Everybody sleeps. We need sleep to stay alive. It’s our “reboot” time for the brain and body. But throughout history and cultures, sleep traditions vary. We already know “why” we sleep, and that doesn’t change no matter where we go. So, let’s explore the When, How, Who, Where and What in the worldwide study of sleep.
When and How Much We Sleep
Back in prehistoric days, sleep was likely broken up into two or more chunks during the long nights of winter months. This is known as “biphasic” or “polyphasic” sleep, and it continues in some nomadic and hunter-gatherer societies today. This sleep pattern allows people who need it more flexibility to sleep on and off throughout the day or night depending on their circumstances and what needs to be done.
In early farming societies, the typical sleep routine was to rise with the sun and sleep in the dark hours of night. This continuous, uninterrupted sleep is called “monophasic” sleep. With the introduction of electricity in the mid-1800s, which brought with it artificial light, people started staying up later. Now we get much less sleep than our ancestors did in the days before the lightbulb!
When television first came into our homes there were limited broadcast hours. No programming late at night meant nothing else to do, so people often went to bed when the shows ended. But now we not only have multiple channels of round-the-clock television, we’ve also got 24-hour access to the internet, meaning continuous entertainment, and many distractions to keep us up at night. Because of this, bedtimes have gotten later, yet we still need to get up early to get to work. It’s no surprise than 48% of Americans say they don’t get enough sleep.
Because of this, the nap is experiencing a kind of renaissance. Naps, or “siestas,” have been a long held tradition among adults in many countries, including Spain. In Japan, it is customary to take a work nap, called an “inemuri,” in order to increase productivity and show professional commitment to the job. Despite the inemuri, long work hours prevail, and hence the quality of nighttime sleep has deteriorated. It seems that sleep is more undervalued in Japan than anywhere else in the world, and sleep deprivation is endemic. In the United States, “nap pods” have become trendy in some companies. Employees are encouraged to use their break times for a quick nap in the hopes that they come back to work refreshed and energized. Though this isn’t always the case. Naps can interfere with much-needed nighttime sleep, and if people sleep too little, or too much during naptime, they can feel more groggy than they did before the nap.
Sleep patterns vary from country to country. One study from the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) showed than while overall participants got about 7.5 hours of sleep a night, the results from individual countries had quite a range. For example, in Japan the average night’s sleep duration for a person was 6 hours and 53 minutes, while in Portugal the average was 8 hours and 24 minutes. France came in at almost 9 hours, while the USA and Spain came in at about 8.5 hours a night.
When it comes to bedtime, it’s no surprise that Japan has the latest time – 16% of Japanese high school students say they go to bed after 1 am. And the early-riser award goes to Australia, with 12% of people getting up before 5 am.
Who We Sleep With
Who sleeps with us in the bed, or even in the room, has an influence on how much sleep we get at night. “Co-sleeping,” where the baby sleeps in the same bed as the mother, was popular until the 1800s, and is still common practice in many traditional or developing countries. Some experts claim that this facilitates bonding and breastfeeding on demand. They say it reduces stress on the mother and the baby as well as being practical. Others say that co-sleeping makes the child too dependent on the mother, and interferes with the parents’ relationship. The U.S. and some parts of Europe, including the United Kingdom, are in the minority of countries where parents expect their children to sleep in their own beds, in their own rooms.
In some countries, like Afghanistan for instance, family members all sleep in the same room. In the morning, they fold up their beds and blankets to make use of the room for other activities.
You might remember the “I Love Lucy” show, where Lucy and Ricky shared a bedroom and they each had their own twin-sized bed. Mostly that was done for the purposes of “standards and practices” of the network who didn’t want to show anything too racy on television. But that sleeping arrangement was also the case in many households at that time, as standardized sizes for king and queen mattresses didn’t hit the market until 1958. But even today, one in four U.S. couples sleep apart, for comfort or convenience, they just prefer it that way.
Worldwide, many more couples prefer to sleep apart. Studies show that 25-50% of married couples in Japan have either separate beds or separate rooms. In Canada, that number is 30-40%.
