It seems as if the entire world population is searching for information and tips for better sleep.
Modern society has worked hard to make us a dark-deprived society. We need darkness to allow the release of a hormone called melatonin to help get healthy sleep.
But in these modern times, we can make our homes and offices trick our brain into believing it is still daytime because it is still light because of artificial light.
We Need Darkness For Better Sleep
It is Thomas Edison that, in some ways that we have to thank because it was his light company that popularized the light bulb. He was the first person that took control of the night, and for the first time, humans dictated when it was light and dark.
Next came electronics. Television and cable access around the clock. Smartphones, instant communications, and 24-hour streaming.
The Importance of Cold Temperature For Sleep
Our sleep time was no longer dependent on the rotational mass of the planet around the sun. That was transformational in some good ways. But for getting better sleep, it was a devastating blow.
Our brain and body’s core temperature needs to drop by about one-degree Celsius or about two to three degrees Fahrenheit to initiate sleep.
This is why you will always find it easier to fall asleep in a colder room than one that is hot. The colder room is taking you in the right thermal direction that your body wants to get good sleep naturally.
To get recursive and say okay, that’s good, so your body needs to drop, but why does it need to drop its temperature?
We’re that way because we are diurnal species, and we were designed to be sleeping at night. Our bodies latched on to the natural drop in temperature as a cue and a trigger to fall asleep.
In modernity, we have dislocated ourselves with constant ambient temperature. We evolved to be told to go to sleep using this thermal cue together with light.
For A Long Time, We Thought It Was Just Light That Regulated Our Sleep
It is not. It is light and its temperature—those two things. If anything, it may be the temperature that is even more powerful.
People believe that hot showers or hot baths make us nice and relaxed. We are warm and toasty, and that is what makes us get better sleep.
It is not. Rather it is the opposite. What happens is that all of the blood will rush to the surface of your skin, away from the core of your body, which then takes the heat out from the core. When you get out of the warm bath, you get this massive dissipation of heat.
All of your blood is brought to these massive radiators: the vascular surfaces, your hands, your face, and your feet. They radiate most of the heat out, and therefore the core of your body, the temperature plummets.
That is why you fall asleep faster after a hot shower or bath.
Regularity is key as well.
I think if there is a single piece of advice for better sleep is to go to bed simultaneously and wake up at the same time.
Alcohol is probably one of the most misunderstood and most abused purported sleep aids.
It obviously is not a sleep aid at all. It is actually detrimental to sleep. We often mistake sedation for sleep. Alcohol is a class of drugs that we call sedatives, and this status is not sleeping. It is very different.
When you drink heavily and you sort of, you know, you fall asleep. We are not going to argue that you are awake and you are clearly not awake. But to say that you have gone into naturalistic sleep is an equal falsehood. You have sedated your cortex.
The other problem with alcohol is that it fragments your sleep. You will wake up many more times throughout the night. Sleep graphs of people inebriated with alcohol are full of these frequent slight awakenings. Most of those awakenings you are not aware of.
These slight awakenings may last just two or three seconds, and then your brain tries to go back in and reclaim its sleep cycle, and then you wake back up again. These awakenings are so short you don’t commit them to memory. You wake up the next day, and you feel lousy. But, you don’t remember anything bad about your sleep. You don’t remember waking up, so you don’t think it was the alcohol. You just don’t know why you don’t feel good, so you attribute it to just having a bad day.
Another problem is that alcohol will actually block your dream sleep. We call rapid eye movement (REM) sleep essential for many different operations, including emotional and mental health.
The notion of a nightcap has been romanticized, and the impact on the quality of sleep makes saying to avoid one so you can get a good night’s sleep is unpopular. We are here to describe the science and the data that we know of to help people get better sleep, and then people can make an informed choice.
Alcohol is not the sleep aid that people think. For a good night’s sleep, you should avoid alcohol.
