If you usually do not get a good sleep at night, there are chances that you might be aging faster than you should. You may not exactly feel at the top of the world, and your thinking could be confused and muddled. When we sleep, our body repairs on a cellular level and removes toxins. Therefore, it is necessary to get at least six to eight hours of good sleep daily.
If you are unable to get enough good sleep, yoga can help. Regular practice of yoga is known to help alleviate several ailments, including insomnia and abnormal sleeping habits. The following yoga stretches can help you relax and enjoy a peaceful and great sleep:
An excellent stretch for making the spine flexible, the Cat stretch also massages the digestive organs and improves digestion, helping you sleep well. It also improves blood circulation and relaxes the mind.
This pose can help remove fatigue from long hours of standing or walking. It is a good stretch for inner thighs, groin, and knees.
5. Legs-up-the-wall pose (Viparita Karani)
Lie down straight on your back. Now lift one leg up, followed by the next, and let your feet rest on the wall Extend the arms along the sides, palms facing up.
Now close your eyes and keep taking deep breaths as you relax into the pose. You may use an eye cushion over your eyes to block the light and completely relax. Stay in the pose for as long as you comfortably can and then slowly come out, bringing the legs down.
This is an excellent pose to relieve tired legs and feet. It also helps increase blood supply to the brain, thereby calming the mind and relieving it of a mild headache.
Sleep experts often point to the importance of creating a standard nighttime routine to signal your body that it’s time to prepare for sleep. You may choose to include Nadi Shodhan pranayama in your ritual to relieve tension and relax into a peaceful sleep.
Other tips to help you sleep better
Avoid doing Bhastrika pranayama and Sudarshan Kriya in late evenings. They will fill you with a lot of energy and prevent you from falling asleep.
Avoid watching a horror movie late night, as the thought of it will keep lingering in your mind.
Listen to soft instrumental music such as veena or chanting or some knowledge talk before getting ready to sleep.
Sleeping in the afternoon for about half an hour and at night for six to eight hours is a good practice.
Introspect on what you did during the day. Feel content, pray and go to sleep with a happy and relaxed mind.
Finish your dinner latest by 8:30 p.m. Keep a gap of at least two hours between your last meal and bedtime.
If you had a quarrel with your partner or loved one, make sure you sort it out before you go to sleep.
Avoid taking stimulants at night, especially if you are suffering from insomnia.
Meditate or do Yoga Nidra before going to sleep. This will help you relax and assist in getting sleep.
Exposure to very dim light during sleep — even if it does not noticeably impair your sleep — may affect your brain function and cognition during the day
Sleeping under 10 lux light conditions decreased activation in a brain region involved in response inhibition, attentional control and the detection of relevant cues when performing a task the following day
Animal research found that nighttime exposure to 5 lux for three weeks in a row produced depression-like symptoms and impaired cognition
By Dr. Mercola
Inside the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of your brain, which is part of your hypothalamus, resides your master biological clock. Based on signals of light and darkness, your SCN tells your pineal gland when it’s time to secrete melatonin, and when to turn it off.
Your melatonin level inversely rises and falls with light and darkness, and both your physical and mental health is intricately tied to this rhythm of light and dark.
When it’s dark, your melatonin levels increase, which is why you may feel tired when the sun starts to set. Conversely, when you’re exposed to bright artificial lighting at night, including blue light emitted from TVs and electronic screens, you may have trouble falling asleep due to suppressed melatonin levels.
Many sleep problems can be resolved by making sure you avoid blue light exposure after sunset and sleep in total darkness.
Interestingly, being exposed to very dim light during sleep — even if it does not noticeably seem to impair your sleep — may also affect your brain function and cognition during the day.
Minute Amounts of Light During Sleep Can Affect Cognition
I’ve been a long-time advocate of sleeping in TOTAL darkness, and an interesting study1 published in Scientific Reports highlights the importance of this recommendation — not just for solid sleep, but also for cognitive health.
In this study, 20 healthy men slept in a laboratory shrouded in complete darkness for two nights in a row. On the third night, they were exposed to a dim light of either 5 or 10 lux while sleeping.
To get an idea of how dim a light intensity of 5 or 10 lux is, 1 lux is equal to the brightness of a surface illuminated by one candle, placed 1 meter (3.28 feet) away from the surface. Twilight is just below 11 lux, whereas an object illuminated by the light of the full moon is about one-tenth of a lux.2
After the second and third nights, the participants performed working memory tests (so-called n-back tests) while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The goal was to evaluate the effects of dim light exposure during sleep on functional brain activation during a working memory task the next day.
When sleeping under 10 lux light conditions, there was decreased activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus, an area of your brain involved in response inhibition, attentional control and the detection of relevant cues when performing a task.3
Exposure to 5-lux light had no statistically significant effect on the participants’ brain activity. In other words, past a certain point of very dim light, nighttime light exposure can have a direct influence on your brain function, specifically your cognition and working memory.
Nighttime Light — A Hazardous ‘Pollutant’
According to the authors of this study:
“Nighttime light is now considered to be one of the fastest growing pollutants, and the invasion of artificial light into previously unlit areas is threatening the soundness of human health and sleep.
Nighttime artificial lighting in cities is divided into three types: sky glow, trespass and glow. Light trespass refers to unwanted direct lighting of an area, and it occurs when unwanted light spills over into another property or dwelling and causes sleep interference, negative influence on one’s well-being …
Several studies have also shown that light pollution and shift work are tentative risk factors for cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, gastrointestinal disease and metabolic syndrome …”
Fortunately, the detrimental effects of nighttime light pollution are starting to gain recognition, and some countries have even adopted regulations to reduce nighttime light in residential areas.
Guidelines issued by the Commission Internationale de l’Eclairage (CIE), Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) and Institution of Lighting Engineers (ILE), have an upper brightness limit for light trespass of 2, 3 and 5 lux in in residential areas respectively.
Chronic Exposure to Light During Sleep May Cause Pronounced Effects on Cognition
The study in question was done to investigate whether these limits are sufficient to reduce sleep and cognitive problems associated with nighttime light pollution.
While limits of 5 lux or less appear sufficient, they discovered that exposure to 10 lux may produce adverse brain effects even if there are no subjective, outward symptoms of impairment. As noted by the authors:
“This study is meaningful because it is the first to scientifically identify the effect of the dim light at night on human brain function and cognition. It is noteworthy that the brain activation was altered after only a single night of light exposure.
This suggests that the chronic exposure to the light at night for many nights might have caused more pronounced effects on the brain and cognition … The interesting finding in the 10 lux group … was the discrepancy between the n-back task and fMRI results.
The decrease of the brain activation in fMRI in the frontal lobe without significant finding in the n-back task of 10 lux group suggests that the absence of evidence of subjective or objective cognitive dysfunction does not necessarily mean that the brain is functioning normally.
This indicates that certain exposure to dim light might influence brain function for cognition even if there is no significant impairment in subjective symptoms (or even in an objective neurocognitive function test).”
Lack of Symptoms Does Not Mean You’re Unaffected
In other words, what they discovered is that while you might not notice a problem, your brain is still not working normally or optimally. The reason for this is not entirely clear. One possibility is that the decrease in brain activity is related to a reduction in deep sleep, most likely brought on by disrupted melatonin secretion.
Another possibility is that light exposure at night somehow directly induces cognitive dysfunction (opposed to indirectly, via sleep disturbance). One mouse study found that aberrant light exposure caused learning impairments and mood disturbances by directly affecting melanopsin-expressing neurons.
These melanopsin-expressing neurons, also known as photosensitive retinal ganglion cells, found in the retina of the eye, are not involved in vision. Instead, they play a role in circadian rhythm synchronization and the suppression or release of melatonin.
These retinal cells are also linked to the hypothalamus and the limbic regions, including the amygdala. Other researchers have suggested dim light at night could have a direct influence on brain function via some process related to these photosensitive retinal ganglion cells.
Even 5 Lux Could Potentially Contribute to Depressed Mood
In one study, hamsters exposed to 5 lux at night for four weeks altered their neuronal structure, which in turn caused the hamsters to exhibit symptoms of depression. Another animal study also found that nighttime exposure to 5 lux — this time for three weeks in a row — produced both depression-like symptoms and impaired cognition.