Where We Sleep and What We Sleep On
Here in the U.S. the King and California King mattresses are favorites for couples, but these large sizes aren’t as popular in other parts of the world. In Germany for example, as well as Austria and Switzerland, a fashionable option is the paired double bed. That way the mattresses can be divided into two parts and there are more ways the room can be arranged.
Japan introduced the U.S. to the futon, and because of its flexibility, doubling as a couch for extra seating, they’ve become trendy with college students and young people. Most people in Japan use western-style mattresses, but the futon, and even the Tatami mat, still remain viable options for sleeping. In Central and South America hammocks are often used at siesta time, and in some areas, they are the go-to for nighttime sleeping as well. In areas of the world where mosquitoes, and malaria are a problem, beds are covered with special nets to keep the bugs out.
People everywhere in the world seem to acclimate to their environment so that they can sleep. Even in busy, urban areas like Cairo, or New York City, where there is traffic noise at all times of day and night, people can sleep with their windows open. Usually we think we need quiet to sleep, but after a long period of exposure, that noise becomes “white noise” and we don’t notice it as much. It’s likely a survival instinct of the human body! While many people enjoy peace and quiet, or soft meditative music to lull them to sleep, others say they like to fall asleep with the television on. Those TV watchers clearly haven’t read the advice from The Better Sleep Council – no technology in the bedroom!
No matter where in the world you live, or how much sleep you get, or who you sleep with, you will certainly get a better quality of sleep when you sleep on a quality mattress. Sweet Dreams!
Lots of Sleep Tips at BetterSleep.org
Find More Sleep Tips from The Better Sleep Council
There are more than 13 million ASMR videos on YouTube, with hundreds of millions of views. Most of the videos are designed to help people get into a super-relaxed state so that they can relieve stress and sleep better. There are also many popular audio-only ASMR recordings available for download on streaming services. Just what is this trending phenomenon and how does it work?
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Basically, it is a response to a gentle stimulus that is felt both physically and emotionally and has been found to produce physiological benefits. The sensations vary amongst those who experience it but most report that the effect is a sense of calm and relaxation. The physical sensations usually begin in the head, and move into the neck and shoulders, even down to the base of the spine. Some say that they also experience the sensations in their limbs. It can feel like tingles, chills or gentle waves. The pleasing emotional effects are what cause people to seek out ASMR, and are often described as calming, happy, euphoric, relaxing, or sleepy. One study showed a reduction in heart rate and an increase in positive emotions for those who experienced ASMR. Some participants even reported a reduction in chronic pain.
What is surprising is that these effects are the result of a stimulus that is quite gentle, and subtle. It could be as simple and mundane as the tapping or a finger. Or it could be intricate and complex, such as the reenactment of a typical visit to the hair salon.
ASMR can be experienced in two ways. The first, and most common, is through using external stimuli. This is where the YouTube videos come in handy. Yet it’s easy to create your own external triggers once you know what they are. The other way to experience ASMR is through internal stimuli, such as creative visualization, or meditation techniques.
“Triggers” fall into three different categories. Auditory stimuli could be the sound of a whisper, reported as the most popular ASMR trigger. You don’t even need to hear the actual words, just the soft vocal tones can set off ASMR. Other auditory triggers include a monotone voice, soft tapping, scratching, crinkling paper, or blowing. It could be the sound of slowly clicking through the teeth of a comb, or the sound of hair being cut, or brushed.
Visual stimuli may be experienced either internally or externally. Taking yourself back to a restful place, or looking at the ocean, for example, can trigger ASMR. Writing is another common trigger, as is eye contact, and page flipping. Some say that flowing hand movements sets off ASMR in them.
Tactile stimuli can also evoke ASMR, such as touching soft fabrics like velvet, or stroking a pet. It’s no surprise that a massage can be very relaxing, and for some this may be ASMR at play. A light touch, such as a gentle caress of the face, can also trigger ASMR.
