During this season of short days and long, chilly nights, it strikes me that this is the perfect time to reassess our patterns and approaches to sleep. More and more, technology is dictating the way that we spend our days—and it may dictate how you spend your night, too! Studies are showing that even if the computer is closed once you go to bed, electronic devices still have a severe impact on the way we sleep.
Read on to learn about how technology is affecting the sleep quality of nearly 41 million people in the U.S. and what natural steps you can take to get the quality sleep that you deserve!
That’s right—around 41 million people in the U.S. get six or less hours of sleep each night, say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, largely because of how embedded technology has become in our daily routines. Computers, tablets, televisions, and even mobile devices can have an effect on our brain activity while we are trying to sleep, as electronic devices have a unique ability to stimulate activity in our brains even if we are not actively engaged with the device. Ping! Think of the text message that comes in just as you are drifting off toward sleep, or the television break to an extra-loud commercial—whether or not we realize it, these stimulants are a barrier between the quality sleep that many dream of.
Not only are these devices stimulating brain activity, but the artificial light from some devices, even e-readers, can disturb our helpful, sleep-promoting brain chemicals like melatonin. When our melatonin levels are altered, we experience sleep disturbances and our circadian rhythms, or natural clocks, are put out-of-whack. Our internal clocks affect both metabolism and digestion, and researchers suggest that lower levels of melatonin mean an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and immune disorders.
Here’s a word on the importance of circadian rhythms: Circadian rhythms are the cycles that govern the body’s natural cycles and regulate appetite, sleep, and mood. Within the past two decades, scientific research has confirmed the wisdom of ancient Chinese medicine, which believes that these channels are controlled largely by light, or the cycles of the sun. The body’s energy levels are meant to be higher during the day, exercising what is traditionally called the yang energy, while the nighttime is meant for rest and recuperation, a time to exercise the yin energy.
Nowadays, however, we are exercising more of our active yang energy before bed by playing games on our phones or doing last-minute work or shopping online. These activities don’t seem so active, but they generally match our activity levels for most of the day. This higher energy, tethered with electronic stimuli and artificial light, energize us, taking us further from the brain activity levels we tend to experience before a restful sleep, putting us back in the conference room, class, or our lunch-date. But don’t fret! We can still live our lives with technology and quality sleep.
I always recommend to my patients that they make a routine for going to sleep around the same time in order to help maintain healthy, sleep-promoting habits, and to keep parts of your life that don’t involve your bedtime routine separate.
Here are a couple of my favorite tips to help prepare you for rest:
1. Turn it off. Do not use electronic devices during the one-hour period before you go to sleep. By keeping the television off, computer closed, and using a paper book, you’ll be able to ease into your sleep cycle naturally without any disturbances.
2. Create a sleep sanctuary! Try setting your room up according to Feng Shui principles, by removing as many electronic devices as possible and decorating your bed or walls with the color blue. Light blue hues have been found to have a calming affect on our brains, and that’s exactly what we want before bed.
3. Relax with a leisurely stroll. An hour before bed, take a relaxing, 15-minute walk outside. Breathe in and enjoy the fresh air!
4. To do—or not to do? During the day, try to clear your daily calendar or to-do list. Leaving lots of unfinished business from the day tends to clutter our minds. I find it helpful to set aside a period of time each day after work to assess what I’ve accomplished for the day, and what I still must do. Reorganizing a practical and approachable plan for the next day helps my mind stay clear and focused on the rest of the day, rather than the past or future, which usually leads to worrying, increased stress levels, and reduced quality in sleep.
5. No midnight snacks. Do not eat at least two hours prior to going to bed. Ideally, your last meal should be no later than 7 pm, and you should be going to bed at 10 pm or earlier. By leaving time between meals and sleep, we allow our bodies to get a head start on digestion, which helps maintain our metabolic rhythms and prevent both weight gain and digestive disorders. Going to sleep at 10 pm enables us to wake with the sun and experience as much daylight as possible. Of course, while you are waking early I do, of course, recommend taking a nap every once in a while!
I hope you find plenty of ways to get quality rest!
You can find more ways to live a long and healthy life in Secrets of Longevity: Hundreds of Ways to Live to Be 100, which is now available on Kindle. In addition, The Natural Health Dictionary makes a great companion to your quest for longevity. It is a comprehensive guide that answers all your questions about natural remedies, healing herbs, longevity foods, vitamins, and supplements.
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May you live long, live strong, and live happy!
This blog is meant to educate, but it should not be used as a substitute for personal medical advice. The reader should consult his or her physician or clinician for specific information concerning specific medical conditions. While all reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that all information presented is accurate, as research and development in the medical field is ongoing, it is possible that new findings may supersede some data presented.
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