Modern life bombards us with stimulation. Television sets, cell phones, radios, and pagers are constantly reminding us to stay alert. Even the electric lightbulb, a relatively recent invention, can be an obstacle to good sleep.
Researchers at both Stanford Medical Center and the University of Oregon have concluded that bright light can trick our brains into thinking that we should be awake and alert. The importance of this fact cannot be underestimated. The simple acts of watching television late at night, keeping your house well lit prior to going to bed, and checking your e--mail in the evening can all have the effect of jump-starting your metabolism. Our early ancestors did not have these impediments to sleep. Homo sapiens living 50,000 to 100,000 years ago did not have houses with dark shades to avert morning sunlight, nor did they have lightbulbs and e-mail to stimulate them in the evening. Consequently, their biological clocks were constantly being tuned to the systematic dark and light cycle of the earth's changing seasons, which was beyond their control. Although it is impossible to gauge the sleeplessness of our ancestors, we do know that sleep problems are becoming much more frequent as we enter the 21st century.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pennsylvania found that the amount and quality of sleep actually affects how sick people get. The immune system is the body's primary defense against viruses and bacteria that invade the body, causing disease. This mounting evidence that sleep may help strengthen the immune system is quite important. A good night's sleep must be considered an integral part of any rejuvenation strategy. But how do you know if you are getting enough sleep?
William Dement, M.D., one of the world's foremost authorities on sleep, has a term for the physical condition of lacking enough sleep--sleep debt. Dement feels that the simplest way to measure sleep debt is to assess your daytime sleepiness. If you feel sleepy more than a couple of times during the day, you may be suffering some type of sleep debt.
There are a number of things you can do to sleep better. Most of them involve simple changes to your lifestyle, rather than herbs or medication. First, try the following suggestions:
1. Sleeping Tools:
Choose the right bed and pillows. If you awaken in the morning with back pain, you are probably sleeping in the wrong bed. If you awaken with neck pain, you probably need to change your pillow. Being too warm, too cold, or hindered by the wrong type of quilt or comforter can also disturb your sleep. It is very important that you pay attention to allthese details. Your bed should be your most comfortable place on earth. After all, you will spend approximately one-third of your life there.
2. Sleeping Environment:
Be certain that your room is an ideal environment for sleep. Notice how you feel with the windows open or closed. Some people prefer a cooler or a warmer environment. It is very important that your room block noise and light from disturbing your sleep. Primitive man never had to worry about the honking horns from taxicabs or the roar of anoverhead jet plane, but you may need to close your window, turn on a fan, or buy a white-noise maker to quiet your environment.
3. Bedtime Ritual:
Establish a bedtime ritual. Some people find gentle yoga stretching to be calming. Other people find that reading a book (as long as it is not a chilling murder mystery) is also an effective sleep-inducer. Taking a warm bath, dimming the lights an hour before bedtime, and avoiding stimulation will all help bring on a good night's sleep.
4. Regular Bedtime:
Establish a regular bedtime. Research indicates that going to sleep at the same time every night is a tremendous aid to a good night's sleep. All of your body's chemicals and hormones gradually learn an established pattern and will trigger to prepare you for sleep if you follow a daily ritual.
5. Food and Drink:
Be certain to avoid coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, or medications that include caffeine in the evening. Many people report that drinking alcohol also disturbs their sleep. Although having one or two drinks with dinner may be very relaxing, it can also make it more difficult to sleep. Be sure that you finish your evening meal a few hours before retiring and try to eat a light dinner. Overeating late in the day can make you feel uncomfortable and deprive you of a good night's sleep, because your body will go into overdrive to digest all that food.