All of these stimuli are comforting, gentle, repetitive and non-threatening. They are performed slowly, steadily, and predictably. Researchers say that the most effective types of stimuli for ASMR include the person receiving attention in some way, through grooming or other care. You’ll notice that many ASMR recordings include a combination of stimuli for greater effect. The presenter speaks to the viewer personally – slowly and quietly, in a pleasant and reassuring tone. This helps the viewer feel relaxed and cared for, a state of mind that contributes to the desired response.
Research suggests that the same brain chemicals that are produced in the process of bonding, which also creates a sense of comfort and calm, are responsible for ASMR. Endorphins, sometimes called our “happy” chemicals, can bring on a tingling sensation and sense of euphoria. Endorphins also stimulate the release of dopamine. Dopamine is what drives us to look for stimuli that triggers the release of endorphins. Then there’s oxytocin, also called the “bonding hormone” that produces feelings of contentment and trust. Oxytocin increases our sensitivity to endorphins, and also stimulates the release of another brain chemical, serotonin. Serotonin helps to give us that feeling of well-being and sense of satisfaction, and also gets us feeling happier in general.
Each of us produces these brain chemicals that are said to be the cause of ASMR. And yet, the ASMR experience varies widely from person to person. It may be that we just need to find the right trigger for ourselves, or it may be a difference within our own genes. Just as some people taste spice differently, some preferring lots of heat and others more sensitive to even the smallest bit, our need for a stronger or weaker ASMR stimulus could be genetic. However, we can train ourselves to be more sensitive to stimuli, and thereby more likely to experience ASMR. First, experiment with a few of the more common ASMR triggers to see which appeals to and works for you. Then, just as you would before meditation, find a safe and comfortable environment where you can relax. Since this is meant to be used as a sleep aid, feel free to lie down. If it’s bedtime, tuck yourself into bed. Clear your mind and focus on the stimulus and check in with your body and emotions to better understand where and how you may feel a response.
ASMR recordings are most frequently used to help people get into a relaxed state so that they can fall sleep more easily and sleep more soundly. These recordings are similar to the guided meditations that have been used for many years to help with sleep problems. Listening to a recording, or watching a video, helps to focus our attention and keep us from being distracted by all the unresolved problems of the day. It helps to relax the body, releasing muscle tension, and allowing for deeper, slower breathing. This is a great way to self-soothe, with no negative side-effects, and no financial investment.
There’s a phrase that’s often used when we feel tired – the need to “rest our weary bones.” An interesting bone density study shows us that we should take this phrase literally! Researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin found that sleep actually helps to build up our bones.
In the study, done with lab rats, scientists found that a lack of sleep resulted in the interruption of new bone formation. In addition to this, the bones the rats already had continued as usual to decrease in density. When it came to bone marrow, they found a decrease in the fat, and an increase in platelet-generating cell. What all this means is that the rats in the study experienced greatly diminished flexibility, and more fragile bones.
Another study from China looked at the association between a reduction in sleep and lower bone density in middle-aged and older women, and found a correlation. A study in Norway found that there was a 52% increased risk of osteoporosis, a condition where the bones become weak and brittle, for those suffering from insomnia.
We can learn from this that in order to have healthy bones, the body must be able to go through this bone remodeling cycle. The process is also vital to keep the body flexible so that we can avoid fractures. With our usual activities, we recover from normal bone wear quickly. However, when sleep deprivation negatively influences bone remodeling, bone density may decrease. So, we can become less flexible, more prone to fractures, and more susceptible to osteoporosis. There’s no doubt about it – sleep is essential for bone health.
But here’s the problem: Osteoporosis is associated with aging. And as we get older, it can be more difficult to get that good night’s sleep that we need. One reason for this is that melatonin, also known as the “sleep hormone” because it impacts sleep, decreases with age. The body produces melatonin based on the amount of light that we are exposed to. Getting some sunlight in the daytime helps the body to produce melatonin at night when it is dark. The combination of lower melatonin levels that come with age, with a loss of sleep puts us in a downward spiral that accelerates bone loss.
We can’t avoid aging, and we can’t control some of the other risk factors for osteoporosis such as:
– Women are more likely to get osteoporosis, particularly after menopause.
