Sleep can affect nearly every aspect of our health, including memory, weight, safety, mood, cardiovascular health, and even immunity. No matter what your age, sleep is vital for supporting the healthy function of your brain and overall physical health [*]. It’s especially important for children and teens, since sleep helps to support their development and growth [*].
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “The way you feel while you're awake depends in part on what happens while you're sleeping.” [*] While small bouts of insomnia are not detrimental, chronic sleep deficiency can increase your risk of developing health problems, as well as negatively impact your daily activities.[*]
The problem is that most people in our busy society no longer take the time to relax. Dr. Sigrid Veasey, leading sleep researcher and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, explains that “we all want to push the system, to get the most out of our lives, and sleep gets in the way… But we need to know how far we can really push that system and get away with it.” [*]
Approximately 70 million people struggle to get a good rest, which is due to a variety of factors: with screen-time so prevalent, the light emitted from the screens contributes to a regular flow of stress hormones, such as cortisol [*]. Further, the blue light emitted from screens disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm, or ‘internal clock,’ making it difficult for people to naturally know when it’s time for their bodies to sleep [*]. Plus, with the pace in which most people live their lives, there’s little room to calm their nervous systems enough to sleep well on a regular basis. [*]
But what exactly happens when we’re sleeping?
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there are three stages of sleep.
Stage one is the period where you go from being awake to being asleep. In this stage, you’re sleeping lightly, your breathing and heart rate slows, and your muscles begin to relax. Stage two is the period where you enter from a light sleep into a deeper sleep. Your breathing and heart rate slows even more than in stage one, and you relax further. Stage three is the period of deep sleep that is required to feel alert the next morning. REM sleep occurs approximately 90 minutes once you’ve fallen asleep, and is the period in which most of us have dreams. In order to consolidate our memory from the day, we require both REM sleep and non-REM sleep.
Research shows that contrary to what you may think, your body and brain remain active as you sleep [*]. Plus, sleep may also play a role in removing toxic build-up in the brain, and “affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body – from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance” [*].
How does a good night’s rest affect us?
Quality sleep is vital to both mental and physical health, and is proven to sharpen cognitive function and help maintain a healthy weight [*]. According to an article in Time Magazine, “If every one of us slept as much as we’re supposed to, we’d all be lighter, less prone to developing Type 2 diabetes and most likely better equipped to battle depression and anxiety. We might even lower our risk of Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis and cancer.” [*]
So how do we sleep better?
Now that we understand what happens when we’re sleeping, let’s talk about how we can sleep better in order to feel our best. Here are a few tips:
1. Create a nighttime routine
Take your time to wind down. To do this, the Sleep Foundation recommends creating a technology-free bedroom environment, and staying off screens one to two hours prior to going to sleep [*]. Instead of texting before bedtime or binge-watching your favourite show on Netflix, experts recommend having a bath, making yourself a cup of herbal tea, and creating a mindfulness practice prior to sleep, such as deep breathing or meditation [*].
2. Stick to a regular schedule
Creating a regular bedtime helps your body regulate its internal clock and sleep more easily [*]. Plus, research shows that we get our best, deepest sleep between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.[*], so it’s a good idea to start training your body to fall asleep earlier. Using cannabis products, especially those with a high CBD content, may be helpful in encouraging your body to wind down [*].
3. Consider talking to a mental health professional
An article in Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publishing suggests that those who suffer from insomnia try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). According to Canada’s leading mental health centre, CAMH, CTB ”helps people to examine how they make sense of what is happening around them and how these perceptions affect the way they feel” [*]. This form of therapy can help to create a better attitude towards sleep, especially if it’s become a stressful event [*]. In CBT, you and your therapist can set realistic goals and release stressful thoughts that can disrupt your ability to get quality sleep [*].
4. Increase your exposure to natural light during the day
Research shows that quality sleep is dependent on natural light exposure. When your eyes detect light and dark, it adjusts your body’s internal clock, which naturally lets your body know when to go to sleep and when to wake up [*]. To increase your exposure to natural light, get outside everyday, especially in the morning since morning light helps us to wake up more easily [*].
5. Reduce your caffeine intake
According to a recent study, caffeine is the one of the most commonly-used stimulants in the world. Although the study mentions that there are some potential benefits to caffeine consumption, caffeine is associated with sleep deprivation [*]. The researchers explain that caffeine “is often ingested by those who are fatigued, at the same time as being implicated in causing the fatigue in the first place” [*]. When researchers examined the effect of caffeine ingested six hours prior to bedtime, the results showed that sleep was significantly disrupted. Try experimenting with reducing your caffeine intake to see if you sleep better, as well as using CBD products in the evening to encourage potential feelings of relaxation.