More Sleep, Better Sleep

Light and dark is a key to sleep Dr. TheresaOne of the worst health problems in the US is chronic sleep deprivation. It is a contributing factor to many lifestyle diseases. Everybody needs more and better sleep.

Importance for brain health
People tend to think of sleep as just a period when the body recuperates. During sleep, our brain works hard reprocessing the day. The brain reviews what it learned and experienced, and mulls pending decisions.

You need to sleep more if you want to use your mind to its fullest, be creative, age gracefully, move better and feel better.

More sleep
One of the best (and cheapest!) things you can do for your health is get enough sleep. Especially in the fall and winter, go to sleep as soon as you can after sunset (9 or 10 pm) and get a full night’s sleep.

Culture is one culprit. Americans love to feel productive and our society rewards hyperactivity. So many Americans feel guilty about sleeping. Those people who sleep only four hours a night think they have superpowers. Most of the sleep-deprived have trained their system to be hyper-aroused to not experience feelings of sleepiness. But if you put them in a darkened room with no stimulation, they will sleep almost around the clock for a couple of weeks until they feel better.

Better sleep
Humans sleep better when not overstimulated by eating sugar, living with the lights always on and other unhealthy habits.

Light is key. Get sunshine during the day. Make sure your bedroom is really dark. Be aware of day and night. Don’t stay up too late.

Napping during the day is good in itself, and it can help you sleep better at night.

More information
My favorite sleep book is The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night’s Sleep (1999). It is by the father of modern sleep medicine, Dr. William Dement. See also the fun and informative website created by students at Stanford University.

Also good is the book Take a Nap! Change Your Life by Dr. Sara Mednick, an assistant psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside.

For a more evolutionary approach that ranges further afield, some readers may also gain useful tips from author T.W. Wiley’s Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival. This book is unconventional and opinionated. But it changed how I think about things. It made me think about the life I live in a very different way, and question some of my assumptions. It made me realize that we are like zoo animals living in the habitats that we have designed for ourselves. I didn’t agree with everything in it. You don’t need to follow all of her suggestions. But the book will open your eyes to how your body functions.

Sleeping Statue in the Lost Gardens of Heligan

Don’t try this at home. Statues can sleep anywhere. Humans need a dark room to sleep properly. This is the Sleeping Statue in the Lost Gardens of Heligan near Mevagissey, England. Photo: Lee Jones/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 2.0.

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