Neurons in the hippocampus also shrunk in length, an effect primarily attributed to a decrease in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
BDNF is a remarkable rejuvenator in several respects. Not only does it preserve existing brain cells, it also activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons, effectively making your brain grow larger.
The study in question basically showed that nighttime light exposure of just 5 lux effectively inhibited this important brain rejuvenator, causing neuronal shrinkage in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in both long-term memory storage and the regulation of emotions.
In light of such evidence (no pun intended), it would certainly be prudent to evaluate your nighttime light exposure if you “feel blue” or struggle with any kind of depression. Even a seemingly insignificant amount of light could be interfering with your melatonin and/or BDNF production, causing a mood imbalance.
Even the display on your alarm clock could be causing you trouble without you realizing it. I used to recommend covering up digital alarm clocks but know from personal experience how inconvenient that can be, especially if you have blackout drapes and sleep in pitch blackness like I do. I finally discovered a perfect solution — an alarm clock for blind people. It has a very large button that is easy to find, and when you tap it, it audibly tells you the time.
Light-Sensing Pigment in Your Eyes Help Direct Waking/Sleeping Cycles
The wavelength of light also matters to your health, not just the brightness itself. The wavelength gives light its color. Red and orange light have longer wavelengths while green and blue are shorter. The influence of varying wavelengths of light on brain function was demonstrated in a 2014 Belgian study,4 which showed that orange light serves as a powerful “wake-up call” for your entire body.
Again, the influence of light wavelengths has to do with the photosensitive retinal ganglion cells in your eye, which produce a light-sensing pigment called melanopsin. This pigment plays an important role in directing your waking and sleeping cycles. As reported by New Scientist:5
“To find out how melanopsin wakes up the brain, Gilles Vandewalle at the University of Liege, Belgium, and his team gave 16 people a 10-minute blast of blue or orange light while they performed a memory test in an fMRI scanner. They were then blindfolded for 70 minutes, before being retested under a green light.
People initially exposed to orange light had greater brain activity in several regions related to alertness and cognition when they were retested, compared with those pre-exposed to blue light. Vandewalle thinks that melanopsin is acting as a kind of switch, sending different signals to the brain depending on its state.
Orange light, which has the longer wavelength, is known to make the pigment more light-sensitive, but blue light has the opposite effect. Green light lies somewhere in the middle. The findings suggest that pre-exposure to orange light pushes the balance towards the more light-sensitive form of melanopsin, enhancing the response in the brain.”
This kind of information becomes particularly important if you work the night shift. By carefully selecting the type of artificial light you expose yourself to at different times, you can ameliorate at least some of the adverse effects associated with shift work. For more details, please see my previous article, “How to Counteract the Ill Effects of Working the Night Shift.”
How to Make Digital Screens Healthier
In addition to reducing the light in your sleeping environment it is also helpful to eliminate blue light from artificial sources like watching TV at night. You can do this be picking up a $9 pair of UVEX blue blockers on Amazon. It is far more convenient, though, to use blue light blocking software on your computer monitor after sunset.
Many use f.lux to do this, but I have a great surprise for you as I have found a FAR better alternative that was created by Daniel Georgiev, a 22-year-old Bulgarian programmer that Ben Greenfield introduced to me.
He is one of the rare people that already knew most of the information in this article. He was using f.lux but was very frustrated with the controls. He attempted to contact the f.lux programmers but they never got back to him. So, he created a massively superior alternative called Iris. It is free, but you’ll want to pay the $2 and reward Daniel with the donation. You can purchase the $2 Iris software here.
Iris is better because it has three levels of blue blocking below f.lux: dim incandescent, candle and ember. I have been using ember after sunset and measured the spectrum and it blocked nearly all light below 550 nanometers (nm), which is spectacular, as you can see in the image below when I measured it on my monitor in the ember setting.
When I measured the f.lux at its lowest setting of incandescent it showed loads of blue light coming through, all the way down to as you can clearly see in the images below.
So, if you are serious about protecting your vision you will abandon f.lux software and switch to Iris. I have been using it for about three months now, and even though I have very good vision at the age of 62 and don’t require reading glasses, my visual acuity seems to have dramatically increased. I believe this is because I am not exposing my retina to the damaging effects of blue light after sunset.
Nighttime LED Light Pollution May Be Particularly Harmful
As detailed in my interview with Dr. Alexander Wunsch, a world class expert on photobiology, lighting is an important health consideration. Natural sunlight simply cannot be beat, but unless you spend a majority of your time outside, you’ll need to give some serious consideration to the kind of artificial lighting you use at home and at work.
Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have now become a standard indoor light source, thanks to their energy efficiency. However, the price society will have to pay in terms of health could end up being enormous. If you missed this interview, I strongly recommend taking the time to listen to it, and read through the accompanying article, “How LED Lighting May Compromise Your Health.” It’s a really crucial issue.
One rare exception is if you work the night shift. In this case, to help establish a new circadian rhythm you’ll want a small amount (just 15 to 30 minutes’ worth) of blue light exposure first thing upon waking (which if you work nights will typically be in the evening, when it’s dark out), along with incandescent light for the longer wavelengths, which include near-infrared. I describe all of this in more detail in the shift work article hyperlinked above. For all others, LED lighting is simply not a good idea.
Environmental Near-Infrared Light Exposure Is Important for Health
As explained by Wunsch, the vast majority of the energy your body needs to maintain systemic equilibrium actually comes from environmental infrared light exposure. The near-infrared range of light found not only in natural sunlight but also in incandescent light bulbs and halogens benefit your health in a number of important ways, including priming the cells in your retina for repair and regeneration.
LEDs emit primarily blue light, which reduces melatonin production in both your pineal gland and in your retina. In your retina, melatonin helps with regeneration, which is why LEDs are so harmful to your vision. Blue light also creates reactive oxygen species (ROS) that, when generated in excess, cause damage. So, when using LEDs, you end up with increased damage and decreased repair and regeneration throughout your body, not just in your eyes.
LED light exposure that is not balanced with full sunlight loaded with the red parts of the spectrum is always damaging to your biology, but even more so at night. Hence lighting your living room, kitchen and dining room — any room where you spend most of your evening — is best done using good old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs, halogens and candles.
Save the energy-saving LEDs for your garage, closets and hallways where exposure is minimal. More detailed information on how to identify the healthiest light bulbs can be found in “How LED Lighting May Compromise Your Health.”
To Optimize Your Sleep and Protect Your Brain Health, Sleep in Total Darkness
When your circadian rhythm is disrupted, your body produces less melatonin, which means it has less ability to fight cancer, and less protection against free radicals that may accelerate aging and disease. So if you’re having even slight trouble sleeping, I suggest you review my 33 Secrets to a Good Night’s Sleep for more guidance on how to improve your sleep-wake cycle.
Even if you think you’re sleeping OK, but know you have light pollution entering your room at night, consider taking steps to block it, since being asymptomatic does not mean your brain is unaffected and functioning normally. Also consider cleaning up the lighting sources in your home and office to avoid unnecessary harm.
As mentioned, AMD is a very real and serious side effect of being chronically exposed to LED lighting, especially if you’re also getting very little natural sunlight exposure.
One minute you’re snoozing peacefully, the next you’re wide awake in the dead of night. Sound familiar? Unless you’re blessed enough to conk out like the most determined of logs, you may have experienced this form of sleeplessness before. Waking up during the night isn’t uncommon—a study of 8,937 people in Sleep Medicine estimates that about a third of American adults wake up in the night at least three times a week, and over 40 percent of that group might have trouble falling asleep again (this is sometimes referred to as sleep maintenance insomnia).
So, what’s causing you to wake up in the middle of the night, and how can you stop it from happening? Here are eight common reasons, plus what you can do to get a good night’s rest.
1. Your room is too hot, cold, noisy, or bright.
Your arousal threshold—meaning how easy it is for something to wake you up—varies depending on what sleep stage you’re in, Rita Aouad, M.D., a sleep medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF.
When you sleep, your body cycles through different sleep stages: 1, 2, 3, 4, and rapid-eye movement (REM). (Some schools of thought lump together stages 3 and 4.) The first stage of sleep is the lightest, Dr. Aouad explains. That’s when you’re most likely to startle awake because a door slams, a passing car’s headlights shine into your window, or because of some other environmental factor like your room being too hot or cold.
