Sleep is one of the most natural human processes, and yet something many of us are particularly bad at. Sleeping problems are prevalent in Canada, Statistics Canada recognizes that anywhere between 6% and 48% of the population may suffer from insomnia, depending on the definition used. Which means that almost half of us have some trouble sleeping, regardless of how we define insomnia.
The impact of sleep deprivation on task performance can be seen after just one night of bad sleep and in healthy adults, these effects can include increased stress responsivity, somatic pain, reduced quality of life, emotional distress and mood disorders, as well as cognitive, memory, and performance deficits.
Why do we have so much trouble with something that should come so naturally to us? Our environment is no longer conducive to sleep. We are meant to sleep in an entirely dark environment, stress free environment and we before all the technology we have today, we would come into that environment gradually.
I like to think of creating a cave:
Caves are usually pretty cool. And we sleep better when we’re cool. The body actually cools itself down as part of its preparation for sleep, but we can help through things like a cooler temperature in the bedroom and the hot bath 90-120 minutes before sleeping (discussed in further detail below).
The US National Sleep Foundation estimates that the ideal sleeping temperature is somewhere between 15.5 and 19.5 degrees celsius (60-67 degrees fahrenheit), much cooler than most people keep their rooms. This may seem too cold for you, and if you have poor circulation you can wear a warm pair of socks – just make sure they are loose fitting so they don’t impede blood or lymph circulation themselves. If the socks are tight enough that they will leave an imprint on your leg, they will almost certainly impede at least lymph circulation.
When talking about sleep, a hormone called melatonin comes up a lot. Melatonin itself isn’t necessarily the holy grail of getting you sleep, but it can go a long way towards improving the quality of your sleep. Melatonin production can be interrupted by many things in our modern lives, especially light sources.
While avoiding looking at lights will help optimize melatonin production, just wearing a sleep mask to cover your eyes isn’t enough. Your skin cells also contain photoreceptors that will sense light even when your eyes do not. This also means that your whole body should be in darkness to experience the best sleep possible.
There are many tools to remove light from your bedroom. Blackout curtains are readily available to block out all the light coming in through your windows, weatherstripping or stuffing a towel under your door can help prevent light sneaking in to your room that way. Removing unnatural light sources also helps. And on that note:
This advice serves multiple purposes. Electronics often come with indicator lights that will stay on throughout the night and provide some light to prevent you from achieving your optimal sleep.
The other aspect to this is that the brain likes to create associations. If the bedroom is also a place where you work or watch TV, your brain will create that association with your bedroom, and instead of letting you relax, your brain is more likely to be ready to work or watch TV than sleep.
Don’t go from 100-0 and expect to fall asleep immediately.
This window will help line us up with when our natural circadian rhythm means we will sleep most efficiently. If you miss that window, the quality of your sleep won’t be as good, and you’ll feel less rested, no matter how much sleep you get. This ideal window can take some trial and error to find, but once you’ve found it, try to be as consistent as possible with that time. Yes, even through the weekends.
Caffeine has a 5-6 hour half life, depending on the person. Meaning 5-6 hours after you consume it, half the caffeine you’ve consumed will have been metabolized by your body, and the other half will still be present. With this in mind, and knowing you want to be asleep by 10:00 pm at the latest, this means that the latest you should be consuming caffeine would be 2:00 pm, though if you’re caffeine sensitive it might be a good idea to stop even earlier in the day.
Blue light impacts melatonin production, and 2 hours of ipad use at full brightness at night has been shown to suppress the regular release of melatonin at night, and this may also result in significant deficits in alertness the following morning. Social media can also impact anxiety, which can also impact your ability to fall asleep; continuing to work will also keep your mind oriented on your tasks, and prevent you from winding down.
Now, blue light does still have its place! Exposure to blue light during the day will help you feel more alert and awake, and might even help you sleep better at night. So do what you can to get daylight throughout the day, be it from a window, or daylight mimicking lightbulbs if a window isn’t available!
This isn’t always feasible, and there are times where you won’t be able to turn off your computer or phone for one reason or another. While limiting these scenarios is ideal, when the scenario does come up, apps such as f.lux and Twilight, which will remove the blue light from your screens, leaving them with a reddish hue. You can also wear the ever stylish orange safety goggles to filter all blue light away from your eyes.
It’s not just your screens that you have to watch for, your overhead lights also emit blue light, in the spectrum of white light. During the evening, it would be better for your light fixtures to emit red or orange light.
The frugal solution for this is to put an orange party bulb in your bedside lamp and use that at night, and the significantly more expensive solution is to migrate to a smart light system like Philips Hue, which can be programmed so the light bulbs themselves emit different wavelengths of light throughout the day, and remove blue light in the evening.
As you turn your screens
A warm bath can also help to relax and destress, putting your mind more at ease while preparing for bed.
While you’re in the bath, adding magnesium in the form of flakes or magnesium salts. Magnesium is known for its ability to help the nervous system
Take some time after or instead of your bath to read some fiction (nothing that will make you think too much) or meditate to help clear the mind before bed. There are a lot of simple breathing meditation techniques available, just remember to try something that doesn’t require an app or a video so that you’re not on your phone/tablet before bed.
Whether it is pain holding you back from getting comfortable, or just needing some help relaxing, your chiropractor can help. The US National Sleep Foundation estimates that one-third of chiropractic patients and 40% of infants report an increase in sleep quality following an adjustment, and many of my own patients will agree with that.