We previously have talked about how the key to a good night sleep is transitioning out of energized ‘sympathetic state’ (fight or flight) to a more calm ‘parasympathetic state’ (rest and digest). Therefore, there are two major options for intervention: 1) reduce factors that cause sympathetic state, 2) increase factors that create a parasympathetic state. Our first strategy Beginning with the Breath, introduced breath work to engage the parasympathetic nervous system to relax the body prior to bed. Today’s article will talk about how to reduce stimulation that drives a sympathetic state.
There are 4 primary factors–though the list is likely longer–that can disrupt our sleep in the short and long-term: 1) Dietary choices (we will zero in on ☕ caffeine!), 2) 🖥blue light, 3) 😫stress, and 3) 💡interruptions. Most of these are under our control and while the temptation is to respond “🙄, I’ve heard this before”, please read on.
😴Sleep is our primary tool for recovery. It’s difficult to be able to have a high capacity for stress–physical, emotional, mental–if we don’t maximize our recovery.
Let’s start with caffeine, the morning glory. When we have a deficit in our sleep from the previous night, whether its due to the Super Bowl, a late night get together, or staying up for Christmas, we are usually tired the following day. We also have a decrease in our cognitive performance. In other words, our attention, processing speed, and psychomotor responses become delayed (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3564638/).
Enter go to #1: Stimulant. When we know we’re tired and need to perform the following day for our family, for our work or other commitments, our first go to is the coffee mug. Unfortunately, this is a bit of a paradox because the consequence that ensues is more sleep deprivation. 400mg dose (approx. 4 cups of brewed coffee) of caffeine 6 hours before bed time impaired total sleep time significantly compared to those taking placebo caffeine (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3805807/). Be mindful, however, that coffee isn’t the only source of caffeine. Teas, soft drinks, energy drinks, candies, and chocolate are also other sources.
Solution: Begin drinking non-caffeinated beverages after 12:00 pm depending on your sleep schedule or reduce the morning volume of caffeinated beverages. Dare I say that 10 burpees could also serve as a caffeine substitute 😱.
Blue light from phones, tablets, computers, and other technology devices also play a role in impaired sleep. Taking these devices to bed disrupts our ability to secrete melatonin, a hormone to help us to regulate our sleep-wake cycles.
Our bodies signal the secretion of this hormone when it begins to get dark out, which contributes to why “it feels so late” in the winter compared to the summer. When we introduce the stimulation of blue light from technology, this reduces the secretion of our melatonin and inhibits our regular sleep-wake cycle causing us to lose quality sleep in the night or even have trouble falling asleep.
Solution: Stop using electronics 30-60 minutes before bed, wind down with a book instead of tv, use a real alarm clock instead of your phone, and keep your phone downstairs. If you need to use your phone or computer prior to bed, set it to ‘night shift’ which shifts the color of the display to warmer end of the spectrum after dark to reduce blue light exposure.
Some interruptions that may impair our sleep are artificial light from outside our window, sound from traffic, bathroom breaks, or a partner climbing into bed late at night. We recognize some interruptions are out of our control (i.e. sick kids, pets, garbage truck, etc) but here are some ideas to reduce the interruptions you can control.
Solution: Invest in blackout shades to help darken your room. Purchase a white noise machine or fan to drown out sound related stimulation. Ear plugs can also do the trick. To avoid that midnight pee, try to avoid large amounts of fluids within 1 hour of bed.
Stress gets it very own post! Tune in next week!