– White folks and Asian folks have a higher risk for osteoporosis than other ethnic groups.
– Tall people, those 5 feet 7 inches or taller, and those who weigh less than 125 pounds have an increased risk.
– Those with a family history of osteoporosis or a diagnosis of a hip fracture, are more at risk.
– Those over the age of 50, who have had previous fractures from low-level injuries, are more likely to be diagnosed with osteoporosis.
Fortunately, there are many things that can control to fend off osteoporosis, including staying active and mobile. And there are steps we can take to make sure we get the good sleep that our bones require to remain healthy.
1) Increase melatonin. Besides helping with sleep, melatonin also functions as an antioxidant, reducing damage caused to bones from activity and free radicals in the environment. It can help us to heal from fractures and surgeries. While melatonin supplements can cause us to become dependent on them, there are many other natural options to help amp up our melatonin production. Get some sunlight every day, and sleep in a dark, or dimly lit room. Add melatonin-rich foods to your diet: Sunflower seeds, alfalfa sprouts, almonds, eggs, goji berries, and tart cherries are a few examples.
2) Get daily exercise. Even just 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can help you sleep better at night. Be sure to exercise during daylight hours, not too close to bedtime. You need time to recover and relax after exercise. Weight-bearing exercise has been shown to be beneficial for bone health. Weighted vests for walking have become a popular and safe way to exercise without overdoing it. Yoga helps to increase flexibility and balance, reducing the risk of falls and fractures.
3) Minerals and Vitamin D. Magnesium has been hailed as a sleep-helper, and it is also great for building strong bones. Calcium, iron, and zinc are also known to help protect against osteoporosis. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium, so it plays a key role in fighting osteoporosis. You can get Vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, and also from saltwater fish, liver, or Vitamin D fortified foods.
4) Avoid alcohol and tobacco. We know that alcohol at night interferes with sleep, but did you know that alcohol is also linked to lower bone density? Tobacco is also a culprit. Avoid these substances as much as possible.
5) Maintain a healthy body weight. Obesity is associated with sleep apnea, which disturbs sleep.
6) Get screened. Talk with your doctor about getting an osteoporosis screening. Osteoporosis comes on slowly, you might not be aware that you have it until you actually break a bone. When identified early on, osteoporosis can be treated effectively before it causes bone fractures.
And lastly, make sure you are sleeping on a comfortable and supportive mattress. No two bodies are alike, we all have unique bones! When shopping for a mattress feel free to “test rest” each one by stretching out as you normally would while sleeping. Your mattress is an important ally in helping you to get the sleep you need to protect your bones.
FOR MORE SLEEP TIPS VISIT THE BETTER SLEEP COUNCIL’S WEBSITE: www.BetterSleep.org
Pajamas! That’s the popular answer to the “What are you wearing?” question these days. Maybe because we’re at home more, or we just want to feel comfortable and cozy with all the stress in the world, but either way pajamas are definitely a trend in the fashion world. It’s become quite common to see families all dressed up in matching pajamas in holiday pictures on social media!
The purpose of wearing pajamas, or any other sleepwear, is to feel warm and relaxed so that we can get a good night’s sleep. We have so many choices when it comes to sleepwear, so let’s take a look at the history of how these styles came about.
The earliest descriptions of “night clothes” comes from the Middle Ages in Europe. Typically, this consists of a shapeless cloth, similar to a tunic, made of plain linen. Linen was often the fabric of choice because it could absorb perspiration and body oils, and could be boiled and bleached when wash day came around. Both the men’s nightshirt and the women’s “bed smock” looked the same, basically rectangular pieces of fabric simply sewn together.
Later more variety of fabrics were used, including cotton and flannel. The length of the shirt also varied from below the knee to the floor. Buttons were added, and the design of nightshirts became more distinguishable between men and women. Collars were added for men and lace, ribbons and ruffles for women, but for both men and women this was still a one-piece shirt – no pants!