Ideally, your room should be dark, comfortably cool, and quiet when you sleep. This might not all be under your control, but do what you can, like using earplugs and an eye mask to block out errant noise and light, or buying a fan if your room is stifling.
2. You have anxiety.
“Anxiety can absolutely wake you up at night,” Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, M.D., a physician in New York, tells SELF. In fact, trouble sleeping is one of the most common symptoms of an anxiety disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic. That’s because you can experience anxiety-induced issues that are severe enough to rouse you, like a galloping heartbeat or nightmares.
“Additionally, there are people who may experience what are called nocturnal panic attacks, meaning they may have transient episodes of intense panic that wake them up from their slumber,” Dr. Okeke-Igbokwe says.
If your anxiety regularly wakes you up, Dr. Okeke-Igbokwe recommends mentioning it to your doctor, who should be able to help you get a handle on any underlying anxiety or panic disorder at play. Doing so may involve cognitive behavioral therapy, anti-anxiety medication, or a combination of the two. “Meditation and deep-breathing exercises can also sometimes alleviate symptoms in some people,” Dr. Okeke-Igbokwe says.
3. Your full bladder can’t wait until the morning.
Nocturia—a condition that’s generally viewed as getting up to pee at least once during the night, though some experts say that’s not often enough to qualify—appears to be fairly common. A study in the International Neurourology Journal found that out of the 856 people surveyed, around 23 percent of women and 29 percent of men experienced nocturia.
Causes of nocturia include drinking too much fluid before bedtime, urinary tract infections, and an overactive bladder, per the Cleveland Clinic. Untreated type 1 or type 2 diabetes may also be a factor; having too much sugar in your bloodstream forces your body to extract fluid from your tissues, making you thirsty and possibly prompting you to drink and pee more, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If cutting back on your evening fluid intake doesn’t reduce your number of nightly bathroom trips, consult a doctor for other possible explanations.
4. You had a couple of alcoholic drinks.
Sure, alcohol can make it easy to drift off—even when you’re, say, on a friend’s couch instead of tucked into your bed—but it also has a tendency to cause fitful sleep. This is because alcohol can play around with your sleep stages in various ways. For instance, it seems as though alcohol is associated with more stage 1 sleep than usual in the second half of the night. Remember, stage 1 sleep is the period in which you’re most likely to wake up due to environmental factors. So if you’re looking for quality, sleep-through-the-night rest, it’s worth taking a look at how much alcohol you’re consuming.
Everyone metabolizes alcohol differently depending on factors like genetics, diet, and body size. However, Alexea Gaffney Adams, M.D., a board-certified internist at Stony Brook Medicine, recommends that people stop drinking at least three hours before going to bed to give their bodies time to process the alcohol. Since drinking often happens at night, we realize that can be an optimistic time cushion. Based on your personal factors and how much you drank, you might not need that much. But having some kind of buffer—and drinking plenty of water so you’re more likely to booze in moderation—may prevent alcohol from interfering with your sleep.
Also, Dr. Gaffney Adams notes that drinking alcohol too soon before bed will make you need to pee, increasing the likelihood you’ll wake up in the night to use the bathroom. Double whammy, that one.
5. You’ve got sleep apnea.
If you find yourself jolting awake and feeling like you need to catch your breath, sleep apnea might be the culprit. This disorder slows and/or stops your breathing while you are asleep.
If you have obstructive sleep apnea, the muscles in your throat relax too much, which narrows your airway, causing your oxygen levels to drop, the Mayo Clinic explains. If you have central sleep apnea, your brain doesn’t send the right signals to the muscles controlling your breathing, again causing this potentially harmful drop in oxygen. Complex sleep apnea features characteristics of both conditions.
To diagnose sleep apnea, your doctor may have you do an overnight sleep study that monitors your breathing, according to the Mayo Clinic. The most common treatment for sleep apnea is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, which is basically a mask you wear during sleep to help keep your airways open, but your doctor can help you explore the alternatives if necessary.
6. You have an overactive thyroid gland.
“This gland controls the function of several other organs,” Dr. Gaffney Adams tells SELF. When it’s overactive (also called hyperthyroidism), it creates too much of the hormone thyroxine, which can have ripple effects on many different systems in your body, according to the Mayo Clinic. Common symptoms of an overactive thyroid include trouble sleeping, an increased heart rate, sweating (including at night), anxiety, tremors, and more.
Your primary care physician or an endocrinologist (a doctor specializing in hormones) can test your blood to evaluate your hormone levels. If you do have an overactive thyroid, your doctor can walk you through the potential ways of treating it, including medications to slow your thyroid’s hormone production and beta blockers to reduce symptoms like a wild heartbeat.
7. You ate right before bedtime, or you didn’t eat recently enough before you went to sleep.
“Eating too heavy of a meal too close to bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep,” Dr. Aouad says. One potential reason behind this is acid reflux, which is when your stomach acid moves up into your throat and causes painful nighttime heartburn. And if you eat food right before bed that makes you gassy, the resulting abdominal pain could drag you out of dreamland, too.
On the flip side, going too long without eating before you sleep can also cause this type of insomnia, Dr. Aouad says. There’s the simple fact that your growling, crampy stomach can wake you up. Hunger could also mess with your blood sugar while you sleep, especially if you have diabetes. Going too long without eating can provoke hypoglycemia, which is when your blood sugar drops too low. This can lead to restless sleep, per the Cleveland Clinic, along with issues like weakness or shaking, dizziness, and confusion. Although hypoglycemia can happen to anyone, it’s much more likely in people with diabetes. If you have the condition, work with your doctor on a plan for keeping your blood sugar stable, including during sleep.
8. You have restless legs syndrome.
Restless legs syndrome, or RLS, may make your lower extremities feel like they are throbbing, itching, aching, pulling, or crawling, among other sensations, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). If you have RLS, you’ll also feel an uncontrollable urge to move your legs. These symptoms are most common during the evening and night and become more intense during periods of inactivity, like…you guessed it, sleep.
Experts aren’t totally sure what causes RLS, but it seems as though there’s a hereditary factor in the mix, according to the NINDS. Researchers are also investigating how issues with dopamine, a neurotransmitter your muscles need to work correctly, may cause RLS. Sometimes there are other underlying issues bringing about RLS as well, such as iron deficiency.
After diagnosing you with RLS via questions and lab exams, your doctor may prescribe medications to increase your dopamine levels or other drugs, such as muscle relaxants. They may also be able to counsel you on home remedies to soothe your muscles, like warm baths.
To sum it up, there are a bunch of possible reasons you are waking up at night. Some are pretty easy to change on your own, others not so much.
If you think all you need to do to fix this is tweak a habit, like falling asleep with the TV on or chugging a liter of water before bed, start there. If you’ve done everything you can think of and still don’t see a change, it’s worth mentioning your nighttime wakeups to an expert who can help you stay put after you drift off.
You get up in the middle of the night and you’re wide awake. You need rest for your big day at work. What can you do to get back to sleep?
1. Get Out of Bed
It may not sound like the obvious thing to do, but if can’t get back to sleep within 20 minutes or so, go to another room. Do something quiet and unexciting, like listening to soothing music or reading something you’ve read before.
When you feel sleepy again, go back to bed.
2. Don’t Stare at the Clock
If you check the time over and over, it only adds to your stress when you’re trying to get some shut-eye. Turn the clock away so it’s out of your sight line.
3. Make Sure It’s Not Too Bright
Light makes you feel alert, which isn’t what you want when you need to sleep. If you get up to go to the bathroom, get a drink, or have a snack, keep the lighting dim.
If you read, don’t use backlit screens such as computers, cell phones, or tablets. They can keep you awake.
4. Get Relaxed
Put your mind and body at ease with these techniques:
Deep breathing . Do it slowly and steadily from your belly.
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Meditation. You can quiet your mind if yourepeat a phrase while you do some rhythmic breathing.
Visualization. It’s a type of meditation that helps you distance yourself from stress by imagining the sights, sounds, and scents of a peaceful place.
Progressive muscle relaxation. First tense your muscles, then relax them. Do this over and over throughout your body, starting with your feet and working your way up.
To learn more about these and other techniques, take a class or use self-guided books or videos. You can also check out online videos or articles.
5. Try Biofeedback
This mind-body technique requires equipment and training from a specialist. It can help you learn ways to control your tension levels.
Once you master it, biofeedback can help you get back to sleep.
