Sleep your way to a healthier life
Sleep, it affects us all differently. Whether you’re an early bird or an alarm clock hero everyone experiences sleep and its effects differently. We spend about a third of our lives sleeping, yet it’s something we rarely think about. I’m certainly guilty of it too, I used to be a horrible sleeper, woke up multiple times a night, had awful posture, and generally just thought that’s how sleep was. It wasn’t until the winter sophomore year of college that I realized how important it was.
I had discovered the gym after finding out I couldn’t eat everything I wanted and stop playing team sports my freshman year in college. Finding the gym was great, but getting stronger made me feel even better… until I pushed it too far. I tweaked my back and slowly lost strength and eventually could barely bend over to tie my shoes. This led me to my first bout of physical therapy. My first session I was asked to walk across the room and was instantly told my posture was crap and my physical therapist asked how I sleep. “On my stomach, sometimes throw a leg up.” She was not impressed and knew right away why my back was so bad. Along with some stretches and exercises. She recommended I sleep on my back with a pillow under my knees or if I want to sleep on my side a pillow in between my knees. I’ve been doing this for about two and a half years and my back has felt substantially better with no pain, although it did take about one to two months to get used to it. While my back pain had been cured, I realized there was a lot more about sleep and my well being that’s connected.
Sleep Posture TipsAccording to the University of Rochester Medical Center there are some general tips to get a better night sleep and not have pain in the morning:
- If you sleep on your back, a small pillow under the back of your knees will reduce stress on your spine and support the natural curve in your lower back. The pillow for your head should support your head, the natural curve of your neck, and your shoulders.
- Sleeping on your stomach can create stress on the back because the spine can be put out of position. Placing a flat pillow under the stomach and pelvis area can help to keep the spine in better alignment. If you sleep on your stomach, a pillow for your head should be flat, or sleep without a pillow.
- If you sleep on your side, a firm pillow between your knees will prevent your upper leg from pulling your spine out of alignment and reduce stress on your hips and lower back. Pull your knees up slightly toward your chest. The pillow for your head should keep your spine straight. A rolled towel or small pillow under your waist may also help support your spine.
- Insert pillows into gaps between your body and the mattress.
- When turning in bed, remember not to twist or bend at the waist but to move your entire body as one unit. Keep your belly pulled in and tightened, and bend your knees toward the chest when you roll.
- Keep your ears, shoulders, and hips aligned when turning as well as when sleeping.
Sleep DeprivationEveryone has experienced the feeling where they don’t feel fully themselves because of a lack of sleep. What I didn’t realize is how important sleep is in living a healthy life. According to The National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institutes sleep is vital to healthy brain function, physical health, and emotional well-being. They say after several nights of losing sleep, even a loss of just 1–2 hours per night, your ability to function suffers as if you haven't slept at all for a day or two. This is why you may have been drowsy at the wheel or not remembered a portion of your drive or activity. This is an example of what is referred to as microsleep or brief moments of sleep that occur when you're normally awake. Microsleep and sleep deficient people are at risk to not only negatively affect their performance but potentially injure themselves or others. Along with helping you stay alert sleep is needed for the body to recover to a homeostasis state. Sleep helps regulate blood pressure, hormones, and can even help lower chance of heart and kidney disease, diabetes, and strokes. This is why the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend those over 18 get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.
Tips To Improve Sleep and Sleep PatternsLuckily, just because you may suffer from poor sleep and sleep habits right now does not mean they’re set in stone. Try these tricks and tips for a more effective night sleep:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. For children, have a set bedtime and a bedtime routine. Don't use the child's bedroom for timeouts or punishment.
- Try to keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends. Limit the difference to no more than about an hour. Staying up late and sleeping in late on weekends can disrupt your body clock's sleep–wake rhythm.
- Use the hour before bed for quiet time. Avoid strenuous exercise and bright artificial light, such as from a TV or computer screen. The light may signal the brain that it's time to be awake.
- Avoid heavy and/or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime. (Having a light snack is okay.) Also, avoid alcoholic drinks before bed.
- Avoid nicotine (for example, cigarettes) and caffeine (including caffeinated soda, coffee, tea, and chocolate). Nicotine and caffeine are stimulants, and both substances can interfere with sleep. The effects of caffeine can last as long as 8 hours. So, a cup of coffee in the late afternoon can make it hard for you to fall asleep at night.
- Spend time outside every day (when possible) and be physically active.
- Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark (a dim night light is fine, if needed).
- Take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques before bed.