8 hours of sleep doesn’t seem attainable for some but deeper, more restful sleep can be. Here’s how.
8 hours of sleep has been the recommended suggestion for a night’s sleep for longer than most of us can remember. But according to data collected by the CDC in 2014, 41% of Americans regularly get less than 8 hours of sleep a night. To complicate the matter, there is data to indicate that regular sleep of 7-9 hours does not necessarily correlate with alert, content, and lucid behavior. The dichotomy between these two phenomena has led to more research on sleep quality as opposed to just sleep duration and the results might surprise you.
Let me start with a story. When I was in college I was a regular 6 hour a night sleeper. Whether I was eager to check out the next student party, or up late cramming for a test, like many students, I spent 75% of my time sleeping too little, and the other 25% of my time sleeping too late! But I remember going home once for a long weekend and deciding that I would spend the weekend catching up on my sleep with a solid 8-9 hours of sleep three nights in a row. Instead of feeling relaxed and refreshed after the weekend, I found myself groggy, irritable, and unfocused, and for the first time ever, I fell asleep in my class, much to the ridicule of my professor.
Sleep is a multi-faceted phenomenon that is affected by a range of lifestyle and biological factors. So in my story it’s hard to pinpoint the difference between nights where I functioned well on 6 hours of sleep but dozed off, head on table, in Anatomy class after 9 hours of sleep. While you’d think 7-9 hours might have been what I needed to function optimally, perhaps 6 hours of sleep was all I needed as a 19 year old all-day busy-body. Maybe it was my cold student dorm that was the reason I had been well-rested on such little sleep – with the temperature cool at night, my sleep set-up at school had me sleeping soundly compared with my all too warm bedroom at home. Or after everything, could it possibly be that as a regular at my local bar, alcohol was my consistent depressor leading to regular nights zonked out in deep uninterrupted sleep!
Sleeping for a long time and sleeping restfully clearly don’t always go hand-in-hand. And regardless of the reason for that, it’s clear that my student sleep habits had a lot to improve upon… I wasn’t the first student (or person) to struggle to balance quality and quantity of sleep and I won’t be the last.
In our profession, we find that a huge range of our patients confess that they currently experience, or have previously experienced problems with poor sleep. While some complain that they are not sleeping enough, we find that even our patients that get enough sleep struggle with pain, restlessness, and early rising… and we hear your struggle. The NIH estimates that 10-30% of adults suffer from some variation of insomnia, and that figure rises to 50-60% in older adults, females, and people suffering from poor physical and mental health. Either way, both anecdotally and physiologically, we know that there is more to successful, well-rested sleep than hours spent in sleep, and we want to explore why.
What is restful sleep?
Restful sleep can be measured by many indicators, but largely it’s defined by one’s ability to sleep and stay asleep with little to no sleep disruptions, as well as the ability to reach the third stage of non-rapid movement (non-REM) sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep or deep sleep. In restful or deep sleep, our brain waves are at their slowest, and heartbeat and breathing slow down, so to put it simply – your physical and mental activity is literally at its most relaxed and rested state, and our body needs this to regenerate and recharge, often rebuilding any cellular or neural damage etc. to our bodies.
The national sleep institute says that humans demonstrate the most restful sleep when they are in an environment that is dark, quiet, cool, and comfortable combined with lifestyle practices such as having a regular sleep-wake cycle, reduced bright light and blue-light exposure in the evening, appropriate caffeine intake, and regular daytime exercise. This means that if just one of these conditions are lacking, an individual’s sleep can be affected in any capacity whether that means one night of terrible sleep due to a howling coyote down the block, or chronic insomnia due to constant light in the bedroom that can have a knock-on effect for long-term sleep health.
The complexity deepens further as we also understand that sleep is also affected by social and biological factors that we can’t necessarily change such as stress, living situation, weight and general mental and physical health… and this might seem like trying to get better quality sleep seems like a losing battle.
But this gives us both good news and bad news. On one hand, for some factors such as working a night shift or suffering from poor mental health – there is no quick fix that can turn your sleep health around overnight (no pun intended!)
On the other hand, the great news is that there are at least a dozen incremental changes you can make today to ensure you’re getting the deepest, most restful sleep possible… no matter if you’re sleeping for 6 or 9 hours a night.
Here are some quick fixes you can make now to get more restful sleep:
- Stay cool! The optimal temperature for an adult sleep environment is between 60 and 67 degrees F. It might sound surprisingly cold, but think of it as your special quick-sleep secret. If you feel like your sleep could be more restful, the likelihood is that you’re sleeping in a room that’s too warm. So this is a great start to try today and sleep better tonight!
- Cut down the caffeine! While some of us need our caffeine to get through the day, just make sure you’re not consuming caffeine after 4pm.
