In the last twenty years our culture has accumulated a sleep debt. The average adult today gets almost 2 hours less sleep than their grandparents did at their age.
Sleep Pattern Disturbances
Fitness experts often overlook the power of sleep, but it is one of our body’s basic needs. It is likely you spend more hours in your life sleeping than eating healthy or working out. Beyond the body’s primitive need for rest, sleep is essential for a balanced and active lifestyle. The easiest way to asses your quality of sleep is by evaluating your sleep patterns. Disturbances in your sleep may expose unhealthy practices, but striving toward an ideal sleep pattern can boost stress reduction, immunity to sickness, and workout recovery.
There are two basic types of sleep pattern disturbances.
- Difficulty going to sleep
- Waking up in the middle of the night.
The following is a discussion of what causes these disturbances and strategies to eliminate them.
Difficulty Falling Asleep
- Anxiety: Our days speed by at a hectic pace, and we seldom finish the “to do”. With unfinished business of today and tomorrow’s activities milling in our heads we jump into bed and expect to suddenly relax and fall asleep.
- Technology: The invention of the lightbulb distorts the body’s natural twenty-four rhythm known as the circadian rhythm. This circadian rhythm is not only a built-in mechanism that helps signal the our need for rest in the absence or presence of light, but it can also be trained to adjust to the environment around us. If the invention of the lightbulb distorts our circadian rhythm, than the invention of televisions, computers, and smartphones have completely warped our rhythm. Think of when you first stay up to the wee hours of the morning looking at a screen. Although your eyes are initially heavy at the start of this practice, your rhythm adjusts to this intense light after only a few days, and soon you can stay up until 1-2am without a powerful urge to sleep.
- Preparation: Racing thoughts and stimulating light are all apart of the 21st century lifestyle, but they need to be constrained to protect the quality of your sleep. A transition time to prepare your body for sleep is imperative. About an hour before bedtime begin to quiet your mind.
Find ways to do so without direct light, looking at a computer or phone, or watching TV. Having a back light on to read an old fashion book is acceptable. Some tablets have a nighttime dimmed setting for reading books and other materials, which is tolerable but not recommended.
If your problem is severe, I highly recommend a warm bath using candles to dimly light your bathroom. Aromatherapy has also been shown to be helpful in calming the mind and body for rest. Lavender and chamomile can be found in oil form for perfuming baths or bodies (behind the ears and nape of the neck is the ideal location for gentle inhalation). No time for bath? These herbs can also be found in tea, and a nice hot cup can also relax the body and mind.
Reset Your Circadian Rhythm: When you first wake up in the morning spend about an hour outside. This resets your 24 hour circadian rhythm. Not only will it prepare you for the day, but it will also help to activate your natural sleep symptoms, such as drowsiness, heavy eyelids, and yawning at the end of a long day, that may have been suppressed from the overexposure to intense light. This is why when you are camping or spend the morning/day outside in natural light, you normally feel more tired at the end of the day, when compared to a morning/day spent inside.
Waking Up In The Middle of the Night
So you only wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom… sounds perfectly normal right? Unfortunately, waking up during your daily sleep is a health issue, one that is so common that it is often overlooked by medical practitioners. The issue is a serious one, because our bodies are designed to sleep without nightly disruptions. These small bathroom breaks not only distort your very important sleeping pattern but also decrease the efficiency of your precious rest.
- Stress: Not the stress your thinking of and experience everyday. I am talking about an important stress hormone called This hormone is designed to be released during times of high intensity to give you energy. Thankfully, Cortisol is usually suppressed in the evening, so we can have a full night’s sleep, but a rise in this specific hormone is probably the main cause for your nightly bathroom breaks.
- Dinner: Although it would be impossible for me to tell you that you should try to deal with all of the stress in your busy life, there are some ways that we can manipulate the chemical makeup of your body. The most common way to change the body’s biochemistry is through the food that you eat. When we eat sugar and high glycemic carbohydrates, such as wine, potatoes, and pasta, our blood sugar suddenly spikes. This sudden spike creates a rise of insulin, another hormone that converts these sugars into a compound that our cells can absorb for energy or store for later. A release of insulin will eventually lead to a drop in blood sugar, because insulin has stabilized your blood sugar’s carb-caused spike. These changes in your blood sugar, ultimately causes Cortisol levels to rise in your body as the end of result of a lengthy chain reaction. Because the process is due to a number of different reactions, the carbs you eat in the evening can cause a Cortisol rise many hours later. For a good night’s sleep, one should avoid sugar and high glycemic carbs after 4pm. Your evening cuisine should be based in proteins, vegetables, and good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as nuts, olive oil, avocados, and fish. My highest recommendation of food for dinner is lean turkey meat, because not only does it contain protein and good fat, but it is also high in tryptophan, an amino acid that aides in drowsiness.
Here are some easy and yummy recipes for a good, sleep-friendly dinner that I love to have!
Note: avoid adding fruit to your dinner as most fruit are very high in sugar
Baked Salmon With Garlic
This wonderful and simple salmon recipe gets extra flavor with fresh garlic and parsley, along with a little lemon juice. Serve this delicious baked salmon with baked potatoes or rice and kale or spinach for a fabulous dinner.
Cauliflower Crust Stromboli
Do you know what Stromboli is? It’s a small island off the north coast of Sicily, containing one of the three active volcanoes in Italy. It’s part of their bread basket (I still ate bread back then, say what???) and I soon became obsessed with Stromboli. SO yummy.
Chicken Marsala Recipe
One of my favorite easy weeknight dinners is chicken marsala. Made with sauteed mushrooms in a marsala wine sauce, this dinner has become a regular in our household for years.
This is a recipe that I make, oh once a year or so, after we have been very good about eating lots of fruits and veggies and whole grains and have walked 10,000 steps a day for days.
Pair with Salad
Corn, Tomato and Avocado Salad
This corn, tomato and avocado salsa takes advantage of deliciously fresh garden tomatoes, peppers and fresh corn.
Mediterranean Salad Recipe
Mediterranean Salad makes a delicious recipe for a light meal or as a side dish when entertaining. Get this easy, elegant Mediterranean Salad recipe.
Kale Cobb Salad
One of my favorite ways to add flavor and a bit of extra protein to a meal is with bacon. There are very few things that bacon doesn’t go well with.
Sweet tomatoes, peppery salad leaves, fresh basil and shaved, sharp parmesan cheese mixed with lightly toasted garlic sourdough. The perfect combination.
I know there are some that are shaking their heads saying “No way”, but if you’re wanting to continue building muscle and making progress in your personal fitness, or if you’re fighting injuries, sickness, or stress. The habits you have formed concerning your sleep may be the missing link to your program.
These strategies do not have to be forever, but to make changes happen, these routines need to be done consistently until…
- You’ve slept though the night for a least a week
- Your sleep is deep and sound
If you actively use these strategies and do not see improvement to your sleep patterns, feel free to contact me. I would be happy to evaluate your sleep patterns, utilizing special testing, and develop a treatment program to deal with your specific issues.
The goal of sleep is to allow us to recover, to rebuild. You should be waking refreshed every morning.
To Your Sleep,
Dr. Christian Barney D.C., D.A.B.C.O, C.C.S.P. ART