Women’s nightshirts turned into nightgowns in the early 1900s with embroidered necklines, and fancy sleeves. By 1909 the trend turned less practical and more beautiful as nightgowns turned into negligees made of satin and silk. In 1933 Diana Vreeland, the editor of Vogue Magazine at the time, had negligees made in Paris sent to her in New York. Her friend, Mary d’Erlanger, a socialite and trend-setter, wore one of the luxurious pink nightgowns to an event as a ball gown and started a new fad.
Pajamas are thought to have originated in ancient India. The word pajama comes from the Hindi words pae jama, meaning leg clothing. These are typically loose-fitting trousers with a drawstring, or now the more modern elastic, waistband. It’s likely that the British, having spent time in India, adopted this tradition in the 1800s. In England, they spell the word pyjamas. Originally, having separate clothes just for sleeping was quite a luxury, so pajamas were considered just for the wealthy. As time went on, more people started wearing pajamas to stay warm, as it was expensive to heat the home. Then the upper class upgraded their sleepwear with fancier, more expensive fabrics to set themselves apart.
By the 1920s pajamas were a definite fashion statement, worn by movie stars of the day. Designers like Coco Chanel made pajamas glamourous with lace and silk and long, flowing matching robes. The trend didn’t last long, though, as World War II had people thinking about being practical and thrifty. Pajama styles returned to their simple nature by the end of the war.
In 1934 It Happened One Night became the first film to win all five major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. In the popular romantic comedy there is an iconic scene where Claudette Colbert wears Clark Gable’s tailored men’s pajamas. Of course, these pajamas went flying off the shelves of retailers all over the world! The style, a button-up shirt top with matching pants, has stood the test of time because it’s ideal for both men and women who want to look good and be comfortable while they sleep.
The 1950s brought more sleep style options for women, including “Baby Dolls” – pajama shorts with a loose top. By the mid 1980s sales of women’s pajamas outpaced sales of nightgowns. In 1977 Victoria’s Secret opened its first store in Palo Alto, California, offering women many more options in both lingerie and sleepwear. By the early 1990s the retailer had expanded to more than 350 stores nationwide, with sales of $1 billion. Now the company is still the largest lingerie retailer with more than 1000 stores. Perhaps their “secret” is in the many choices available to women.
When Marilyn Monroe was asked “What do you wear to bed?” she famously said: “Chanel Number Five.” Whether you get dressed, or undressed for sleep, make sure you get a great night’s sleep by sleeping on a supportive and comfortable mattress.
These days, “loungewear” is the term for clothing that can be worn to “lounge” or work at home. Yes, working and lounging are two different things. But the lines are blurred here… who hasn’t worn sweat pants with a suit shirt for a zoom conference call from home? Loungewear can be worn to yoga class, or to the grocery store, and it’s comfortable enough to sleep in. This ranges through anything from cute sweat suits, to knit pants called joggers, or leggings and a tee shirt. The options are numerous, and sales in this space are way up!
We tend to take it for granted that we have pajamas to change into when it’s time to go to bed. It’s a regular part of our nighttime routine, and helps us to get settled in for a good night’s rest. Yet there are many children for whom a pair of pajamas are just a dream. Whether they are homeless, or in foster care, many children live with uncertainty and without a stable environment. To help these kids, The Pajama Program was founded in 2001. This organization provides parents and caregivers with the resources and strategies they need to create and maintain a comforting bedtime routine for those in their care. The Pajama Program supplies inspiring storybooks and cozy pajamas to help parents and caregivers to connect with children at bedtime. We know that a good day begins with a good night’s sleep, and the Better Sleep Council has helped this cause by providing copies of “Freddy Bear’s Wakeful Winter” to The Pajama Program for distribution to the many caregivers they serve. For more information about The Pajama Program and how you can get involved, visit their website at PajamaProgram.org
Sleep is one thing we all have in common. No matter where you live, how old you are, or what language you speak, if you’re alive, then you sleep. Since we’ve all been doing this sleeping thing our whole lives, we might just have some thoughts to share on the subject. And if you happen to be a celebrity, these thoughts might be shared with the public. Let’s look at some of these famous quotes about sleep, and see if we’re getting good advice.
