By Rob Archangel, 180DegreeHealth.com staff writer
Recently, Matt’s been riffing on the topic of childhood obesity and possible causes of it. One of the factors is getting enough sleep. According to this article, both obese kids and lean kids tend to get insufficient sleep during the week (around eight versus nine or ten hours per night), but lean kids sleep in and make up some of their sleep debt on the weekends, whereas obese kids don’t. The researchers in the mentioned study say that just about all kids would be better off with more and more regular sleep. I’d say that goes for adults too.
So what to do about it, for both kids and grownups? I want to offer a few strategies and outlooks that have been helpful to me for getting good sleep.
- Turn off the screens- Television, computers, tablets, smartphones, the whole shebang. Yeah, it’s tough, especially when it’s so central to how we pass our time and relate to others. But, it you can manage it for the last few hours before sleep, especially as the sun starts to go down, you give yourself a chance to unwind from the stimulation they provide. Added benefit: these technologies help speed up our nervous system and prime us for constant stimulation which make ordinary experiences duller in comparison. Being judicious about using them helps us enjoy regular, everyday life more. If you do find yourself on the computer later, consider a program like F.lux which adds more of a red tint to your monitor as the sun goes down, simulating dusk, and making the transition to sleep easier.
- Sleep in a dark room- Our bodies are highly photosensitive, and ambient light affects us and our sleep patterns. Use some blackout curtains or quilts to cover your windows, turn off electronics that glow, maybe throw on one of those night-time eye masks. If you’re having trouble sleeping, better approximating a dark night in nature helps.
- Change your lights- If possible, let ‘em go altogether, and shut things down as the sun goes down. Since that’s not usually practical, try to use red-tinted lights or lower watt lights, and try to use area lighting rather than overhead lighting. Basically, you want to not give your body reason to think it’s still the middle of the day with the sun overhead. Approximating dusk light and light at a sharper angle helps that.
- Exercise- I find playing basketball or doing some weight training or other high intensity activity does well to knock me out good for some pleasant shut eye. You don’t have to go crazy with it, but just move your body in a fun way and work up a sweat. I imagine that part of why folks have trouble sleeping and feel antsy is they didn’t get a chance to use their body going from home to the car to work to the car to home to the couch, with maybe a stop or two thrown in there. Humans used to walk. Sitting around all day probably bugs our bodies out. Getting a little exercise in seems to help everything else function well, sleep included.
- Segment your sleep-Maybe not practical for most folks, but this article points out that the pattern of eight hours of uninterrupted sleep has not been the historical norm, and seems more related to the needs of industry and long hours of uninterrupted work. In the past, we would nap at our leisure, and also frequently head to sleep soon after sundown. Then, we’d get up a few hours later in the middle of the night, maybe eat some food, play some music, and have sex and conversation. Fun times. So if you find yourself getting tired at an early hour, but you keep yourself up so you’ll sleep through the night, try experimenting and see what happens if you sleep intuitively. You might find the segmented sleep pattern comes naturally and works well.
Those are some of the things that help me. Others include sleeping in a cool room, taking a warm bath or shower beforehand, having a notepad nearby to write down racing thoughts so they don’t keep you awake and anxious, reducing jarring noise, and avoiding night time stimulants.
And one crazy idea: sleeping without an alarm. I’ve read stories of folks who decided they were not going to use alarm clocks anymore (since they’re awful), and just made the decision to get up when they needed to. They were able to do it. I had an extended trial run of this last sumer when I had to be awake and at my job by 7am most mornings. I too did it. Knowing that I had to get up and had to project my awareness in that way seemed to make it easier for me to go to sleep at a good hour. It’s bold, and might not work for everyone, but there it is.
Getting good rest is important for health in general, and maybe for obesity prevention and treatment in particular. Those are some ideas to get started.
What are some of your strategies for getting good sleep?
– I find playing basketball or doing some weight training or other high intensity activity does well to knock me out good for some pleasant shut eye. You don’t have to go crazy with it, but just move your body in a fun way and work up a sweat. I imagine that part of why folks have trouble sleeping and feel antsy is they didn’t get a chance to use their body going from home to the car to work to the car to home to the couch, with maybe a stop or two thrown in there. Humans used to