September Focus: Sleep

Sleep is one of the four main pillars of good health, and something I continue to focus on. I used to be a sound sleeper, but in the past five years have found myself awake for significant hours of the night, or waking in the morning with no sense of being rested. I’m focusing on building some new sleep habits in September to continue to optimize my health.

Recent research from the University of Rochester shows that when you sleep, your brain removes toxic proteins (by-products of neural activity when you’re awake) from its neurons. Your brain can only adequately remove these toxic proteins when you have sufficient quality sleep. When you don’t get high-quality deep sleep, the toxic proteins remain in your brain cells, wreaking havoc.

Besides the obvious attention I give this area of my health – a good mattress, keeping the room cool and dark enough, going to bed early, and limiting exposure to my iPhone for the last hour of the day – I found an article on Inc. yesterday that had some tips that were either new to me, or framed differently. I summarized it below, but urge you to read the article at the link if you believe your sleep could be improved.

Titled This Is What Your Overactive Brain Needs To Get A Good Night’s Sleep and written by Dr Tara Swart, it suggests:

“While falling asleep might seem like a passive process, there’s a whole cocktail of neurotransmitters involved in it, including histamine, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, glutamate, and acetylcholine. But that means there are many physiological “levers” you can pull on your way to a better night’s sleep. Get your evening routine right, and you’ll be able to enjoy the spoils that come with it–better concentration, memory, and moods, enhanced creativity, and reduced inflammation and stress.”

Dr Swart’s recommendations include:

Lose the routine glass of red wine before bed. Why?
Because your liver uses more resources to try to break down the toxin, your brain is starved for the energy it needs to recuperate effectively for the next day.

Eliminate as much artificial light as possible after the sun sets. Why?
Because darkness triggers the pineal gland to release melatonin, and it may be confused by all artificial light. Try switching to either paper books, or an activity that doesn’t rely on light once the sun goes down. I think campfire light is sleep enhancing!

Skip the snack before bed. Why?
Many foods stimulate the brain, at a time we want to be calming it.

Smell some lavender, or jasmine. Why?
Lavender is a powerful neuromodulator, which means that it lowers your blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature, making you more relaxed and likelier to fall asleep.

Drink nut milk with turmeric before bed. Why?
Make your own relaxing bedtime drink using almond milk (full of magnesium that reduces the stress hormone cortisol) plus turmeric (anti-inflammatory) plus a little Manuka honey (boosts immunity).

Soak in the tub with Epsom salts. Why?
It is a great way to relax – both the warm water, and the cool down afterward – signal your body that it should get ready to sleep. Plus you can add magnesium salts to the bathwater, and that helps decrease cortisol levels.

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