Sweet Dreams: The Science Behind (Good) Sleep
Are you struggling to get a good night’s sleep? In this blog, we will delve into the science behind sleep and share some newer research-backed strategies to help you improve your sleep quality. As a life coach in the greater Seattle area, I understand the importance of sleep for overall well-being. Let’s explore some effective techniques that can make a difference in your sleep routine.
Did you know?
So when I was researching this topic, I found out some really interesting facts like this one: lack of sleep can have a similar effect on your body is being intoxicated. Or how about this one? That woman who sleep seven to eight hours each night have a lower risk of developing heart disease.
A Little Sleep Science
Let’s just dive into just a little bit of the science about sleep, because scientists have actually been studying sleep for decades. One of the most important recent discoveries is that sleep is not the passive process we often assume it is, but actually, there is so much activity going on in our brain, particularly with our neurotransmitters, so sleep is actually an active process.
Now, what was really interesting to me is that REM sleep and non-REM sleep are essentially doing different things for us during the night, and we cycle between them so that we get both. So REM sleep is really important for emotional processing as well as memory consolidation. While non-REM sleep is actually really essential for physical restoration, so when a person doesn’t get enough sleep, it can hurt in three main detrimental ways.
- Cognitive Function: a lack of it can lead to forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, slower reaction times, as well as reduced cognitive flexibility.
- Mood: poor sleep has been shown to contribute to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, irritability, and other mood disorders.
- Physical Health: a lack of sleep can result in an increased risk of weight gain, diabetes, inflammation in the body, high blood pressure, and heart disease. It can also lead to a weakened immune system and greater susceptibility, therefore, to illnesses and infections.
Common Sleep Improvement Tips
While you may have come across the same old suggestions for better sleep, such as sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, and optimizing the sleep environment, there are lesser-known strategies supported by solid research that can significantly improve your sleep quality.
Three brain-based strategies for getting a better quality night’s sleep
- Positive Memory Recall: According to a study published in the Journal of Sleep Research, recalling positive memories before bed can enhance your mood, reduce stress levels, and improve sleep quality. Consider choosing a specific positive memory that you associate with sleep and reflect on it before going to bed.
- Gratitude Practice: Engaging in a gratitude practice before sleep, such as writing down three things you are grateful for or focusing on positive experiences, can increase feelings of well-being and reduce stress and anxiety, ultimately leading to better sleep, as suggested by a positive psychology study.
- Setting Goals: Setting goals for the next day right before going to bed can promote better sleep quality and reduce stress levels, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. This practice helps you mentally prepare for the day ahead, giving your mind a sense of direction and calmness.
More research-backed techniques for improved sleep
In addition to these mind-based strategies, there are practical techniques supported by research that can improve sleep quality. Consider implementing the following:
- Blue Light Filtering Glasses: Wearing blue light filtering glasses in the evening can help reduce the interference caused by the brightness emitted by screens (phones, TVs, laptops), thereby improving sleep quality.
- Aromatherapy: Using scents like lavender oil, known for its relaxation properties, can enhance sleep quality and duration. Consider using essential oils or incorporating lavender-scented products in your bedtime routine.
- Warm Bath or Shower: Taking a warm bath or shower before bedtime raises your body temperature and induces a subsequent drop, signaling to your body that it’s time to sleep. Relaxation from warm water can also reduce stress and promote better sleep.
- Audio Support: Experiment with different audio supports, such as white noise, nature sounds, binaural beats, guided meditations, ASMR, or calming podcasts or audiobooks, to find what works best for you in promoting relaxation and aiding sleep.
- Late-Night Snack: Some research suggests that a light carbohydrate-rich snack before bed can improve sleep quality, especially for those who tend to wake up during the night.
Menopause and Sleep
Sleep is essential for women’s overall well-being, but they often face unique sleep challenges throughout their lives. Menopause, in particular, can disrupt sleep due to hormonal changes. During this transition, declining estrogen levels can contribute to insomnia, night sweats, and hot flashes, leading to restless nights. To manage these symptoms and improve sleep quality, there are several targeted strategies. Firstly, creating a cool and comfortable sleep environment by using breathable bedding and adjusting room temperature can help reduce night sweats. Investing in moisture-wicking sleepwear can alleviate discomfort caused by hot flashes. Establishing a consistent sleep routine and practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation before bed can promote a calm state of mind and aid in falling asleep. Regular exercise during the day, but avoiding intense physical activity close to bedtime, can also contribute to better sleep. Additionally, considering hormone therapy or other medical interventions under the guidance of a healthcare professional can be an option for women experiencing severe sleep disruptions during menopause. By incorporating these strategies and seeking personalized guidance, women can prioritize their sleep and enhance their overall well-being during this transformative stage of life.
In conclusion, sleep is a critical component of our overall health and well-being, and prioritizing quality sleep is essential. By implementing these science-backed strategies, you can optimize your sleep routine and experience the benefits of improved sleep.
To hear the podcast episode about the science of sleep, click here.
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- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2019). Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep
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- National Sleep Foundation. (2021). Menopause and sleep. Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/menopause
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Rachel Moore, LICSW, is a Seattle-based personal coach offering life coaching and well-being consulting. She helps individuals reach their goals and assists organizations in implementing employee wellness programs.