6. Keep a Sleep Diary
This isn’t something you should do in the middle of the night. But during the daytime, keep a record of your sleep patterns and other habits.
For instance, write down how often you woke up during the night, what disturbed your sleep, and how much caffeine or alcohol you had during the day. Then take the diary to your doctor. It will help the two of you plan a strategy to get more shut-eye.
7. Talk to Your Doctor
Let your doctor know that you have trouble sleeping. Find out your options, perhaps including medication, that can help you get a good night’s rest.
Studies have shown that in general, the optimal room temperature for sleeping is quite cool, around 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and temperatures much above or below this range can lead to restlessness.
But a new study suggests there are nuances to this phenomenon, and that a restful night’s sleep may be more complicated than simply turning down your thermostat.
Thermoregulation—your body’s heat distribution system—is strongly linked to sleep cycles. Even lying down can induce sleepiness by redistributing your body heat from your core to your periphery.
Sleep deprivation has virtually the same effect on your immune system as physical stress or illness, which explains in part why lack of sleep is associated with an increased risk of multiple chronic diseases. Therefore, high-quality sleep is critical to your health.
In this article, I’ll be discussing the latest research on sleep temperature, as well as other factors that can ease you into a blissful night’s slumber.
Cooler Heads Prevail
While you sleep, your body’s internal temperature actually drops to its lowest level of the day, generally about four hours after you fall asleep.
Research has determined that insomniacs typically have a warmer core body temperature just before bed than normal sleepers, which leads to heightened arousal and difficulty drifting off.
Many scientists believe that anything that mimics your body’s natural temperature drop may help promote sleep—such as the abrupt temperature change that occurs shortly after getting out of a hot bath.
Keeping a “cool head”—or more specifically, a cool brain—appears to induce sleepiness. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that a cap worn by insomniacs filled with cool circulating water helped them sleep almost as easily as people without sleep disorders.
Those whose caps were set to the coolest temperatures were able to get more sleep than those whose caps were set slightly warmer. The caps’ success can be explained by the fact that heightened brain activity raises your brain’s temperature.
Many insomniacs report that they can’t fall asleep because they “can’t turn their brains off” at night, but the cooling cap helped resolve this. Researchers concluded that their extra brain activity was keeping their brains too hot for sleep.
Cooling off your brain makes sense, as melatonin (your sleep hormone) works in part by lowering your body temperature. Yawning may also serve to cool your brain by drawing a bolus of cool air into your sinuses.
Your brain temperature is higher when you’re sleep deprived, which might explain why exhaustion triggers excessive yawning.
The Secrets to Burning More Fat While You Sleep
New research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that sleeping in a cool room has significant calorie- and fat-burning health benefits.
According to Dr. Francesco Celi, Chairman of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, even a small reduction in room temperature helps your body “burn calories and dispose of excess blood sugar”—thanks to your body’s brown fat.
Brown fat generates heat by helping you burn calories, which is why it’s being explored as a tool for weight loss, healthy metabolism, and more. The more brown fat you have, the better, as there are direct correlations between your level of activated brown fat and optimal metabolic markers.
People with more brown fat have a faster metabolism, better blood sugar control, and higher insulin sensitivity when exposed to cold temperatures. As you age, the activity of your brown fat decreases, which helps explain why there’s a tendency to gain weight with age. However, exercise may help prevent this.
Unfortunately, other evidence suggests that the optimal temperature for activating brown fat may NOT be the best for a sound sleep.
Shivering Activates Brown Fat—But Hampers Your Sleep
According to Dr. Celi, there is evidence pointing to shivering as the mechanism that triggers brown fat to produce heat and burn calories. Like exercise, shivering triggers your muscles to secrete a hormone that stimulates energy use in your brown fat cells.
But shivering is not conducive to sleeping soundly, as evidenced by research from Dr. Eus van Someren and colleagues at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience.
While a dip in core temperature before bedtime flips on your “time for bed” switches, Someren’s research indicates that deep, restful slumber requires you to keep your skin temperature “perfectly comfortable.” So, if you’re thinking about chilling yourself during the night to boost your health and metabolism, it simply won’t work—you’ll end up sleep deprived.
In fact, Someren’s work and that of others suggest that skin temperatures in the range of 90 degrees may be optimal. Typically, all that’s required to get your skin to 90 degrees Fahrenheit are thin pajamas, plus a sheet, and a light blanket—even if your bedroom thermostat is set to 65.
So, if you’re one to turn the heat way down and crawl under a big puffy comforter, you may sleep well, but you’re probably not experiencing much brown fat activity. The other thing that can happen if your bedroom is too chilly is that the blood vessels in your skin will constrict, locking in heat and raising your core temperature to a point at which your sleep can be disturbed.
If you introduce a bed partner into the mix—and it doesn’t matter whether he or she is the two-legged or four-legged variety—then things get even more complicated, especially if you each have different Goldilocks zones for comfort.
Sharing your sleep sanctuary can be tricky business. Finding your “perfect sleep temperature” is a bit of a process and differs for everyone. But body temperature is only one of many factors that control the quality and duration of your sleep.
Sleeping in the Buff May Be Beneficial
Professor Russell Foster of the University of Oxford recommends ditching your pajamas to improve your slumber—which is actually done by one-third of all adults in the US, according to one study. If you’re wearing lots of bedclothes, it may be more difficult for your body to regulate its temperature.
With or without pajamas, it’s important to make sure your hands and feet are warm because if they aren’t, the blood vessels near your skin constrict and reduce blood flow in an effort to prevent heat from escaping, and this prevents your core temperature from dropping easily. Conversely, warming your skin causes your peripheral blood vessels to widen, promoting heat loss. To summarize, if you want to fall asleep easily, you’ll need to be warm enough that your blood vessels won’t constrict, but not so hot that your body can’t cool down.
The Health Risks of Poor Quality Sleep
Millions of American adults are sleeping less than six hours per night, which recent studies have linked to chronic inflammation, higher stress, and increased mortality from all causes. Getting just one hour less sleep per night may raise your risk of several chronic diseases. Interrupted or impaired sleep can lead to the following:
Increase your risk of heart disease
Harm your brain by causing brain shrinkage, halting new cell production, and interfering with brain detoxification, contributing to the buildup of amyloid-beta plaques (which are found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s)
Impair your ability to lose excess pounds or maintain your ideal weight. This is likely the effect of altered metabolism, because when you’re sleep deprived, leptin (the hormone that signals satiety) falls, while ghrelin (which signals hunger) rises
Contribute to a pre-diabetic state, making you feel hungry even if you’ve already eaten, which can wreak havoc on your weight
Accelerate tumor growth, primarily due to disrupted melatonin production. Melatonin inhibits the proliferation of a wide range of cancer types, and triggers cancer cell apoptosis (self-destruction). The hormone also interferes with the new blood supply tumors require for their rapid growth (angiogenesis)
Contribute to premature aging by interfering with your growth hormone production, normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep (and during certain types of exercise, such as high-intensity interval training)
Resistant hypertension, the type that does not respond to typical drug-based treatments
Increase your risk of dying from any cause
A Simple Trick to Help You Spend More Time in Deep Sleep
Deep sleep is one of the most important sleep phases as this is when your body repairs and regenerates, and your immune system is strengthened. The more time you can spend in this crucial sleep phase during the night, the more refreshed you’ll feel in the morning. Sound stimulation has been shown to be effective for prolonging deep sleep. So, if you’re having trouble staying asleep, this is a simple trick to try.
A study published in the journal Neuron found that playing “pink noise” sounds that were synchronized to the subject’s brain waves when the subject approached deep sleep allowed them to remain in deep sleep longer than when the sound was not played. The participants’ memory also showed dramatic improvement after sleeping with “pink noise.”
Participants were shown 120 pairs of words before going to bed and tested the following morning to see how many they could remember. After sound stimulation, the subjects improved their memory retention by nearly 60 percent, recalling an average of 22 sets of words compared to 13 when the sound was not played. The key, according to the authors, is that the frequency of the sound was synched to the subject’s brain waves. This amplified the size of the brain waves during deep sleep, and these slower brain waves are associated with information processing and memory formation. You can find special “pink noise” apps to play in your bedroom, or you can simply turn on a fan to get this benefit.
