Which is most important: Diet, Exercise, or Sleep?
Everyone knows that diet and exercise are key components of any healthy lifestyle. Another key pillar of health, equally important and arguably even more so, is sleep. Although the amount of sleep a person needs varies, experts recommend that adults get at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night1. Unfortunately, about 33 percent of Americans are not getting the recommend amount of sleep per night, and approximately one in five adults in the United States experience occasional sleeplessness or difficulty sleeping2. There are many factors that can negatively impact how much (and how well) a person sleeps, from family (think newborn baby), to the conveniences of modern life (like 24-hour access to technology), to varying work schedules3, quality and age of mattresses and pillows4, and don’t forget consumption of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. This list can go on and on, and far too often sleep is the first thing that many of us neglect in order to meet the demands of our busy schedules.
Why Is Sleep So Important?
Sleep doesn’t exist to just pass time or to keep us from working 24 hours a day. Sleep is important because it is inherently physically and mentally healing, and it allows for our bodies to not only recoup from the stress of everyday life, but also to recharge and refocus. Depriving your body of sleep has been associated with many health risks and places a tremendous burden on virtually every organ system in your body. Lack of adequate sleep affects our ability to lose, or maintain, a healthy weight; influences how we feel, learn, and behave; and negatively impacts our cardiovascular health and overall wellbeing. Even more importantly, not getting enough sleep can reduce reaction time and interfere with our ability to drive3. The inability to drive safely not only puts those in the car at risk, but also those with whom we share the road. In short, the less sleep you get, the less opportunity you give your body to heal and prepare itself for the following day, reducing overall quality of life.
So What Can I Do About It?
Of course, life will always find a way to present obstacles that are out of our control, from a sick child to a last minute work project to a neighbor in need. Each of these will undoubtedly affect how we sleep. However, we must focus on what we can control, and fortunately there are several tips and techniques that you can apply to help ensure you are not only getting enough sleep but also getting quality sleep.
Tips for a Better Night's Sleep
- Eat Well and Maintain a Healthy Exercise Routine – Eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise keeps our weight in check, but it also helps with sleep. Eating high carbohydrate foods floods the muscles with glucose, causing involuntary muscle movements during sleep, which disrupts rest. Exercising too close to bedtime ramps up metabolism and body temperature and can make it difficult to fall asleep. If you get hungry before bed, try snacking on a hand full of nuts. Nuts provide protein and fat, which are not only satisfying, but are slowly digested, which can provide a calm sleep, and rich in magnesium, a mineral that helps to calm the nervous system.
- Maintain a Rhythm – Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule, going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time. Creating this rhythm helps regulate your body’s internal clock and may help you sleep better.
- Just Say No to Alcohol, Caffeine, Nicotine, and Electronics – All of these can make going to sleep difficult. Don’t drink alcohol or caffeinated drinks too close to bedtime. Remove all electronics from the bedroom, including TVs, computers, and other electronic devices. Try to avoid bright light at least an hour before going to bed. Darkness will help your body begin producing melatonin, a hormone that naturally regulates sleep. To help keep your internal clock in balance, be sure to expose yourself to sunlight in the morning, which naturally tells your body to wake up.
- Keep Cool – Make sure your bedroom is a quiet, dark, and relaxing environment, which is neither too hot, nor too cold. Your bed and pillows should be supportive, yet comfortable. If you experience shoulder, hip, or back pain in the morning, you can be sure you did not rest as well as you could have. It may be time for new bedding.
- Wind Down – Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading or taking a warm bath. Certain drinks, such as chamomile tea, may be relaxing and non-stimulating.
- Use Calming Essential Oils – Essential oils like Lavender and Bergamot are rich in linalool and linalyl acetate, compounds that have well-known relaxing properties. These oils can be diffused aromatically in the bedroom to create a calming and peaceful environment, perfect for getting a good night’s sleep. They can also be used topically and taken internally to calm the nervous system, promote relaxation, and lead to a restful sleep. Try placing two to four drops of Lavender or Bergamot essential oil in a warm, herbal tea (Chamomile, Lemongrass, etc.), or another favorite uncaffeinated beverage about 30 minutes before going to bed, or add two to four drops of Lavender into an empty capsule and swallow about 30 minutes before bed.
Essential Oils for Sleep and Relaxation:
- Serenity® Calming Blend
- Roman Chamomile