(The following is an excerpt from the recently published book Let Food Be Your Medicine Today.)
Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.
~ Thomas Dekker, English dramatist (1572–1632)
Proper restful sleep is extremely important for your overall physical, mental, and spiritual health. But it is so difficult to switch off the constant barrage of media and noise and get the peaceful rest we need each night.
Sleep deprivation is an all-too-common problem these days. An alarming number of industrial and traffic accidents are caused by people who did not have enough sleep.
“Microsleeps,” called daytime parahypnagogia, are moments of a few seconds of unintended loss of attention when you stare blankly, or your eyes close, and you might not even be aware of it. This happens when you are fatigued and doing something monotonous, even when driving.
Many of us function on autopilot. Some even wear this lack of sleep as a badge of honor and boast about their ability to work or play with less sleep than others.
These people obviously do not realize the dangers of this sleep deficiency. They think they are functioning well, but studies show that sleep deficiency can negatively alter activity in some parts of the brain. And a constant loss of sleep over several nights can affect your ability to complete even the simplest of tasks competently.
Many people are also in competitive work cultures that reward those who come in early and stay late. Many so-called success gurus also advocate “burning the midnight oil” to get that edge on competitors.
Russell Foster, a circadian neuroscientist who studies the sleep cycles of the brain, quotes Thomas Edison, who said, “Sleep is a criminal waste of time and a heritage from our cave days.” He also notes that Margaret Thatcher famously said, “Sleep is for wimps.”
These unhealthy misconceptions of the value and role of sleep in our lives are still pervasive today in many work environments. Sleep is treated as an inconvenient necessity that gets in the way of important work. The truth is, brief periods of sleep loss have long-lasting consequences such as impaired memory consolidation.
An adequate amount of sleep is so critically important that we can die sooner from sleep deprivation than food deprivation.
Sleep helps us to refresh and rejuvenate our bodies. We have all experienced “brain fog” when we are tired and sleepy. Often when we try to keep working despite feeling sleepy, we end up with poor results. On the contrary, when we decide to “sleep on it” we come up with better solutions and complete tasks faster, and with much-improved quality
Chronic lack of sleep has also been cited as a contributor to obesity, especially in adolescents. Particularly in females.
Proper sleep increases our ability to concentrate, enhances our creativity, and sharpens our decision-making skills.
Our stress levels are significantly reduced when we have had a good night’s sleep. We tend to
be in a better mood and are less prone to be angry and depressed or abuse drugs or alcohol when we are well-rested.
The recommended hours of sleep per night are between seven and nine. An assortment of practices and habits—known as “sleep hygiene”—can help us get better-quality and longer hours of sleep.“Sleep hygiene” is a group of behaviours we can practice to promote regular good sleep.
Here are the best ones courtesy the American Sleep Association:
- Maintain a regular sleep routine every night, even on weekends if possible.
- Avoid naps if possible.
- Don’t stay in bed awake for more than 5-10 minutes.
If you find your mind racing, or worrying about not being able to sleep during the middle of the night, get out of bed and sit in a chair in the dark. Do your mind racing in the chair until you are sleepy, then return to bed. No TV or internet during these periods! That will just stimulate you more than desired.
- Don’t watch TV or read in bed.
When you watch TV or read in bed, you associate the bed with wakefulness. The bed is reserved for two things—sleep and sex.
- Drink caffeinated drinks with caution.
The effects of caffeine may last for several hours after ingestion. Caffeine can fragment sleep and cause difficulty initiating sleep. If you drink caffeine, use it only before noon.
Remember that soda and tea contain caffeine as well.
- Avoid inappropriate substances that interfere with sleep.
Cigarettes, alcohol and over-the-counter medications may cause fragmented sleep.
- Exercise regularly.
Exercise before 2 p.m. every day. Exercise promotes continuous sleep.
Avoid rigorous exercise before bedtime.
- Have a quiet, comfortable bedroom.
Set your bedroom thermostat at a comfortable temperature. A little cooler is better than a
Turn off the TV and other extraneous noise that may disrupt sleep. Background “white noise” like a fan is OK.
If your pets awaken you, keep them outside the bedroom. Your bedroom should be dark. Turn off bright lights.
Have a comfortable mattress.
- If you are a “clock watcher” at night, hide the clock.
- Have a comfortable pre-bedtime routine.
A warm bath or shower. Meditation or quiet time.
( Trinidad-born Guildford Joe Thomas is a lifelong student of nutrition and fitness. He has an unending passion for healthy living and has been a vegetarian for over thirty-six years and a vegan for the last four years, advocating a diet of plant-based, whole foods,)