Don’t Feel “Lazy” For Getting Sufficient Sleep
Unfortunately, sleep has an image problem. We stigmatize getting sufficient sleep with this label of laziness. We are slothful if we’re getting sufficiency. The word sufficient was chosen very carefully. We are not talking about excess sleep.
Think of sleep this way – no one would look at an infant sleeping during the day and say what a lazy baby. We don’t say that because we know that sleep at that time of life is non-negotiable. It’s absolutely essential. But then, somewhere between infancy and toddler age or even childhood, not only do we abandon the notion that sleep is essential, but we actually chastise people for sleeping.
People become proud to tell you how little sleep that they get. Part of it is because we don’t have an educational system that is either aware of sleep or teaching sleep or perhaps fear embracing and celebrating sleep rather than stigmatize it.
If you take a step back – and you think about when we are asleep. We are:
- Not finding a mate.
- Not reproducing.
- Not socially interacting.
- Not gathering food.
- And worst of all, we are vulnerable to predation.
In the course of evolution, sleep would not be a strong motive for humans on any one of those grounds.
LEON M. LEDERMAN, WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE IN PHYSICS
If sleep doesn’t serve an absolutely vital function, it is the biggest mistake evolution ever made. source
Yet, we realize that mother nature did not make a spectacular blunder. Sleep services every system within the body, the changes in the mind, and the brain’s changes. Those happen only while we are sleeping.
It is sometimes said that wakefulness is low-level brain damage if you look at the data, and it’s obvious that is the case. Sleep provides repairing and cleansing of our brain.
People Need To Aim For Seven To Nine Hours Of Sleep Routinely
Once you get below seven hours of sleep, scientists can measure impairments in both the brain and the body.
One of the problems with a lack of sleep, and part of the sleep problem out in society, is that your subjective sense of how well you’re doing when you don’t get enough sleep is a miserable predictor of objectively how well you are doing with insufficient sleep.
Think of that statement this way: A person at a bar had a large number of shots in a short period of time without food. They pick up their keys and announce that they are off to drive home and to trust them because “I’m fine.”
Your response is, “I know that you think you’re fine to drive, but objectively I promise you are not. You are too drunk to drive”.
It is the same way with a lack of sleep.
We don’t know we are sleep deprived when we are sleep deprived. Sleep loss and mortality data are robust from epidemiological studies now of millions of people. There is that simple truth, the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. Short sleep does predict all-cause mortality.
The other thing comes back to lifespan versus health span.
You know we often hear that old mantra – you can sleep when you’re dead. It is mortally unwise advice. If you adopt that mindset, not only will you be dead sooner, but the quality of that now shorter life will be significantly worse.
This is what we’re coming to in medicine right now. We’ve done a fairly decent job of extending lifespan, but what we’ve done a terrible job of is extending healthspan. People are living longer, but they’re living longer, sicker. One way that equation can be solved and extend healthspan, not just lifespan, is by making sleep a major part of the health equation. This concept is completely missing in medicine.
Another place where sleep is absent as a voice is in the treatment of diseases. Better sleep should be part of treatment in several conditions, but more so, sleep should be preventative. It is easier to do away with diseases when you take a prevention standpoint. Currently, medicine waits until the disease happens and then tries to treat it. Sleep is probably one of the most universally available health care insurance policies you could ever wish for.
Sleep is the Swiss army knife of health. When sleep is deficient, there is sickness and disease. And when sleep is abundant, there is vitality and health. Matthew Walker
If you’ve got an ailment, it is more than likely that sleep has a tool within its box that can help you out. I think science is starting to view sleep as we did with smoking 50 years ago, in the sense that all of the data was there.
We have all of the science to show that it is just like smoking. It’s carcinogenic, but it’s much more sort of problematic than smoking. Insufficient sleep is not just linked to heart disease. Insufficient sleep is also linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Diabetes, depression, suicidality anxiety. All of these things that are killing us in the developed world have a significant link to, if not cause, are due to a lack of sufficient sleep. Take the necessary steps to get better sleep and your body will thank you.