BY ETHAN KOMPF
This is the second article in a three-part series. This part covers what gets in the way of getting a quality sleep and how to get better sleep. Next week’s article will cover how sleep has changed over the years.
Sleep is extremely important in order for our bodies to function at optimal levels. Unfortunately, modern society has created many barriers to getting quality sleep every night. There are, however, ways of combatting these obstacles.
Humans are creatures of habit and rituals are extremely important for living a healthy lifestyle, especially since willpower is a limited resource. According to Stephanie Dance, the manager of community outreach and education at Aqqu Sleep Labs, which has clinics in Waterloo, Paris, Ont. and Owen Sound, proper bedtime rituals are especially important for shift workers and students, who often have irregular schedules. Aqqu Sleep Labs is a company that conducts sleep studies to help people figure out how to sleep better at night. People should try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.
“If you have class at 12, don’t sleep until 10,” said Dance. “Get up at 7, like you would any other day where you have class at 8.”
This step is important for controlling anxiety, because irregular sleep times make it difficult for the body to properly regulate cortisol, the stress hormone. Justifying poor sleep during the week by sleeping in on weekends is not an effective way to right these imbalances.
“It’s a myth that you can catch up on sleep on the weekends,” said Dance.
Night-by-night sleep schedules can be useful as well. There are four stages of sleep, two light stages and two deeper, rejuvenative stages. The body cycles through the cycle multiple times a night. One cycle takes between one and a half and two hours to complete. Keeping this in mind, people can set their alarm clocks to go off during the lighter stages, which is less abrasive than being woken up in a deeper stage.
Diet is also important for helping with sleep. Sugars, fatty foods, spicy foods or anything that could upset your stomach should be avoided before bed. This may be difficult to achieve at first, but it will become easier, because proper sleep leads to your body craving unhealthy foods less and less.
Caffeine intake is also important to regulate, because it stays in the body for a long time. According to Shawn Stevenson, a health expert, people should stop consuming caffeine by 3 p.m. if they’re going to bed between 10 p.m. and midnight in order to achieve proper sleep. A study published by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that people who consumed caffeine even six hours before bed lost one hour of deep sleep. This is because after six to eight hours, half of the caffeine you have consumed is still in your system.
One of the most effective ways to achieve proper sleep is to set up the bedroom to be a sleep-positive experience. According to Dance, the bedroom should be for sleep and intimacy only. Homework, watching movies, etc. should not be done in the bedroom, because the brain begins to associate the bedroom with anxiety and activity. Eliminate noise, light, pets and other distractions in the bedroom, which may cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. The bedroom should be as dark and quiet as possible.
According to Dance, when preparing for sleep, the body’s temperature drops and it raises when waking up, so having the room cool at night and warm in the morning is useful to allow for the transitions to and from sleep.
One of the most insidious things about modern technology is that many people often take their phones, tablets and laptops into bed with them. They also often have TVs in their bedroom. The problem with screens is that the back light is something called blue light. Blue light is something that the sun also produces and it signifies to our bodies that it’s time to wake-up. Screens should be avoided two hours before bed. For people who just can’t put the technology away before bed, there are blue-blocker glasses and apps like twighlight or F.lux. These apps for phones and tablets slowly remove the blue light from screens in sync with the sunset in the user’s time zone. The screen takes on an orange tinge, but in time the eyes become used to it. These methods are not as effective as removing screens entirely, but they can help.
Matt Bentley, a Conestoga second-year journalism –broadcast student, admits he doesn’t get enough sleep.
“I have to get up at 5 or 6 a.m. to get to school on time … I barely want to get up in the morning,” he said.
Waking up can be difficult, especially when it’s cold, or someone’s schedule is irregular. There are some techniques to make it easier, however. Making sure that the room is warm in the morning is useful, because it helps regulate the body’s temperature and takes away the dread of leaving a warm bed. Another technique is to put a light on a timer and set it to turn on 15 minutes before your expected wake-up time. The light will signal to the body that it is time to wake up.
When all else fails, a sleep study could help to figure out what’s wrong. Sleep studies are conducted in sleep clinics. The patient spends a night in the clinic hooked up to electrodes and monitored by an infared camera. Many different sleep disorders can be diagnosed through the study, which are covered by OHIP with a referral from a doctor. Dance recommends keeping a sleep journal to make it easier for doctors to diagnose the problem.