“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” – Benjamin Franklin
Franklin was likely speaking from experience. His routine was that he would sleep from 10 pm to 5 am. Today, that’s the same routine for other successful people, including Jeff Bezos and Arianna Huffington. Ellen DeGeneres gets in her eight hours from 11pm to 7pm. However, Elon Musk and Barack Obama get to bed later, at 1 am, and then sleep until 7 am. So, can we thrive on less sleep?
There’s more than comes into play, including how people spend their daytime hours. Are you getting enough exercise and sunshine? Are you eating healthy foods? The quality of sleep you get it also very important. A study at John Hopkins University found that short but uninterrupted sleep is better than long hours of interrupted sleep. This is because interruption doesn’t allow the brain to go through all the sleep stages we need for energy and mental alertness. So, if you are getting that deep, uninterrupted sleep, even for fewer hours, and you are functioning optimally during that day maybe you don’t need as much sleep.
Research has shown that a good night’s sleep does make us smarter – or at least perform better on tests. A study at KU Leuven University in Belgium found higher test scores for students who slept seven hours each night during the exam period than those who got less sleep. The research accounted for differences in study habits, health and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Work eight hours and sleep eight hours and make sure that they are not the same hours. – T. Boone Pickens
Here’s a successful guy who believed in balance. Work, sleep, and then also live your life. Good advice. If you’re working too much and not giving the mind some downtime to rest before sleep, you’ll have a more difficult time getting to sleep, and probably not sleep as well.
I need nine hours of sleep because of all the activity I do. It doesn’t always happen, but I really try. – Ana Ivanovic
8 hours sleep is average – the ballpark for most of us. But some people need less, like Elon Musk, apparently! And some of us need more, like pro tennis player Ana Ivanovic. You don’t have to be an athlete, either – expending mental energy also requires a body-mind reset through sleep. If you find yourself yawning in the afternoon, or feeling like you need a nap, you might just need more sleep at night. When you’re getting enough quality nighttime sleep you shouldn’t need to take a nap. Young children and the elderly are exceptions, they usually need a nap in the day.
I don’t sleep enough, and it does… what is the opposite of wonders… horrors. It does horrors for my skin. – Kate McKinnon
I think my biggest tip – and I consider it a part of my beauty routine – is getting my sleep, without a doubt. I do a true eight hours. – Tracee Ellis Ross
There’s a reason why we call it “Beauty Sleep” and these actresses will tell you! It works both ways. Get good sleep and it shows on your face – your skin, your eyes, your smile. Or stay up too late missing those precious sleep hours and that will show up on your face, too. There’s only so much that make-up can do to hide the signs of lack of sleep. Who better than an actress to confirm this?
I drink a ton of water. And I never go to bed too full. – Chrissy Teigen
Chrissy Teigen has the right idea when it comes to eating. It’s best not to go to bed on a full stomach, because then your body is busy digesting instead of focusing on getting you into a sleep state. But it’s also not good to go to bed hungry either. Chrissy posts on her Instagram account about her “night eggs” that she swears by for sleep. She eats one lightly seasoned hard-boiled egg before bed, and it give her just enough protein to get her through the night without being hungry. But when it comes to water – it’s great to drink water during the day, but definitely limit your intake after 7 pm or your sleep will be interrupted when you need to get out of bed to visit the bathroom!
Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight. – Phyllis Diller
Make sure you never, never argue at night. You just lose a good night’s sleep and you can’t settle anything until morning anyway. -Rose Kennedy
I think we’ve all heard this from marriage and relationship experts: “Never go to bed angry.” Worst advice ever! What is the alternative? Like Phyllis Diller says, stay up and fight? I’m sure Phyllis was joking – how can anyone possibly sleep after getting all riled up in a heated argument? I think Rose Kennedy has a better idea. Never argue at night. Table the argument, go to sleep and figure it out in the morning. Chances are, after a good night’s sleep, the argument won’t seem so important anyway. You’ll be able to think more clearly and may even have dreamt up a solution to the problem!
