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Five Secret Tips to Capture Daylight, Re-Set Your Master Clock and Put Insomnia to Rest
In my experience as a Sleep Science Coach, I’ve noticed that most people struggling with insomnia focus their attention on what they can do differently at night to try to resolve their sleeping challenges. Now, I’m not saying that’s wrong. On the contrary, there are many things you can do at night which will help you to re-gain your well-earned ZZZ’s. So what else is there?
What I suggest strongly is, if you haven’t already, please look at the broader picture of what it takes to re-gain sound sleep. And, strange as it may seem, this means looking at what you can do not only at night, but first thing in the morning as well. Yep, there are very simple and natural tactics you can use to re-set your 24-hour master clock and, thus, create a daily, day-time path towards optimal, nocturnal sleep.
‘So, what’s the broader picture?’, you asked. ‘Sunlight,’ I answer. Let me explain. When light enters your eyes first thing in the morning, it lets your brain know that a new day has begun. And, when your brain gets that a new day has started, a lot of good things can happen. The more morning daylight you get, the more awake and energized you’ll feel. In fact, sunlight tells your brain it’s day, while darkness sends messages that it’s night. When the brain knows nighttime is approaching, melatonin, a sleep hormone, is released. And, usually within two hours of melatonin release, sleepiness sets in. So long story short, at night you need to block out light, especially blue-light, while during the day you need to take in sunlight.
The chart below indicates the variations in lux values for a variety of light sources...
Jet Lag Not
From time to time anyone of us can suffer with jet lag. Usually occurring with travel involving even small time shifts, jet lag can certainly interfere in getting a great night’s sleep. In fact, jet lag can easily be referred to as ‘jet drag’.
It not only can make us feel wiped out, but the wear and tear of jet lag can cause physical, mental and emotional challenges. For those of us who travel a lot, or even a little, popping a sleeping pill, whether over-the-counter or prescribed, might seem the easy and logical solution.
I beg to differ though since current sleeping meds influence our brains in much the same way as hypnotics. And, while hypnotics knock us out and we sleep, they don’t allow for refreshing and health generating restorative sleep. That’s the type of sleep where we pass through the various sleep stages and cycles that rejuvenate and help us feel great.
It just so happens my spouse and I are in Italy as I write this. Here’s what we’re doing to deal with our own jet lag.
Ending insomnia - a new approach
In an intriguing article by Simon Parkin, Finally, a cure for insomnia? released on 9/14/18 in the Guardian, the work of South African psychiatrist, Hugh Selsick, and his insomnia clinic located in Bloomsbury, Great Britain are looked at.
Founded in 2009, Dr. Selsick and several other staff members offer a radically diverse way to treat insomnia. Out of approximately 1,000 patients completing the 5-week program, 80% report major improvements and 50% indicate that they’ve been cured.
What makes Dr. Selsick’s program unique? Well, for starters, he treats insomnia as its own disorder and not just as a side effect of another. For example, many depressed people also have insomnia. In the past though, those patients have been provided with anti-depressive medications in the hope and assumption that their insomnia would simply resolve as the depression lifted.
Dr. Selsick instead approaches the insomnia head on as its own clinical disorder. He believes it’s highly possible that a depressed person may have suffered from insomnia first and that their depression followed even several years after.
The article reports that many insomniacs have an antagonistic relationship with their bedroom. This is due to the frustrations the insomniac associates with their bedroom and lack of sleep. In short, the bedroom is linked to wakefulness. So, the very act of going to bed produces stress hormones and alertness.
Is Napping Okay?
Recently my spouse Janet declared how much she loves to nap. As a matter of fact, she wants to make napping a part of her daily ritual.
My thoughts on napping are mixed. In this hectic day and age, if one is feeling sleep-deprived and has trouble keeping their eyes open after lunch, a nap can help to recharge. On the other hand, napping can potentially interfere in feeling sleepy at night. This, of course, can lead to less nighttime sleep and more daytime drowsiness. But, is a nap what you really need?
Within the discussion of napping, it’s important to understand the number of hours of sleep needed on a nightly basis that will contribute to feeling great and thriving. Below is an updated list of recommended sleep hours by age group put together by the National Sleep Foundation.
Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours each day
Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours
School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours
Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours
Struggle Waking Up in the Morning? Sleep Onset Might Be Why
I was away recently with extended family and enjoying breakfast with some cousins. Towards the end of our meal, the table discussion veered to children and their difficulty waking up. My cousin Olivia spoke about what she and her husband, Christian, were doing to help their son find a suitable college. Olivia also commented that she didn’t know what Gianni was going to do about getting up in the mornings at college. “We have an impossible time waking him up to go to school now. I can’t imagine how he’ll be able to do that for himself at college.”
Olivia looked befuddled and continued. “I don’t know why he can’t get up. And when he’s finally awake it’s like the end of the world. He just can’t get with it. He’s so tired.”
Being the Sleep Science Coach that I am, I asked, “What time does Gianni get to bed?”
“Not too late. He goes to bed around 11ishpm. But, he sleeps and sleeps and sleeps. And, on the weekends, he stays in bed until 1pm. I don’t know what to make of it. But, Christian said he also couldn’t wake up as a kid. So, I guess Gianni takes after his father. I just don’t know how he’s going to manage at college.”
To get to high school on time. Gianni needs to get up at 6:30am. Doing some quick arithmetic in my head, I knew that 7 ½ hours of sleep a night could cause sleep deprivation, especially for a teenager. But, Gianni’s need to sleep until 1pm on weekends seemed excessive. It also provided an important clue, i.e., Gianni had an enormous sleep debt! Far greater than lacking an hour or so a night might produce.
