Did you know that 1 out of every 2 adults in first world nations is chronically sleep deprived? This is a serious problem…

For starters, people who consistently sleep too little are more likely to die early than those who get the full 8 hours of sleep each night.  In one study, people restricted to 4 hours of sleep for just one night experienced a 70% reduction in their immune defense arsenal.

Science has also uncovered powerful links between sleep loss and Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and poor mental health. Like I said, this is serious!

In order to get good sleep it’s important to harness the power of your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm, also known as the sleep/wake cycle, is the body’s 24-hour internal clock and researchers are increasingly acknowledging its importance to overall health.

The circadian rhythm is controlled by the brain and it’s more sensitive than you think. It runs in the background to control your sleepiness and alertness intervals, which tend to coincide with the cycle of day and night. Most of us feel alert in the early morning and when it gets dark our brain gets the signal that it’s time to sleep.

What gets in the way of a healthy circadian rhythm?  The most likely culprit is light:  too little during the day and too much at night.  Sleep expert Dr. Matthew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Founder and Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science says, “We are a dark deprived society in the evening and a light deprived society during the day”.

During the day most of us spend our waking hours indoors yet research shows that getting bright daylight, especially in the morning, is necessary to synchronize the sleep/wake cycle. So we’re already behind the eight ball when it comes to circadian rhythm.

When it gets dark outside in the evening the brain sends a message to the body to release the hormone melatonin, which makes us tired.  Unfortunately, most of us are chronically exposed to bright light at night in our homes and from electronic devices. Studies have shown that bright light at night significantly suppresses melatonin production – meaning your body doesn’t get the message that it’s time for sleep.

So what can we do to reboot our circadian rhythm and promote good sleep?  Here are a few pointers from Dr. Walker:

  • Plan for a non-negotiable 7-9 hour continuous sleep opportunity nightly
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
  • Keep your nighttime environment dark to help with the release of melatonin and get off electronics AT LEAST an hour before bed (use the app f.lux if you have to use your computer)
  • Keep your bedroom cool (63-66 degrees) and dark
  • Avoid caffeine after midday (caffeine has a half-life of 5-6 hours and a quarter life of 12 hours – if you have a cup of coffee at 12 pm it’s the equivalent of having a quarter cup right before bed)
  • Avoid alcohol – it’s a sedative but sedation is not sleep.  Alcohol also causes you to wake up more often during the night
  • Finish your last meal at least three hours before sleep
  • Exercise daily
  • Don’t worry be happy –stress increases cortisol which keeps us awake