- Fewer screens = good dreams! Increased screen time has been hypothesized to be a large cause of increased insomnia among the population in the last 15 years. Experts say that screens are addictive and as our bodies are naturally geared to become more tired with reduced light, excessive screen use in the evening and nighttime has the opposite effect, disrupting our natural circadian rhythms and keeping us up.
- Bye bye blue light. If completely switching off your screen is impossible, or you like to just quickly check your phone as you’re winding down, then here’s what you need to know about blue light. Blue light is the light that most phones and computers give off and it has been shown to stimulate alertness in the brain and has effects that can last up to 4 hours.
- Let’s get physical! A healthy dose of exercise releases energy and has been shown to have a beneficial wind-down effect making our body less restless and our sleep more restful. You don’t have to run a marathon to benefit from bettered sleep. Johns Hopkins University reports that only 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity can improve sleep quality that same night. Need ideas? Weight lifting, brisk walking, or an active yoga class can elevate your heart rate enough to generate these benefits.
- Rise and shine! An essential tip from sleep experts is to wake up at the same time every day. Anyone struggling with insomnia knows too painfully that we can’t control what time we fall asleep, and while going to bed at the same time every night is very helpful in terms of establishing a proper routine, there’s no guarantee that sleep comes when invited – as many of us know. But research suggests that setting an alarm to wake up at the same time every day trains our body in a regular sleep and wake cycle that hugely affects our ability to feel tired and wakeful at the appropriate times during the day.
- Come to the dark side! As we’ve now explored, we’re naturally tuned to sleep in the dark and be wakeful in the day. Make it easy for yourself and ensure that your bedroom is a dark, restful place at night covering any light and getting blackout curtains for the windows (extra points if you find some that automatically open in the window to let in the natural sunlight!)
We know… It’s a lot to manage while you’re already leading a busy life that never seems to stop spinning. But at WellSpine KC we’ve heard your struggles with sleep and are determined to do what we can to make it easier.
If you want somewhere to start, try these 5 top tech tips:
- Use a thermostat app to keep in control of your bedroom temperature. There are even settings for optimal sleep temperature so you never have to worry about stewing in your sleep!
- Use a fitness app to track your exercise, food and caffeine intake. Three for the price of one to make sure you’re fuel and fitness are sleep happy every day!
- Ditch the blue light blues by switching your computer and phone to “night light mode” at least 3 hours before bedtime. This is going to enhance your chemical response in your brain that aids sleep.
- Set a weekly morning alarm on your smartphone so you can be guaranteed to be waking up at the same time every day. Within just a few days you’ll notice that the regular mornings lead to regular evenings and then a regular restful night’s sleep. Bravo!
- Make a Sleep tracker app your new best friend! They not only provide useful sleep tips that stay up-to-date with the latest research, but can also help you create schedules, reinforce the science-backed sleep methods we’ve presented, and if you have a smart mattress they can connect to it to provide personalized feedback on sleep quality, using algorithms that take into account your movement during sleep, temperature, and breath rate.
Ok, you’ve got me! I’m ready to make changes to try and get more restful sleep… but what can I expect when my sleep is improved?
More restful, deeper, and better quality sleep not only makes you less tired. In fact, you’ll be able to see knock-on effects from the first few days after you start to make these simple, yet effective adjustments. In the short term, better quality sleep has been shown to lead to increased alertness, energy levels, productivity, better mood, improved diet, daily hydration, and even improved bowel function.
In the medium or long-term, the effects are even more extreme. Individuals that have a consistent sleep routine and deeper sleep demonstrate a healthier weight, improved immune function leading to less time taken off work due to sickness, healthier relationships, improved mental health, and better cardiovascular health including reduced blood pressure. When your body is truly allowed to rest and restore itself, it has the ability to make everything in your life a little easier.
So if you’re ready for wellness, it’s never too soon to start gaining more restful sleep. If you find yourself struggling to think of the last time you got 8 hours of sleep, worry no more. Start by aiming for quality over quantity when it comes to sleep by making these simple yet effective changes. You might even find that developing a strong routine of restful sleep means that sleep quantity follows obediently after, as you start to give your body the outlet to get the sleep it needs. So whether you’re just a restless student, overtired parent, overworked adult, or chronic insomniac, WellSpine KC is ready to help you gain more restful sleep, and we’re here to support you on your wellness journey… one that starts tonight.
If you’re struggling with poor quality sleep we’d love to help you put these points into practice. We’re here to answer your questions and provide chiropractic care to aid you on your sleep journey. Call us for a chat, or tell your chiropractor that you’re looking for treatments to help aid in better quality sleep – we’d love to help.