“When Gianni goes to bed, does he have his phone with him or anything like that?”
“I think so. I don’t really know. But, I doubt he’s looking at his phone all that much anyway. Christian says he was the same way when he was Gianni’s age.”
The Most Important Health Habit of All?
The debate amongst the experts regarding what contributes the most to one’s great health… apart from strong genes… is on. Below are the top three lifestyle activities discussed.
► Good Night’s Sleep - There’s no denying that lack of sleep can be quite harmful in both the short and long run.
But, what does good sleep do for us?
• Learning and Memory – Sleep helps with memory consolidation, (after learning a new task people who slept well did better on subsequent testing.)
• Metabolism and Weight - Chronic sleep deprivation affects the way our body processes and stores carbs as well as changes the hormone levels that affect our appetite.
• Safety - Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the day which can cause very serious and life-threatening accidents.
• Mood - Sleep loss makes us irritable and impatient. It also can be a cause or contributor to depression and anxiety.
Snore Much? You May Have Sleep Apnea
Several weeks ago, my wife, Janet, and I were having dinner with another couple. One of the women was convinced her partner, Mary, (name changed to protect privacy), had obstructive sleep apnea, (OSA). Mary snored loudly and seemed to stop breathing at different points during the night.
When I asked Mary about her thoughts and/or concerns related to what her partner was saying, Mary answered that she really wasn’t worried. According to Mary, in all that she’d read about OSA and its related risks, there was nothing she saw that indicated sleep apnea was fatal.
Consequently, Mary ruled out participating in a sleep study to diagnosis sleep apnea. She also had little interest in discussing OSA treatment options. Mary summed up her sleep challenges with, “I’ve gained weight over the past year or so. I have to lose that weight and I’ll be fine again.” Even when her partner suggested that Mary temporarily use a sleep apnea treatment mask until she lost the weight, Mary wasn’t interested. Why not? Because Mary was convinced that OSA wasn’t really harmful.
I hope one day before suffering possible severe consequences, Mary reconsiders her decision, gets tested for OAS, and if necessary, consents to receiving treatment for this potentially life-threatening condition.
OSA – The What’s, Why’s and How’
Are Your Sleep Challenges Due to a Rhythm Disorder?
There are many reasons people suffer with acute sleep difficulties which can be intense but short-term. Life stressors including death, divorce, illness, financial worries, job loss, and/or concern for or disagreements with family and friends can all cause an interference in how we sleep. Sleep challenges caused by any of the above situations tend to dissipate once the underlying cause for concern is resolved.
For the sake of this article, I’m referring to people who are doing relatively well in life. They’re gainfully employed, have a roof over their heads, their loved ones are safe and life is good. Still, their sleep struggles persist long-term and can even become chronic. Whether it’s hard to initially fall asleep or challenging to fall back to sleep in the middle of the night, both situations are frustrating and a great cause for concern.
Sleep Ambivalence: How Our Attitudes and Actions Impact Sleep
So many of us are chronically exhausted. We have jobs with overwhelming workloads and bosses and/or are at home taking care of the kids, elderly parents and other never-ending household responsibilities. There’s simply no denying that the pace of life continues to grow faster and more stressful.
Since specializing as a Certified Sleep Science Coach, I’ve noticed inconsistencies between what people say they want when it comes to sleep success and its associated recovery benefits versus what they’re willing to contribute towards that success. Despite suffering from chronic struggles to get out of bed, to stay awake and alert by mid-day, as well as feeling wiped out in the evenings, there’s a secret flinch or hesitancy when it comes to carving out time for the full eight hours of sleep necessary to refuel, support health, and feel amazing.
Here are the varying sub-types of sleep ambivalence I’ve encountered thus far:
Sleeping Beauty: Natural And Innovative Techniques To Re-Gain A Great Night’s Sleep
When discussing lifestyle habits to gain and maintain optimal health, getting a good night sleep should be #1 on our list! In fact, without a consistent regimen of 7-9 hours of sleep nightly, recommended by the National Sleep Foundation,₁ we can absolutely count on becoming depleted in multiple areas of basic body and life functioning. And for those of us who are interested in re-shaping our bodies, please take note:
Medical research shows there is a stronger relationship between obesity and lack of sleep than any diet factor.₂
Decreased sleep impacts our ability to mentally concentrate, perform physically, and maintain mood stability. Moreover, according to Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D. in Go to Bed, sleep deprivation may contribute to: (a) compromises to our immune system, (b) increases in cortisol, (the stress hormone, which can detrimentally impact many health issues including weight problems), (c) an increased risk for serious cardiovascular problems, and, (d) the onset of certain cancers. In fact, Dr. Ballantyne reports that, “research shows that deep sleep may be the most critical time for our bodies to repair.”₃
Even short-term changes in sleep patterns can (1) worsen insulin resistance, (insulin is known as the fat storage hormone), (2) dysregulate cortisol, and, (3) increase leptin resistance, (people with leptin resistance have frequent food cravings or feelings of hunger.)⁴
Do you have challenges with eating binges in the late eve? Every wonder why? You may want to consider how much sleep you’re getting or not. Sleep deprivation changes the amount of dopamine receptors in the brain, mimicking the neuropathology of someone with food addiction-type-behaviors, (think obesity or binge eating disorders.)₅
All this to say that sleep matters tremendously in achieving good health and body size. With regard to the 7-9 hours idyllic sleeping range, generally speaking we need more sleep in the winter than the summer. This goes hand-in-hand with fewer daylight hours in the winter than summer. And with earlier darkness, the body is inclined to wind down sooner.