Additionally, if you don’t already have a fitness tracker that records your sleep, I would encourage you to get one. It’s difficult to change a habit when you’re not monitoring it, and chances are, you’re not getting nearly as much sleep as you think you do. Using a sleep tracker can help motivate you to get to bed earlier so you can get eight hours of sleep. The Apple Watch, which is set to launch this year, is one example.
Electronic Gadgets and Other Sources of Sleep Disturbance
If your sleep is being interrupted, the first step is to determine the cause. Most sleep disruptions are related to environmental or emotional factors, such as:
Eating the worst foods for sleep too close to bedtime, such as a heavy meal, unhealthy fats, spicy foods, coffee, or dark chocolate
Pets in your bed or bedroom
Drinking alcohol in the evening
Use of your computer, tablet, cell phone, or television
The last one is a biggie, as about 95 percent of Americans use an electronic device within one hour of turning in. These devices interfere with your sleep-wake cycle by making noises, emitting light that interferes with your body’s natural melatonin production, and emitting low level radiation. One 2008 study showed that people exposed to radiation from their mobile phones for three hours before bedtime had more trouble falling asleep and reaching deep sleep.
According to the 2014 Sleep in America Poll, 53 percent of respondents who turn electronics off while sleeping tend to rate their sleep as excellent, compared to just 27 percent of those who leave their devices on. This is why I recommend avoiding watching TV or using a computer or tablet at least an hour or so before going to bed. If you do keep your devices in your room, make sure they are physically turned off along with your Wi-Fi router. An alternative is trying a free computer program called f.lux (see justgetflux.com), which alters the color temperature of your computer screen as the day goes on, pulling out the blue wavelengths as it gets late.
How to Get Uninterrupted, Restorative Sleep
Small adjustments to your daily routine and sleep sanctuary can go a long way to ensure uninterrupted peaceful slumber. I suggest you read through my full set of 33 healthy sleep guidelines for all of the details, but to start, consider implementing the following changes:
Avoid watching TV or using your computer/smartphone or tablet in the evening,at least an hour or so before going to bed.
Make sure you get BRIGHT sun exposure during the day. Your pineal gland produces melatonin roughly in approximation to the contrast of bright sun exposure in the day and complete darkness at night. If you are in darkness all day long, it can’t appreciate the difference and will not optimize your melatonin production.
Get some sun in the morning. Your circadian system needs bright light to reset itself. Ten to 15 minutes of morning sunlight will send a strong message to your internal clock that day has arrived, making it less likely to be confused by weaker light signals during the night.
Sleep in complete darkness, or as close to it as possible. Even the tiniest glow from your clock radio could be interfering with your sleep, so cover your clock radio up at night or get rid of it altogether. Move all electrical devices at least three feet away from your bed. You may want to cover your windows with drapes or blackout shades, or wear an eye mask when you sleep.
Install a low-wattage yellow, orange, or red light bulb if you need a source of light for navigation at night. Light in these bandwidths does not shut down melatonin production in the way that white and blue bandwidth light does. Salt lamps are handy for this purpose.
Keep the temperature in your bedroom below 70 degrees F. Many people keep their homes too warm (particularly their upstairs bedrooms). Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is between 60 to 68 degrees F.
Take a hot bath 90 to 120 minutes before bedtime. This increases your core body temperature, and when you get out of the bath it abruptly drops, signaling your body that you are ready to sleep.
Be mindful of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in your bedroom. EMFs can disrupt your pineal gland and its melatonin production, and may have other negative biological effects as well. A gauss meter is required if you want to measure EMF levels in various areas of your home. If possible install a kill switch to turn off all electricity to your bedroom. If you need a clock, use a battery-operated one.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies: Magnesium deficiency can cause insomnia; potassium deficiency can cause difficulty staying asleep; and low vitamin D levels can result in excessive daytime sleepiness.
Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland. That’s a pea-sized gland found just above the middle of your brain. It helps your body know when it’s time to sleep and wake up.
Normally, your body makes more melatonin at night. Levels usually start to go up in the evening once the sun sets. They drop in the morning when the sun goes up. The amount of light you get each day — plus your own body clock — set how much your body makes.
You can also buy melatonin supplements. They come in pills, liquids, and chewables. You might find them in natural or synthetic forms. The natural forms are made from the pineal gland in animals.
Why Take It?
People use melatonin when they have insomnia — trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. They also take it for other sleep problems. This could include something called delayed sleep phase disorder. If you have that, falling asleep before 2 a.m. is tough. So is getting up in the morning.
Folks may also try it if they have jobs that disrupt typical sleep schedules, a condition called sleep work disorder.
It’s used to treat or prevent jet lag, too. That’s the tired, run-down feeling some get when they’re traveling across time zones.
Doctors are also studying to see if melatonin can help with:
Insulin sensitivity refers to the biological response of target tissues such as muscle to the actions of insulin. In other words, insulin sensitivity refers to how well insulin performs its role of transporting and storing fuels in specific cells in the body, particularly glucose.
Insulin sensitivity varies between individuals and is reduced in people with diabetes.
Medication aside, lifestyle plays an important role in helping boost insulin sensitivity and prevent impaired tissue responses (insulin resistance), which, in turn, supports blood glucose disposal and improves diabetes management.
Lifestyle choices do this in a number of ways:
Strength training increases muscle mass which serves as a major storage house for glucose.
Walking and other forms of low-intensity exercise can reduce blood glucose.
Stress management including meditation and a good quality sleep pattern help control excess production of counterregulatory stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which increase blood glucose levels.
All of the above help improve the action of diabetes medication and whatever is left of natural insulin production. Obviously, the effects of each lifestyle factor will vary depending on how often they are conducted, their intensity and, of course, inter-individual physiology and genetics.
Treat this article like an accountability checklist.
If you live with diabetes and aren’t following any of the five lifestyle behaviors listed, you might be missing a few tricks for improving health, managing your diabetes, and building that body you always wanted.
Daily Routine #1 – Perform at Least 20-45 Minutes of Anaerobic Exercise Every Single Day
Anaerobic exercise is defined as physical exercise that is intense enough to generate lactate.
You know you have generated lactate when you start feeling a burning sensation in your muscles. High rep squats and sprint intervals get you burning pretty quick. Strength training and high-intensity interval training are prime examples of anaerobic exercise.
The human body responds differently when trained with anaerobic exercise compared to aerobic exercise. The adaptions that occur to the muscle energy systems are of particular interest and benefit to people with diabetes.
Anaerobic training increases insulin sensitivity and stimulates skeletal muscle tissue to absorb glucose from the bloodstream independently of insulin. This is achieved through the stimulation of specific glucose transporters called GLUT-4. The more anaerobic work a muscle fiber has to contend with, the greater number of GLUT-4 rise to the surface of a muscle cell for the purpose of glucose extraction. Once glucose is absorbed from the bloodstream it is stored as muscle glycogen.
Increased insulin sensitivity is just one of the many benefits of anaerobic exercise. There are plenty more, which I will cover another time.
How often and how much anaerobic training should I perform?
Perform anaerobic training at least 3 times per week in the form of:
20-60 minutes of strength training – whole body, body part splits, etc.
10-20 minutes high-intensity interval training – skipping, spinning, battle ropes, sprints etc.
All of these training bouts will improve glucose uptake and improve blood glucose management in people living with diabetes.
Daily Routine #2 – Get and Stay Lean
It is well-established that high levels of body fat result from living in a calorie surplus for a prolonged amount of time. Excess body fat accumulation is not only unsightly, but highly inflammatory and detrimental to the effectiveness of your insulin.
Also proven is the fact that the biological response of target tissues to the actions of insulin (insulin sensitivity) are majorly affected by adiposity, or the amount of body fat one carries. 1
The leaner you are, the better your insulin will work. Period.
5 top tips for getting lean with diabetes:
Create a calorie deficit by sensibly increasing your physical activity and reducing food intake in a controlled way.
Strength train at least 4-5 times per week.
Manage your diabetes.
Achieve at least 7 hours sleep each night.
Aim to lose between 0.5-1% of your body weight each week.
Daily Routine #3 – Have a Toolbox of De-Stressing Activities
In today’s modern day age, we are increasingly exposed to more chronic stress than ever before: mobile phones, social media, traffic, bills, etc.