Nothing makes you feel better than when you get into a hotel bed, and the sheets feel so good. Why shouldn’t you wake up like that every day? Spend money on your mattress and bedding because these things make a difference on your sleep and, ultimately, your happiness. -Bobby Berk
Bobby Berk is an interior designer and television host. He travels a lot for work, so he knows about staying in hotels. Many people experience a great night’s sleep when they stay in a hotel. And when they come home it’s just not the same. The difference? The mattress. Hotels are really good about getting fresh new mattresses all the time so that their guests are comfortable. So, Bobby is giving us really good advice. A new mattress is an investment in both our health and happiness. And of course, the bedding should feel good when you’re in bed, and look good enough to make you smile when you’re out of bed!
Nature has a rhythm. We see it in the way the seasons change, the way the tide comes in and out, and the way the sun rises and sets. It all just happens as it is supposed to. A circadian rhythm is the physiological processes of all living animals and plants within about a 24-hour cycle. This rhythm is created internally, but it can be modified by external factors such as temperature and sunlight. When we look at patterns of daily behavior, such as eating and sleeping, circadian rhythms are key.
Back in the days before electricity, staying in rhythm with nature’s cycle was the norm. People would wake up with the sun, work in the daylight, and go to bed sometime not too long after dark. It wasn’t that long ago that the few television channels we received signed off at midnight and there was no programming overnight. But now, we live in a 24/7 world. We do business with foreign countries by computer at all times of the day and night. We travel across oceans and time zones in a matter of hours. We don’t have to wait for stores to open, we can shop online anytime we want. And between the thousands of television and radio stations we have access to, along with internet options, we are never lacking in around-the-clock entertainment. Given all the amenities of life that we have access to it’s understandable how easily our own rhythms can get out of synch with nature.
Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old Science of Life from India, says that the mind and body operate most efficiently when we go to bed at the same time each night, 10 pm, and arise at the same time each morning, 6 am. According to Ayurveda, this is an essential practice for people to be in harmony with nature and to be their healthiest and happiest selves. Ayurveda advises that for people who need less sleep, that they get up earlier in the morning. And for those who need more sleep, that they go to bed earlier at night. Meal times are also planned for optimal digestion, with the largest meal of the day consumed around noon.
While this sounds like a healthy lifestyle choice, is it possible for everyone?
Modern science has identified “chronotypes” amongst people. While habits play a role in this, a person’s chronotype, or internal clock, is most influenced by genetics and can be difficult to change. There are morning birds, and night owls, and many others in between. We each have a chronotype that fits on a bell curve alongside everyone else’s. 30-50 percent of people fall in the middle of this curve, sleeping between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am. About 40 percent of people have sleep cycles that fall about an hour or so down the sides of the curve, sleeping between 10 pm and 6 am, or between midnight and 8 am.
Then there are those who fall on the edges of the curve. Many teenagers tend to be in this category as their changing hormones can affect their chronotype. They prefer to stay up later, and wake up later, though this pattern shifts earlier as they age. Because both science and educators have recognized this, some schools are now starting a bit later to help their students to be more alert and productive during class times. With flex schedules, and more jobs available for nighttime workers, for some people it can be a benefit to be a night owl.
Having a sleep schedule that is outside the norm can be a problem, as society tends to reward early risers. The expression “the early bird catches the worm” dates back to the 1600s! For those who need to get to bed early and wake up early, it’s not so difficult to fit in. But those whose chronotype gives them the need to stay up late, and wake up late, often struggle conforming to the duties and expectations that come with a 9-5 job.
When a person’s body clock is out of sync with society’s clock scientists call it “social jet lag.” Social jet lag puts stress on the body and mind that can affect job performance and undermine health. Research from 2012 showed that those with social jet lag were more likely to be overweight, had a greater risk for depression, and were more likely to participate in risky behaviors such as smoking or drinking. It’s not the chronotype itself that causes these problems, it’s the mismatch between the chronotype and the daily schedule. In addition, if night owls are getting less sleep because they are getting up earlier, while not going to bed earlier, this ongoing sleep deficit can also create a risk for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
If night owls can’t change their work hours, there are ways that they can shift their internal clock to earlier in the day. However, this requires commitment, and can be difficult to maintain.
