Having been in Hong Kong for more than 6 years myself now, I know all too well about chronic sleep deprivation and how it has impacted my health.
A study led by Dr. Wong Wing-sze in 2012 revealed that more than 2 million people in Hong Kong suffer from insomnia (4 out of 10 adults). That is almost 1/3 of the total population in danger of suffering potential mental health problems!
Being smack dab in the digital age where people are increasingly on their electronic devices coupled with long working hours, this issue is expected to grow at an alarming rate. So what can we do to fix this problem? Let's first look at why sleep is so important.
Why Is Sleep Vital for Your Health
A good night’s sleep is crucial for your well-being. The importance of the quality of your sleep weighs just as heavily as healthy eating and exercising. Here's why:
Poor Sleep is Strongly Linked to Weight Gain
- Children and adults with short sleep duration were 89% and 55% more likely to become obese respecitvely
- Lack of sleep affects your hunger hormones (ghrelin and leption) that signals your brain when you are hungry and when you are full
- If these hormones are affected, this can lead to more cravings, unhealthy food choices, and overall increase in calories from increase in appetite
Good Sleep Makes You More Productive and Energetic
- Adequate sleep is essential for brain function and physical performance
- Studies show an improvement in problem-solving skills, memory, and greater energy and stamina for your workouts!
Poor Sleep Can Lead to Depression
- Abnormal sleep interferes with your mood so it’s difficult to socialize, go to work, or just perform normal daily activities
- People with insomnia are 10x more likely to develop depression than people who have proper sleep
Good Sleep Improves Your Immune Function
- Those who slept less than seven hours were almost three times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept eight hours+
Poor Sleep Linked to Increased Inflammation
- Poor sleep can lead to long-term inflammation of the digestive tract such as IBS and other digestive disorders
- Inflammation can also be linked to potential risk of heart disease and stroke
Now that we have a clearer picture of why sleep is imperative for your health, here are 7 proven ways of how we can better our nighttime snooze.
1. Setting the Room
Your bedroom should be a tranquil space for sleeping only (oh and of course other things… but you know what I mean!). Dim the lights and make sure the room is slightly cooler in temperature an hour before bedtime and light some essential oils to de-stress and relax. Lavender is a popular choice! Also, low-lighting at night helps trigger the production of melatonin which is a sleep-inducing hormone.
Having experienced insomnia myself, I tried acupuncture and found that it really helped me fall asleep faster and improved the overall quality of my sleep. There are certain acu-points in your body that when a needle is applied to those areas, it can help make you feel more relaxed and less stressed.
3. Balanced Diet
What you eat and the timing of meals can play a big role when it comes to sleeping. Avoid eating huge meals right before bed and sugary foods that will increase your blood sugar levels. There are four main vitamins and minerals in food that can promote sleep: tryptophan, magnesium, calcium, and B6. Examples include: poultry, nuts and seeds, bananas, yogurt, and oats. For a more extensive list, click here.
4. Free Your Bedroom of Electronics
This one is probably the most difficult for me as my phone is my alarm clock. But it’s important to avoid any blue lights emitted from devices such as your phone, tablets, and TV that signals to your brain that it is still daytime. Looking at these screens before bed delays your body’s biological clock and suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, making it more more difficult to fall asleep.
5. Maintain a Sleeping Schedule
Set a time every day for when you should go to bed and get up. This will accustom your body and mind to work in a natural rhythm and you should start feeling sleepy around the same time everyday.
*Note: if you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, don’t stress. The more you try to force yourself to sleep, the more anxious you get, and that will only delay your sleeping even more. Get up, go to another room, do something relaxing like read or listen to some music until you start feeling sleepy. You want to associate your bedroom as a place to sleep, not a place of anxiety.
6. Avoid Exercising too Late
Physical activity can actually improve sleep quality and increase sleep duration. This is because exercising reduces stress and tires you out so you can sleep at night. However, exercising too late raises your core body temperature, increases your heart rate and prompts your system to release adrenaline. Exercising during the day and if possible outdoors, is best because studies have shown Vitamin D promotes better quality of sleep.
7. Natural Sleep Supplements
I saved this one for last because personally, I want to try other natural ways before resorting to ingesting supplements for sleep. Supplements such as melatonin, valerian, and other herbal teas can be rather effective for sleep but some can cause headaches and grogginess the morning after. I am not against supplements in any way but I would only choose this option if my sleep has been compromised for an extended period of time.
Anyways, I hope you found this article helpful! I steered away from common suggestions such as meditation or doing breathing exercises because I know all too well how difficult it is to clear your mind and try to relax. So I hope these other ways I mentioned are useful for you! Remember, sleep is part of the 3 pillars for optimal health, along with diet and exercise - please don't forget to make your sleep a priority!
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