Stress stimulates a flight or fight response within the body, a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. The body responds to stress by activating the sympathetic branch of the central nervous system. Stress increases muscle tone, constricts blood vessels, and increases the production of counterregulatory stress hormones which increase blood glucose.
In small doses stress is healthy. It can save your life.
However, excessive stress is unhealthy and works against diabetes management.2
The greater and more prolonged the stress, the more insulin is required to balance blood glucose. It is well established that stress can influence whole-body glucose metabolism and promote insulin resistance. 2,3
Any forms of stress management, like meditation, massage, yoga, breathing exercises, or personal development, are worthwhile if they help reduce stress. Reducing your daily stress is a surefire way to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce incidents of high blood glucose.
Even Apple have cottoned on to this with their new “take a minute to breathe” reminder on their Apple Watch.
Daily Routine #4 – Have a Structured Sleeping Plan
Sleep could also be considered a form of stress management, especially for individuals who are highly active and live with diabetes.
I hate to tell you the obvious, but sleep is essential for good health and diabetes management.
Many laboratory and epidemiological studies suggest that sleep loss may play a role in the increased prevalence of insulin resistance and diabetes.4,5,6,7
One of the best pieces of advice is to set a fixed bedtime and wake time. Not only does this provide structure for your day, but it ensures you get enough restorative sleep for health and optimal diabetes management.
Again, the major tech company Apple and their recent focus on health tech apps have included a set wake/bedtime function in their alarm clock.
At Diabetic Muscle and Fitness, we take sleep seriously. We even developed a 3.5+ hour video module on sleep optimization for improving hormone profiles and body composition.
Daily Routine #5 – Perform Aerobic Exercise Daily
Aerobic exercise such as a light jogging or a brisk walk can increase glucose disposal and lower blood glucose levels – independently of insulin.
One of the main reasons aerobic exercise lowers blood glucose levels so well is due to the fact that there is little to no counterregulatory hormone response like that which occurs during high-intensity anaerobic exercise.
Please bear in mind, it is important to monitor insulin intake around aerobic exercise in order to avoid hypoglycemia.
I highly recommend buying an activity monitor like a Fitbit, Apple Watch, or Garmin. These are awesome for building the habit of doing more aerobic exercise throughout your day.
Each and every daily routine I’ve shared in this article will improve insulin action and help your body clear glucose easier. Each and every one of these routines is a prerequisite for a great looking body and high levels of mental and physical performance.
Identify which areas you need to work on and get to it!
Wilcox G. Insulin and insulin resistance. Clin Biochem Rev. 2005 May; 26(2):19-39.
Li L et al. Acute psychological stress results in the rapid development of insulin resistance. J Endocrinol. 2013 Apr 15;217(2):175-84.
Nolan et al. Insulin Resistance as a Physiological Defense Against Metabolic Stress: Implications for the Management of Subsets of Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Mar 2015, 64 (3) 673-686;
Kripke DF, Garfinkel L, Wingard DL, Klauber MR, Marler MR. Mortality associated with sleep duration and insomnia. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2002;59:131–6.
Ayas NT, White DP, Manson JE, et al. A prospective study of sleep duration and coronary heart disease in women. Arch Intern Med. 2003;163:205–9.
Ip MS, Lam B, Ng MM, Lam WK, Tsang KW, Lam KS. Obstructive sleep apnea is independently associated with insulin resistance. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2002;165:670–6.
Punjabi NM, Shahar E, Redline S, Gottlieb DJ, Givelber R, Resnick HE. Sleep-disordered breathing, glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance: the Sleep Heart Health Study. Am J Epidemiol. 2004;160:521–30.
That whole “no excuses” thing isn’t always entirely true.
Confession: I ask myself should I really go work out? at least once a week. And 90 percent of the time, I end up telling myself to suck it up, buttercup—and am almost always grateful I pushed through my own inertia. Because sure enough, almost 100 percent of the time I do that I feel more clear-headed and confident after my workout. But that doesn’t mean there’s never a real reason to ditch regularly scheduled workout plans: While exercise can improve your mood and boost your energy, sometimes the benefits actually don’t outweigh the reason to skip it.
If you’ve ever found yourself Googling “should I work out if [insert dilemma here],” this list is for you. We asked the experts for simple guidelines on when you should forego that boot camp class or strength-training session (or at least take it a little easier, instead of going for a hardcore sweat).
Of course, you should always follow your doctor’s advice first and foremost, but here are six times it’s actually smart to play gym hooky and five times you should opt for a lower-intensity workout.
Working out when you’re super tired not only means you probably won’t have the energy to go as hard, but you also have a bigger chance of hurting yourself. “Too much fatigue can reduce motor skills and increase the risk of injury, especially in a movement-based class like Zumba, kickboxing, or CrossFit,” says McCall (as opposed to a more stationary workout, like indoor cycling).
Ultimately, the answer to the sleep-versus-workout dilemma comes down to the individual, but as a rule of thumb, McCall recommends choosing a nap instead if you’ve gotten three to five nights of minimal sleep or you’re running on five hours or less. “Less than five hours of sleep can affect reaction times and cognitive function, both of which are critical for optimal performance during exercise,” he explains.
2. You might be injured. If you’re sore the day after a tough workout, exercise can actually help you recover by increasing circulation, which speeds healing, according to McCall. Injury’s an entirely different story, though. “Pain is a physical sign that something is wrong. Doctors use a one to 10 scale of pain, where one is no pain and 10 is excruciating. If a muscle is sore, around a three to five on the scale, then light movement is good. But if a muscle is in pain, think a six or above, then too much movement can place a lot of stress on the tissue and keep it from properly healing.” (Here are some other ways to tell the difference between soreness and injury.)
Not only do you risk further injury, but you could also injure other muscles or joints as your body tries to compensate. “A muscle that’s injured will be inflamed. This will keep it from working properly and can change the way the attached joints function,” says McCall. “Trying to work through muscle pain could cause other parts of the body to become injured, so it’s just not worth it. Let it heal, and if it hurts after more than a few days of rest then see a doctor.”
3. You’re sick. “Fever is an indication that your body is working hard to defeat a foreign invader,” says McCall. If you’re dealing with a full-blown illness, you want your body to be putting its energy toward getting better, not dealing with the stress of exercise. Plus, you don’t want to spread your germs at the gym (or pick up any more for your body to handle). “Feeling sick is an indication that something is wrong, so listen to your body and respect it. It’s better to take two to four days off and fully recover than to have a lingering illness for an extended period of time,” says McCall.
4. You just had a treatment at the dermatologist. “I ask my patients to wait 24 hours before exercising after any injectable treatment such as fillers or Botox, and also after many laser, microneedling, or other treatments that may damage the skin surface temporarily,” says dermatologist Jessica Krant, M.D., founder of Art of Dermatology in NYC. “We want the injected materials to stay in place for a couple of days to be set in, or absorbed, and we want any tiny needle punctures to heal to minimize the risk of increased bruising,” she explains.
5. You’re insanely sunburnt. Chances are, you know that getting scorched by the sun is pretty unsafe in the long term, but your body needs some TLC in the short-term too—and this means skipping your workout if you’re really red. “With extreme sunburn, there is a risk of heatstroke, sunstroke, imbalance of electrolytes and body fluid management, and overheating,” warns Krant. “It should be handled with rest, hydration, and soothing creams until everything settles. I would say wait about 48 hours before judging if the skin has calmed down and you feel well enough to exercise.”
6. You just got a spray tan. OK, so maybe this isn’t a health reason to skip your workout, but if you’ve spent the cash on a spray tan you’re probably not looking for a streaky, messy look. “A traditional self tan requires eight hours to fully develop, so you should not go to the gym or shower while the tan is developing,” says Sophie Evans, St. Tropez skin finishing expert. Unless you’re using an express formula that some salons offer, wait eight hours, then rinse off so the color stays even, and then you’re safe to sweat it out.
Skip your intense workout and try light activity if…
7. You’re just feeling a little under the weather. Like McCall says, you should still skip your workout if you’re full-on sick, but keeping up with your routine with some light exercise when you’re just feeling a little ‘ick’ should be fine (and might make you feel a little more like yourself again). “Lower intensity is better—you can burn some energy, but too much intensity can downgrade your immune system. So a long, fast paced walk=good, but high-intensity cycling=not good,” says McCall.
