it easier to get to sleep, have a lighter evening meal and wait at least three hours before going to bed.
As bedtime approaches, a nighttime ritual helps to start shifting away from the cares of the day and winding down. A consistent sleep schedule along with the repetition of nightly rituals reinforces body cues that become stronger over time.
Darkness encourages the production of melatonin, the hormone that causes sleepiness, so it helps to turn off bright lights, and create an atmosphere of soft light for an hour or more before bed. Most importantly, turn off sources of blue light, like computer and TV screens. If you must use your computer or watch TV, choose comforting content and use blue-light blocking glasses.
You might begin your evening ritual with a short meditation reviewing the events of the day. You could then make note of any unfinished business to be set aside and dealt with tomorrow, acknowledging that your only responsibility now is to release them and welcome the balm of sleep. You might list things you’re grateful for, or things you’ve done during the day you’re proud of, forgiving yourself for anything you’re not proud of and giving yourself permission to start new and fresh the following day.
Supplemental melatonin a half-hour before going to bed can be helpful if your circadian rhythms have gotten out of whack. Then pick a bedtime and wake-up time with 7.5 hours in between and follow it consistently, moving incrementally closer to your ideal bed and wake-up times.
Another very radical approach is chronotherapy, in which you force yourself, often in a treatment setting, to stay awake 3 hours more each day until you arrive at your desired bedtime. A more appealing option: spending a week hiking and camping in the wilderness.
Trouble falling asleep? Try Belleruth Naparstek’s Healthful Sleep, a self-hypnosis CD that gently guides you in using deep breathing to release physical tension and discomfort; then to release thoughts; and finally to release any bothersome feelings, so you can drift off to sleep.
Or, if your mind refuses to turn off, try tapping and breathing with drummer Jim Donovan.
Your bedroom should be completely dark, quiet or using white noise to block sound, and not too warm; your bedding inviting and comfortable.
If all of the above, which can be categorized as general “sleep hygiene” doesn’t lead to both the quantity and quality of sleep you desire, it would be worthwhile to consult a sleep expert at a local sleep clinic. There are various treatable health issues that could be responsible.
- Some people need more than 7-9 hours a night. Known scientifically as “long sleepers,” these people feel best getting 10-13 hours of sleep a night. See Moawad H, MD. Overview of Hypersomnia & Hypersomnolence: Is it normal if you need to sleep all the time? Verywellhealth.com, Updated March 3, 2020.
- Sleep and Sleep Disorders. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Population Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last Reviewed May 2, 2017.
- Suni E. How to determine poor sleep quality. The Sleep Foundation. March 11, 2022.
- Peters B, MD. How Circadian Rhythms Impact Sleep: The Sleep-Wake Cycle & Its Role in Health, Verywellhealth.com. Updated March 11, 2020.
- David Hansom MD. Solving chronic pain and anxiety with Dr. David Hanscom. Welcometohumanity.net. Downloaded March 31. 2022.
- Noorwalli EA. Recommended sleep duration associated with higher consumption of fruits and vegetables: cross-sectional and prospective analyses from the UK Women’s Cohort Study. Sleep Science and Practice. December 2018;2(13). Open Access.
- Zerbini G. Strategies to decrease social jetlag: Reducing evening blue light advances sleep and melatonin. European Journal of Neuroscience. 2020;51(12):2355-2366.
- Ryan T. The best essential oils for sleep. The Sleep Foundation. March 11, 2022.
- Ryan T. The best tea for sleep. The Sleep Foundation. March 11, 2022.
- Peters B, MD. Chronotherapy for Treatment of Insomnia. Verywellhealth.com. Updated June 30, 2021.
- BH Staff. Nature and Sleep. Beyond Health Blog. July 16, 2017.
- Naparstek B. Healthful Sleep: a Guided Imagery CD. Healthjourneys.com.
- Donovan J. How to trick your brain into falling asleep. YouTube. September 8, 2020.