Quality sleep is essential to look and feel ten years younger. You need rest to start fresh each day, but for many, a good night’s sleep is elusive. Our worries over jobs, bills, families, and relationships conspire to make us suffer from lack of and/or poor-quality sleep. But without adequate sleep your brain will act like a computer with too many programs open—sluggish and occasionally stalled. Shut down the computer, restart, and it runs quicker.
If you’re feeling like your memory or recall abilities just aren’t what they used to be, more sleep should be at the top of your agenda. Sleep actually increases melatonin and human growth hormone levels—both essential for brain function and health—while exhaustion increases cortisol levels, which in excess, results in damage to the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain. The bottom line is that most people need at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night to function optimally, and anything less than seven hours is inadequate for most people’s best mental performance.
Inadequate sleep will increase your risk for:
- Weight gain
- Heart attacks
- Decreased cognitive performance and memory
If you are tired during the daytime and awaken frequently at night, consider if you might suffer from sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea have their airway blocked while sleeping. Snoring is another common result of sleep apnea. Simple, single-night home testing is now available at the Masley Optimal Health Center that can measure your quantity and quality of sleep and confirm or exclude a diagnosis of sleep apnea. There are now many options to treat sleep apnea, if this applies to you.
So how can you make sleep your anti-aging ally? Here are a few tips:
- Aim to go to bed and rise on a schedule that deviates by no more than 1 hour daily (2 hours max), even on weekends.
- Avoid more than 1-2 servings of caffeine in the morning, and no caffeine after noon.
- Avoid drinking more than 2 servings of alcohol at night, and preferably none within 2 hours of going to bed as alcohol disrupts sleep. It might help you fall asleep, but the quality of sleep is poor and typically you wake up two hours later and can’t fall back asleep.
- Exercise for 30-60 minutes daily, but not within 2 hours of going to bed as exercise increases your metabolism.
- Use your bed for sleeping, rest, and/or romance, but not for office work, video games, or watching TV. Reading for 15-30 minutes before sleep while lying in bed is OK.
- Keep in mind the blue and white light the beams from computers and televisions stimulates the basal parts of the brain and suppresses melatonin production. Some people set their computers to a red-organge background screen at night, or wear red-orange colored glasses to stimulate the brain to make melatonin.
- Warm skim milk or herbal teas before bed raise body temperature and help you to fall asleep.
- Specific tryptophan-rich foods will help to fall asleep if eaten 30 minutes before bedtime, such as bananas, turkey, peanut butter, or non fat milk. But if you suffer from heart burn then keep the servings size to a minimum, and if heart burn is bothersome then avoid eating within 2 hours of bedtime.
- Don’t nap after 4 pm. If you take a nap daily, limit to not more than 30-60 minutes.
- Avoid engaging in work or stressful activities within 2 hours of bedtime.
- Keep the bedroom dark and quiet while sleeping. The darker the better. Wear ear plugs and sleep masks if necessary.
- 30 minutes before turning out the light, dim the lighting to help ease into a sleep pattern. First thing in the morning you want bright full spectrum light for at least 5-30 minutes (such as sunlight, or use a full spectrum bedroom light that activates with your alarm) to stimulate your am wake cycle.
- Avoid sleeping in a warm room. Ideally, you want your body and extremities warm but the air cool for optimum sleep. Some people do best with the bedroom between 68-72 degrees. If you use a fan, ensure it is ultra quiet.
- Try wearing socks to bed as warm extremities help you to fall asleep.
- Avoid pets or children in bed as they can be very disruptive to staying asleep.
- Ensure you have a high quality pillow and consider replacing every year. If you have neck problems, consider an orthopedic shaped pillow.
- Try meditation before bedtime. Consider a 20-30 minute CD to help get you started.
If you have trouble falling asleep:
- Do not watch the clock.
- Get out of bed and read for a while, selecting soothing (even boring) not stimulating reading material for 10-20 minutes, then return to bed.
- Consider a tryptophan-rich snack and warm beverage as noted above.
If none of these things help, sleeping supplements/meds can help but are best used on occasion rather than every night. An herbal agent for occasional use is Valarian 300-500 mg nightly. Medications that are useful for occasional use include Ambien, Sonata, and Lunestra; if used long term and regularly, sleeping meds can make it more difficult to sleep without them. Always talk to your physician before starting medications or supplements for sleep problems.
To Your Health, and to Your Sweet Dreams!
Steven Masley, MD