We live in a stressed-out, super-busy, hyper-caffeinated world—and quality sleep often gets put on the back burner. The problem is that the repercussions are now showing up around our waistlines and in our overall poor health.
Inadequate shuteye can quickly sabotage your efforts at getting healthy and losing weight. Not getting enough sleep or getting poor-quality sleep adversely affects hormones that make you hungry and store fat.
In fact, a 2010 study found that just one partial night's sleep could create insulin resistance, paving the way for diabesity and many other problems. Other research shows poor sleep contributes to cardiovascular disease, mood disorders, poor immune function, and lower life expectancy. I’ve seen inadequate sleep’s repercussions play out numerous times among patients.
As a doctor, I understand how stress can be a barrier to sleep. I juggle what feels like about 10 jobs. I have kids, a dog, a house, employees and patients, plus I’m rarely home since I often travel for work. Eventually, though, I realized lack of sleep had adversely affected my health. I knew I had to make sleep a priority, so I gave myself a goal to hit seven or eight hours of sleep a night. With eight hours, I felt much more alert and focused.
I know what a challenge that can become. But I’ve found that these six strategies can help you get a better night’s sleep:
1. Stick to a regular schedule.
Going to sleep and waking at the same time each day creates a rhythm for your body. Only use your bed for sleep or sex. And don’t keep a television in your bedroom: Studies show the artificial, bright light can disrupt brain activity and alter sleep hormones like melatonin. Your bedroom should be a quiet, peaceful haven for sleep.
2. Get natural sunlight.
Aim for at least 20 minutes of sunshine every day, preferably in the morning, which triggers your brain to release chemicals that regulate sleep cycles. Avoid computers, smartphones, tablets, and television one or two hours before bed.
You might also try blue light exposure for about three hours before bed. Blue-spectrum light helps your brain reset for sleep and increase melatonin.
3. Use an acupressure mat.
Lie on it for about 30 or more minutes before bed. This helps increase your parasympathetic nervous system and create deep relaxation.
4. Clear your mind before sleep.
Turning your mind off can become a challenge—yet everyone knows how having something on your mind can hinder sleep. I recommend keeping a journal or notebook by your bed and writing down your to-do list or ruminations before you go to sleep. Then you can close your eyes and make it less likely for your mind to spin.
5. Consider herbal therapies.
Try 300 to 600 milligrams (mg) of passionflower or 320 to 480 mg of valerian root extract before bed. Other natural sleep supplements include melatonin or magnesium.
Potato starch mixed into a glass of water before bedtime can also help. Start slowly with 1 teaspoon and gradually build up the dose. This feeds good gut bacteria and helps improve blood sugar control while helping you drift into sleep.
6. Use relaxation practices.
Guided imagery, meditation, or deep breathing calm your mind and help you drift into sleep. For example, research shows that daily yoga can improve sleep significantly. You might also try calming essential oils such as lavender, Roman chamomile, or ylang ylang.
If you employ these strategies and still struggle with sleeping, I recommend seeing a functional practitioner who can determine whether things like food sensitivities, thyroid problems, menopause, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, heavy metal toxicity, stress, and depression interfere with sleep. Consider getting tested for sleep disorders.
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Dr. Mark Hyman is a practicing family physician and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in the field of Functional Medicine. He is the founder and director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, a 13-time New York Times best-selling author, and Board President for Clinical Affairs for The Institute for Functional Medicine. He is the host of one of the leading health podcasts, The Doctor’s Farmacy. Dr. Hyman is a regular medical contributor on several television shows and networks, including CBS This Morning, Today, Good Morning America, The View, and CNN. He is also an advisor and guest co-host on The Dr. Oz Show.