8. You just got a bikini wax. Be strategic about your workouts post-wax—after all, you’ve been through enough pain already. “I would definitely recommend holding off on indoor cycling class for a few days, since the excessive friction and pressure from the bike seat and tight clothing could cause irritation,” Krant says. (That doesn’t sound good.) “Running is a tough one, too. Any lighter exercise with looser clothing is a better [option] for post-wax days,” she adds. Of course, do what feels right for you and your specific needs and goals.
9. You have a brand new tattoo. While sweat itself won’t get in the way of the healing process, you do have to be careful about making sure you don’t damage it while it’s fresh, says Krant. Plus, you don’t want to risk infection, and gyms tend to be germ central. What you can do depends on where the tattoo is and how big it is, says Krant. It’s also important to avoid friction so you don’t damage or irritate your tattoo. “I recommend low activity to prevent any accidental scratches or injuries to the newly tattooed area until it heals after 10 days or so,” suggests Krant.
10. You’ve done two days of high-intensity workouts in a row. While McCall says you can work out pretty much every day, the key is alternating the intensity of your workouts—as a rule of thumb, after one to two high-intensity days, you should mix in a low to moderate session. “Muscle tissue needs time to repair,” he explains. “High-intensity exercise places physical stress on the tissue, and too much stress with minimal repair time could lead to a long term injury,” he says. If you’re not giving your body the recovery time it needs, you could be overtraining—here are six signs to watch for.
11. You’re hungover AF. We’ve all been there. And while getting some movement increases circulation (which might make you feel better), says McCall, it’s best to keep it gentle. “Too intense could hurt the head, plus motor skills will be affected, so doing hard exercises when you’re hungover could increase the risk of injury,” he says. “A long walk or a light jog is good the day after a good night out, but not a hard indoor cycling class or a challenging WOD.”
The United States is a sleep-deprived nation. It shows in our health as well as how we age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sleep deprivation is a serious public health issue, and one in three adults don’t get enough sleep.Our ancestors did not have this issue, but the world has changed.
Unnatural light sources affect our natural biorhythms. Processed foods and caffeine can alter energy levels. The need to connect to social media, play online games, and other computer or phone-related activities can keep you in a state of perpetual excitement. It’s time to identify these and other sleep-altering factors and explore solutions to get your sleep cycle back on track.
Why You Need Sleep
Sleep is as crucial to your well-being as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and low stress levels. When you’re asleep, your body goes into a “repair and restore” mode. Without enough sleep, your ability to heal and regenerate is significantly impaired. A poor sleep environment can lead to sleep deprivation which, aside from drowsiness, can contribute to heart disease, anxiety, depression, weight gain, obesity, diabetes, increased alcohol use, and accidental injuries.
The Importance of Sleep for Mental Health
Sleep is essential for your brain and mental wellness. Danish researcher Dr. Maiken Nedergaard of the University of Rochester discovered the brain’s detoxification center. She named it the glymphatic system because it clears waste from the brain the way the lymphatic system clears waste from the body.
Nedergaard and her team found that the glymphatic system is most active during sleep. The team also found that this system functions best during natural sleep, not under the influence of sleeping medications. So while a sleeping pill may put you to sleep, you will not experience the same benefits as if you fell asleep naturally.
What is Insomnia?
If you regularly have difficulty falling or staying asleep, you may have a common sleep disorder known as insomnia. Many people with this condition feel like they never sleep at all. There are two main types of insomnia: secondary and primary. Although primary insomnia has no external cause and its origin is difficult to determine, secondary insomnia is caused by health issues such as asthma or an overactive thyroid.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea, or the more common variation called obstructive sleep apnea, is a condition that causes you to stop breathing or maintain shallow breathing while you sleep. A narrow neck, large tongue, or large tonsils are some causes of this condition. Sleeping on your back can also contribute to or exacerbate the inability to breathe properly. Snoring and snorting are typical symptoms of this condition. Snoring, however, is not always a sign of sleep apnea. People with this condition can stop breathing for as little as 30 seconds, or as long as a few minutes. These stop-and-start breathing patterns disrupt a good night’s sleep and cause drowsiness during the day. Sleep apnea is linked to health conditions, including cardiovascular issues.
Sometimes, your brain won’t send signals to your throat muscles. This can keep you from temporarily breathing, and is referred to as central sleep apnea. If you wake up repeatedly during the night, experience constant drowsiness during the day, or your partner complains of your snoring or snorting during sleep, it may be time to see your healthcare practitioner.
What Is Adrenal Fatigue?
Your adrenal glands are two walnut-sized glands that sit above your kidneys. The adrenal glands help regulate a variety of bodily functions, including hormone balance, the sleep-wake cycle, and the fight-or-flight response.
When you experience stress, your adrenal glands produce the stress hormone known as cortisol. This is the same hormone released during fight-or-flight situations. Although there are times when being in this state is appropriate and beneficial, it is unnerving and frustrating when it’s time to sleep. Unfortunately, many people spend way too much time in fight-or-flight mode. When the adrenals constantly produce cortisol, they become fatigued, and that sets off a cascade of negative effects. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
Physical and mental fatigue
Low blood pressure
If you suspect that adrenal fatigue is affecting you, talk to a trusted healthcare professional as there are tests that can determine its presence. Adopting a healthy, balanced diet, making good lifestyle choices, and constructively dealing with stress are among the best solutions for promoting healthy adrenal function.
Habits That Disrupt Your Sleep Cycle
Although sleep issues can have many causes, less-than-healthy lifestyle habits are among the most common. Habits that significantly upset your natural sleep cycle, also known as your circadian rhythm, include:
Excessive screen time from electronic devices
Lack of exercise
Too much caffeine
Not getting enough natural sunlight
Spending too much time indoors
Why Do I Keep Tossing and Turning When I Sleep?
If you toss and turn in your sleep, your mattress may be to blame. Tossing and turning can be the result of blood flow being cut off from the part of your body on which you’re lying. To remedy this, your brain sends signals that tell your body to roll over. A new mattress may be the solution. Look for one that promotes better blood flow for your body type and sleep style. Firm mattresses have always been thought to be the best for a good night’s sleep. Studies have found, however, that medium-firm mattresses are better, especially for those with lower back pain. You can always ask your healthcare provider for a mattress recommendation.
Why Can’t I Sleep Even Though I’m Tired?
There is nothing more frustrating than lying awake in bed, completely exhausted, but unable to fall asleep. Perhaps your mind is racing with random thoughts, or you simply can’t shut down. Proactive strategies for promoting healthy sleeping patterns include:
Start your morning with at least 20 to 30 minutes of bright sunlight to help reset your internal clock,
Exercise early in the day
Don’t consume caffeinated beverages after 12:00 p.m.
Meditate or record your thoughts in a journal to help clear your mind
Eat dinner early in the evening
Turn off your phone, computer, and television at least two hours before bed
Avoid chemical sleep aids, and use safe and natural sleep remedies
If you still can’t sleep, try using a white noise machine, or a white noise app. Some people find that the sound of rain or wind has a soothing effect on the mind and encourages restful sleep. You can also try sleeping naked. Aside from a better night’s sleep, the benefits of this practice include weight loss, improved mood, and better sex life. These strategies may sound simple, but the simple solutions are often the most effective.
Counteract Insomnia with These Tips
Your sleep environment and the time at which you go to sleep impact your sleep quality. Lifestyle adjustments that can help you enjoy more restful sleep include:
Ban electronics from your bedroom. The blue light from electronics, coupled with the stress-inducing sounds of notifications and updates, is a recipe for sleeplessness.
Meditate for 15 minutes every day. Mindfulness meditation helps calm the mind, reduce stress, and improve sleep quality.[
Keep your bedroom cool. A temperature between 60 to 67 degrees is ideal for promoting deep, restful sleep.
Practice earthing. Connecting directly with the earth by walking around barefoot or using an earthing device can help reduce stress and cortisol levels.
Have more sex. Having sex can help you sleep due to the release of prolactin, the relaxation hormone.
Stick to a bedtime routine. It is proven that going to bed at the same time every night, in the same way, will help you fall asleep faster.
What Foods Should I Eat to Support a Good Night’s Sleep?
There aren’t many things that influence your health as much as the food you eat. Dietary choices not only affect your overall health, but they also affect your ability to get restful sleep. When it comes to choosing the best food for promoting restful sleep, there are a few things to remember. Eat foods that encourage healthier blood sugar levels and foods that support a healthy gut, and avoid foods that keep you from sleeping.
