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A comprehensive blueprint for sleep hygiene

30 March 2024 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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My podcast episode Sleep issues and the science behind it discusses sleep hygiene, covering simple habits that help you get quality rest and feel more refreshed. Here’s what the experts have to say.

Sleep often takes a backseat in the busy-ness of daily life, yet it's one of the most crucial aspects of our health and well-being. Good sleep isn't just about feeling rested. It's about keeping your mind sharp, your mood bright, and your energy levels up. Plus, it's crucial for things like muscle repair, and regulating your mood. The seemingly simple act of closing our eyes and drifting off into unconsciousness is a complex, finely tuned series of biological processes. Our nightly rest is governed by a series of intricate mechanisms that can lead to a host of health issues when they are disrupted.

“Sleep is one of the most important phases of your life. You spend roughly eight hours a day, which is nearly one-third of your life asleep! During this phase, the autonomic system is regulated, cortisol levels decrease, growth hormones are secreted, and all your memories of waking life are consolidated in the brain. If you don't get deep rest, all these processes are adversely affected. Not just health and disease, but also your performance during waking hours, is significantly affected by sleep,” says Dr. Viswesvaran Balasubramanian, Consultant, Interventional Pulmonologist and Sleep Specialist, Yashoda Hospital in Hyderabad.

In my podcast on the science of sleep, Neuropsychiatrist Dr. Mangesh Ghulghule emphasised the importance of the seamless transition between REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep phases. “Basically, you have to understand sleep as a phenomenon biologically. It is not a one single event. It works like a well-oiled machine. You go from one phase of the sleep to the next without getting disturbed,” he said. Disturbances in this architecture, such as those experienced during sleep paralysis, underscore the complexity of our sleep mechanisms. This understanding paves the way for exploring factors that affect our sleep quality.

Dr. Monica Gulati, Executive Dean, Faculty of Applied Medical Sciences, LPU says, “scientists have developed a scale known as the Sleep Index. A number of studies featuring this index found that sleep quality is strongly related to sleep hygiene. In fact, along with a hectic lifestyle and disturbed sleep cycle, poor sleep has been attributed to knowing little about sleep hygiene.” Sleep hygiene might sound like it's about keeping your bed clean, but it's actually all about the habits and practices that can help you rest deeply and more effectively.

Dr. Gulati shared a positive development in this area. “In fact, structured sleep education programmes for improving sleep hygiene knowledge are now being conducted in certain parts of the world for teenagers and patients suffering from chronic pains, and even for athletes.” Such programmes have been reported to yield very good results,” she said.

Diet and Circadian rhythms

Our sleep is governed by circadian rhythms, internal biological clocks influenced by environmental cues like light. Exposure to blue light from screens before bedtime which inhibits the pineal gland in the brain from producing melatonin. Sleep hygiene is about adapting our environment and habits to help realign our circadian rhythms for better sleep. Diet plays a significant role in our sleep patterns, with certain nutrients affecting our sleep quality. London-based sleep expert Kate Mikhail stresses on the importance of dietary tryptophan and the avoidance of blue light at night to boost melatonin levels naturally, fostering better sleep. Tryptophan is an amino acid found in protein-rich foods, and is crucial for the production of serotonin and melatonin, the hormones that regulate sleep.

The intimate connection between stress management and sleep quality is undeniable. Mikhail talked about hyperarousal, a state of increased psychological and physiological tension that often manifests at night. This condition is worsened by daily stress and anxiety, thus leading to higher cortisol and adrenaline levels, making it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Establishing a routine that includes waking up at the same time daily, maximising daylight exposure, and practicing deep breathing can set the stage for a good night's sleep.

Sleep hygiene tips from sleep expert Dr. Viswesvaran Balasubramanian:

  • To combat insomnia, which can be a result of a sedentary lifestyle, engage in physical activity two hours before bed.
  • Limit screen time at night; don't take devices to bed.
  • Use the bedroom only for sleep and sexual activity. Work on devices elsewhere.
  • If you can't sleep, don't stay in bed stressed. Read in another room. In small spaces, rearrange furniture or change wall colours to help sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine before bedtime.
  • Don't eat 2-3 hours before bed.
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule and avoid late-night parties.
  • Using many alarms can stress you out. Wake up naturally when possible.
  • Alcohol and smoking worsen sleep quality. Alcohol disrupts sleep, and nicotine cravings can wake you.

 


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