One way to shift is through a combination of bright light therapy and melatonin. Usually being out in the sun provides the natural light exposure necessary for our internal clock. But when working from an office all day, we don’t always get the sun we need. There are lamps that mimic the sun that can be helpful. Leaving the curtains open at night so that the morning sun streams in is a good strategy, as is going for an early morning walk or run. With light therapy you must stick to the same schedule every day of the week. If you sleep in on the weekend you can set-back all the progress you’ve made up to that point.
The body naturally produces the hormone melatonin at night when it is dark, but melatonin production varies from person to person. Taking a melatonin capsule 3-4 hours before the desired bedtime will help a night owl to feel sleepier earlier than they usually do. Think of this new routine with light therapy and melatonin as a sleep diet, and be diligent with it.
Another option to re-set the body clock is chronotherapy. Rather than trying to go to bed earlier than usual, night owls can try going to bed two hours later each night until they reach their desired bedtime. This process can be successful, but it takes about two weeks. Few people have such control over their schedules for that length of time to follow through with the plan.
Another strategy for groggy night owls is the midday coffee nap. When you feel tired, adenosine, a chemical that promotes sleep, circulates throughout the body. When you fall asleep, adenosine levels drop. Caffeine competes with adenosine, preventing adenosine from being received by the brain. So, you feel less sleepy. It takes 20 minutes for caffeine to take effect. So, on your lunch break, quickly drink a half of a cup of coffee or so, then set your alarm for a 20-minute nap. This way the body doesn’t get into the deep sleep state. You can also just rest or meditate during that time if you prefer. At the end of the 20 minutes the caffeine starts to kick in, and you also have the energy boost from the quick nap or rest. Just make sure that you don’t consume caffeine any time past 2 pm or you’ll have a more difficult time getting to sleep at bedtime.
Whether you’re a night owl or a morning bird, or anything in between, make sure the sleep you get, whenever you get it, is on a comfortable and supportive mattress. This way you’ll wake up refreshed no matter what time it is!
More sleep tips at www.BetterSleep.org
You know those games where you have to name three things you need to have on a desert island? One of my three would have to be dark chocolate! I don’t think I’m alone in this – many people feel the same way. There’s just something about it. Well, science is on our side because this amazing gift from heaven that we call chocolate has been found to be heart-healthy. Yep, a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology says just that.
Turns out, dark chocolate is choc-full of antioxidants that help to boost mood, improve concentration, get blood flow going, and even reduce inflammation. The study says that a single serving of dark chocolate has more prodyanidins than Americans usually get in a day, and these help to block the uptake of bad cholesterol. More good news: The antioxidants in chocolate last longer than they do in other foods. We know green tea is healthy, but the antioxidants degrade with its shelf life. Chocolate bars remain potent for about 4 years, and cocoa beans and powder are good for 75 years.
The darker the chocolate, the better it is for you. Darker chocolate has a higher percentage of cocoa solids, which is where the antioxidants are. However, if the chocolate is highly processed, some of the benefits lessen. Dark chocolate also has a lower sugar content, and fewer calories than milk or white chocolate, which are typically mixed with either powdered or condensed milk.
Of course, remember to eat any food, even chocolate, in moderation. Too much of anything is not good, especially when you factor in the calories, sugar, milk and fat added into commercial products. The study recommends a 1-ounce bite a few times per week. Remember that you can also get heart healthy flavonoids with other foods such as apples, tea, citrus fruit, onions and berries.
Vegan Chocolate Mousse Recipe
- 7 small sweet potatoes
- ¾ cup almond milk, or other vegan milk substitute
- 7 Tbsp of cocoa powder
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- Pinch of cardamom
- Pinch of Himalayan sea salt
- raw cocoa nibs for garnish
Bake the sweet potatoes until soft, then cool and remove the skin.
Place the rest of the ingredients in a high-powered blender or food processor until smooth.
Refrigerate for 3 hours before serving.
Serve in individual cups with a sprinkle of cocoa nibs over the top.