Foods That Support Healthy Blood Sugar
Having balanced blood sugar is one of several things that set you up for a good night’s sleep. There are a few steps you can take to encourage normal blood sugar levels:
Avoid foods that contain refined sugar
Embrace fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir
Eat plenty of healthy fats like avocados, coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil
Consume complex carbohydrates like quinoa, sweet potatoes, squash, and amaranth
It’s also important to consider your meal frequency. Some people who experience blood sugar crashes sleep better when they eat several small meals throughout the day instead of three large meals. Finally, if you find yourself frequently waking up at night, a small, protein-rich, plant-based snack before bed can help you avoid late night blood sugar crashes.
Foods That Support a Healthy Gut
Though we typically don’t associate sleeplessness with gut health, they are very much connected. Your gut contains chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters that shuttle information between your cells. Among the most important of these neurotransmitters is serotonin. Serotonin is the precursor to melatonin, which is the master sleep hormone. Foods that support a healthy gut include:
Cultured, probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh, and sauerkraut
Prebiotic-rich foods such as leeks, onions, bananas, chicory, garlic, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, and whole, gluten-free grains
Healthy fats, like coconut oil to support normal microbial balance
Foods That Keep You Awake
Some foods and beverages contain stimulating ingredients that make it especially difficult to get restful sleep. If you enjoy coffee, try avoiding that 3:00 p.m. cup and stick with a cup or two in the morning. If you have trouble falling asleep, try to avoid:
Simply closing your eyes and going to sleep naturally is the best way to fall asleep. This method doesn’t always work, however, and you may need supplemental help or a change in your sleep environment. The following are natural approaches to encourage restful sleep.
Vitamins, minerals, and nutrients are important to many aspects of your health, including your sleep quality. Essential oils that provide these nutrients help encourage relaxation. Before reaching for a sleeping pill, try essential oils.
Passionflower promotes relaxation and improves sleep quality.[16, 17]
Chamomile, lavender, and ylang-ylang support relaxation and sleep.[18, 19]
Valerian quickens the time it takes to fall asleep and improves overall sleep quality.
Magnesium is called “the relaxation mineral” because it encourages a good night’s rest and improves sleep quality.
Melatonin helps reset your circadian rhythm.
Adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha and maca help your body adapt to stress.
Your Sleep Checklist
The next time you enter your bedroom, scan it for anything that could disturb your sleep. The goal is to turn your room into an environment that’s optimized for sleeping. Is it dark enough? Is anything making noise? Is the temperature cool and comfortable? Are there any bright lights staring you in the face?
In addition to having an environment that’s conducive to sleep, it’s also important to prepare yourself mentally. Give yourself a moment to repeat a positive affirmation before you close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths, and let go of any negative energy or tension as you exhale. These actions will help you experience the restful sleep you desire.
How Can I Fall Back Asleep If I Wake Up?
It’s inevitable, however, that even if you follow a healthy, balanced, organic diet, manage stress effectively, exercise regularly, and construct a sleep-friendly environment, you will occasionally wake up before you’re ready. This interruption can be due to a loud noise, a phone call, or even an unpleasant dream. If closing your eyes and trying to fall asleep naturally doesn’t help, one of the best remedies is to turn on a soft lamp and read. Drinking a cup of chamomile tea may also help.
Scientists are looking to see if they could add positive thoughts to bad memories.
Reducing the trauma associated with bad memories while someone is asleep sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but it could become a reality in 10 years thanks to a greater understanding of how the brain encodes memories during sleep.
A good snooze is known to be important for forming memories but it is only recently that scientists are starting to understand the details, and the work could lead to better treatments for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or age-related forgetfulness.
In 2015, Dr Karim Benchenane from the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris, France, and his colleagues demonstrated for the first time that false memories could be created in mice while they were sleeping. The team targeted nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain that fire when the animal is, or thinks of being, in a specific location — the so-called ‘place cells’ that provide both rodents and people with an internal map.
‘When mice sleep after exploring an environment, you see that the same neurons are reactivated in the same order,’ said Dr Benchenane. ‘Replaying that information in the brain while sleeping is just like repetition in learning. This repetition improves memory consolidation.’
Using electrodes, the team recorded the activity of place cells when mice explored their environment and later when they slept. They then stimulated the brain areas associated with reward when particular place cells fired – each of which is associated with a specific location. When they awoke, the mice had a new memory and headed straight to that reward-associated location.
‘When you stimulate parts of the brain associated with reward during sleep, it’s just like the animal gets a huge reward in the physical world. We can make the animal believe that it gets a reward in a particular location in the environment,’ explained Dr Benchenane. ‘This means when place cells fire in sleep, they still convey spatial information.’
Now Dr Benchenane hopes to build on this work by using a similar technique to alter negative memories associated with traumatic events in mice, as part of a project called MNEMOSYNE, funded by the EU’s European Research Council (ERC).
‘We want to use reactivation during sleep to treat pathologies associated with fear or anxiety, such as post-traumatic stress disorder,’ said Dr Benchenane.
The idea is to add positive thoughts to bad memories. ‘We have managed to modify the emotional imbalance of a memory during sleep by stimulating the reward areas in the brain, meaning we can take a memory that is neutral — a location in the physical world for instance — and make it positive. Now we have to understand how positive and negative memories compete in the brain, and see if a positive memory can suppress a negative one, or even make it neutral,’ he said.
Dr Benchenane and his colleagues plan to give an electrical shock to mice when they are in a specific location, to associate this location with a bad memory. Then, while the mice are asleep, they will stimulate the reward areas in the brain when the place cells fire in this specific location, to change the negative memory into a positive one.
‘The application in humans might not be that far away — we’re talking about 10 years which is quite soon when we’re talking about science.’
Dr Karim Benchenane, CNRS, France
‘During wakefulness, the rodent will learn to avoid this location because it’s frightening,’ he explained. ‘But after waking up, we’ll see if the reward we gave during sleep will be able to suppress the aversion memory we gave during wakefulness.’
If their results in rodents are promising, the technique could be developed for people.
‘The application in humans might not be that far away — we’re talking about 10 years which is quite soon when we’re talking about science,’ said Dr Benchenane. ‘But first we need to understand how positive and negative valence (whether someone feels good or bad about something) compete in the brain. We don’t want to make people like what they are scared of.’
While some people might benefit from having memories reduced, others would like to see them strengthened – a key function of a normal night’s sleep.
As we doze, our brains replay our day. Like this, some memories are consolidated or strengthened whereas unimportant memories are selected and forgotten.
‘The brain has time to work on strengthening and selecting memories with less disturbance during sleep,’ said Professor Anders Martin Fjell from the University of Oslo in Norway. ‘Selective forgetting is as important as memory per se, since we do not have the capacity to remember all that we experience, and sleep seems to help us with this too.’
But as we grow older, our ability to form new memories for specific events in our lives worsens. It not only takes longer to learn new information, but it is also harder to recall that information.
Prof. Fjell is looking at how age affects the way memories are unconsciously strengthened in the brain during sleep and its impact on memory loss in the elderly, as part of the ERC-funded project AgeConsolidate.
‘Since a large proportion of cognitively healthy older adults report to be worried about their own memory function, finding the causes of reduced memory in ageing is important,’ said Prof. Fjell. ‘This will also allow us to develop strategies for reducing memory problems in ageing.’
Although we know age affects our ability to encode (or learn) and retrieve information, studies on how memories are strengthened – or consolidated – in the ageing brain have largely been ignored until now, says Prof. Fjell.
He hopes to strengthen selected memories without the participants consciously retrieving or activating them — as these will otherwise be encoded a second time.
To do this, Prof. Fjell and his team will use a technique called targeted memory reactivation (TMR) by using sound to stimulate people’s brains while they sleep in a scanner. The idea is to boost the memory-strengthening processes that happen during deep sleep in order to get a better understanding of the neural mechanisms responsible for increasing memory consolidation.
The scans will be carried out across participants with above- and below-average memory function at two-year intervals to look at changes in their brains and specific memories over time.
‘As many people experience changes in sleeping patterns — and sometimes quality — with age, it is important to know whether sleep contributes to the reduced memory in ageing,’ said Prof. Fjell.