More sleep and less stress for optimal health!
Two commonly overlooked factors that contribute to health problems are sleep disorders and excessive stress. In this article you will learn why these are serious factors. Luckily, you can also find some simple tips and lifestyle strategies to minimize their impact on your life.
Part I: Sleep and your health
We spend about a third of each of our 24-hour days sleeping.
You may think that sleep is a time when your brain rests. However, sleep is an active rather than passive process. While your metabolism slows down somewhat, there is no evidence that any major organs or systems in your body function at reduced levels during sleep.
On the contrary, many important processes take place during sleep. Processes such as healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels, muscle growth and repair, and even increased secretion of some hormones.
Research suggests that the quantity and quality of sleep greatly influences memory and learning. Every day we access a huge amount of information. During sleep, pieces of this information are transferred from short-term memory to long-term memory, a process called consolidation.
Sleep problems are common
Despite its importance, the CDC warns that more than 1/3 of adults in the US do not get enough sleep.
A National Sleep Foundation survey found that 58% of American adults reported sleep problems within the past year.
The most common sleep problem is difficulty falling asleep.
Other problems include:
- Waking up early and having difficulty falling back asleep
- Waking up several times during the night
- Feeling unrested when you wake up
Sleep disorders are more common in women than in men. They also tend to get worse with age.
Effects of too little sleep
Without an adequate amount of quality sleep, we develop what some experts call sleep debt.
Disturbed sleep patterns can affect energy levels, judgment and concentration, and mood.
Sleep disturbances can also impact stress hormones, immune function, and contribute to an imbalance in inflammatory responses. Good sleep is necessary for healthy aging and long life expectancy.
So how much sleep do you really need?
According to the Mayo Clinic, adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night for optimal health. And contrary to popular belief, older adults need just as much sleep as younger adults.
Sleep strategies for better health
Here are some useful strategies that health experts recommend to help with difficulty falling or staying asleep.
Maintain a consistent waking and bedtime schedule. This helps ensure that your circadian rhythm, your “internal clock,” is not disrupted.
Maintain a regular bedtime ritual. Many people sleep better if they use a “calming ritual” before bed. This could include gentle stretching, journaling, meditation, or using aromatic essential oils like lavender.
Keep noise and light in your bedroom to a minimum. These environmental factors can disrupt sleep quality and quantity. Darkness signals your brain to release melatonin, which has a sleepy and calming effect. Reduce the light from your phone, computer, TV and all electronic devices.
Create a comfortable space. Since sleep takes up a third of your life, it's a smart idea to invest in a high-quality mattress. Keep the temperature in your bedroom at around 18°C to ensure optimal sleep.
Limit caffeine consumption eight hours before bedtime. And in general, you should not drink any liquids a few hours before going to bed.
Limit daytime naps to 20 or 30 minutes to ensure they don't disrupt your sleep cycle.
Discuss snoring problems with your doctor.
If necessary, consider taking herbal remedies such as valerian, chamomile or melatonin or other sleep-supporting preparations that do not contain any dependency potential. In any case, avoid regularly taking preparations with addictive potential (e.g. benzodiazepines). Therefore, speak to your doctor first.
Part II: The Importance of Managing Stress
Our bodies have developed specific responses to stress to protect us from dangerous situations. If a car comes out of nowhere while you're crossing the street, you need to be able to take immediate action to avoid the danger.
During this response, the adrenal glands release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol to increase the heart rate and get the blood flowing to allow us to escape. This is known as the “fight or flight” response.
Unfortunately, today many of us find ourselves in a constant state of stress. Money worries, career pressure, family obligations, and so many other issues conspire to contribute to our “stress account.” This keeps our stress levels elevated.
Stress and health
When stress levels remain elevated, the body continues to produce stress hormones, which affect heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Stress also impacts your immune system and cardiovascular health and can lead to problems with inflammatory balance.
Helpful natural remedies for stress management
Fortunately, there are many simple and natural lifestyle strategies to help you manage stress in your life. Here are some of them:
- Stay active. Develop a routine that includes some exercise most days of the week. Exercise not only helps reduce stress and low mood, but it can also promote overall health.
- Eat stress-reducing foods. Some foods that are associated with stress relief include blueberries, spinach, bananas, broccoli, fish, oranges and walnuts.
- Minimize alcohol and quit smoking. Substances like these can make stress worse.
- Avoid or minimize consumption of coffee or other caffeinated drinks.
- Learn some simple relaxation techniques, activities such as visualization, meditation or yoga.
- Contact a counselor or other professional. If stress levels become uncontrollable, seek out a counselor, psychologist, or counselor.
- Start keeping a journal. Writing things down can help highlight problems that are causing excessive stress.
- Take 5-minute stress relief breaks throughout the day. Stress accumulates throughout the day, so taking small breaks can help.
- Consider supplements that contain ingredients that help with stress. For example, the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha supports healthy cortisol levels.
Note: This article is not intended as medical advice. Contact your doctor for more detailed information.