I have had to completely transform my relationship with sleep.
Maybe it all started when I first heard my farm-bred, hard-working great-grandmother say, “Sleep is the biggest waste of some good, usable time that I’ve ever heard of.” My eight-year-old self didn’t think much of it until I was launched into my teenage years when the competition of “who is operating on the least amount of sleep” game quickly began. Somehow you received a badge of honor for pulling off an all-nighter and showing up at school completely unfazed with that air of untouchable, rebellious confidence. All the while, I would witness my dad heading to work on a mere 4-5 hours of rest, stating there were just never enough hours in the day to get everything done. I didn’t consciously realize it at the time, but a sense of shame around sleeping more than six or seven hours a night began to plague me. Sleep is overrated right? When you have a lot to do, wouldn’t cutting back on your sleep to fit it all in be the most prudent and responsible decision?
EFFECTS OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION
It wasn’t until I began to uncover the literal life-saving benefits of sleep (and after having a disastrous all-nighter meltdown in front of a professor) that I began to reevaluate my beliefs. My perception of sleep quickly changed from being an as-needed-basis activity to a precious health secret I needed to rigorously protect. I began to uncover shocking nuggets of information that reinforced the benefit of truly good sleep and the miraculous effect it can have.
- Not getting enough sleep can weaken your immune system and make you vulnerable to various diseases.
- Numerous studies have shown that sleep deprivation increases your chances of having a stroke, developing Alzheimer’s and even getting cancer. [i]
- Weight gain can be a common side effect of getting less than 6 hours of sleep due to hormone imbalance in the body. (Specifically, the appetite-regulating hormone leptin decreases which causes affected eating patterns.) [ii]
- Lack of sleep is proven to accelerate the development of fine lines, uneven pigmentation and reduced elasticity in the skin due to insufficient recovery time for the skin barrier. [iii]
- A recent study showed that people with insomnia (a disorder that makes it hard to fall or stay asleep) were five times more likely to suffer from depression and 20 times more likely to develop symptoms of anxiety. [iv]
- Sleep deprivation increases activity in the amygdala (the emotional center of the brain) and can trigger heightened responses to negative stimuli. This can manifest in increased anger, hyperactivity, aggression, impulsivity and inappropriate social behaviors.[v]
- Research shows that 40% of people with disabilities deal with unique challenges that make them experience long-term sleep difficulties.[vi]
- A recent study revealed that 90% of veterans dealing with combat-related PTSD show symptoms of insomnia.[vii]
- Nocturia, or nighttime urination, can affect up to 80% of seniors, causing major sleep disruptions and problems falling back to sleep.[viii]
As a woman with a spinal cord injury, I can personally attest to the sleepless nights that come with an unpredictable bladder. Incontinence is not just a widespread nighttime issue for seniors - it can also affect those with disabilities, like me, and around 1-2% of the general population. This blog will highlight 12 detailed solutions that will help you achieve the best sleep of your life, along with tips and product suggestions for those of you dealing with nighttime incontinence. Everyone deserves to have a dry and reinvigorating night of sleep! Part 1 will focus on the first set four solutions for “Optimizing your BRAIN for sleep.”
Optimizing your BRAIN for sleep
Our brains are the control center behind all we experience, yet we often forget to take care of this powerful organ in ways that can maximize its performance. Seemingly innocent activities and routines can drastically alter neurological signals and chemical compositions in the brain that affect your sleep.
Step #1 - Reduce alcohol consumption at night
- FACTS: Alcohol alters your melatonin production and decreases hormones like HGH, two reactions that affect your circadian rhythm. Alcohol consumption also disturbs the first two cycles of REM sleep, the sleep responsible for learning and retaining memories. These factors cause disruptions in the brain and can decrease sleep quality by 10-40% (depending on the amount of alcohol consumed).[ix]
- SOLUTION: Although a nice glass of wine or cold beer before bed can make you feel a warm drowsiness that lulls you to sleep, your ability to stay asleep and achieve a high sleep quality can be significantly affected. Drinking a few hours earlier in the day reduces the risk of these negative consequences, along with any alcohol-related nighttime incontinence for those with nocturia.
Step #2 - Limit caffeine consumption at least 6 hours before bed
- FACTS: In the United States almost 90% of the population consumes a caffeinated beverage on a daily basis.[x] A recent study tested the effects of late-day caffeine consumption and showed that even when taken around 6 hours before bedtime, caffeine can decrease the total amount of nighttime sleep by nearly an hour.[xi]
- SOLUTION: It’s safe to say our society has a bit of a caffeine addiction - so if your coffee is your best friend throughout the day, you’re not alone! However, for the benefit of your sleep quality, it is best to limit this ‘friendship’ in the 6 hours before you go to sleep. Each person is different, so it is helpful to experiment and find the sweet spot for when your caffeine consumption should stop during the day.
Step #3 - Manage blue light exposure before bed
- FACTS: When it comes to the visible light spectrum, blue wavelengths have the most powerful effect on the human brain. Natural blue light (from the sun) and artificial blue light (from electronics such as cell phones, TV’s and LED lights) suppress the secretion of melatonin, a hormone associated with the sleep-wake cycle, and make us feel more awake and alert.[xii]
- SOLUTION: Beginning a nighttime ritual of restricting blue light 1-2 hours before bed will greatly improve your sleep. This means dimming or turning off lights, putting your cell phone in ‘time out’ and turning off the TV for a lower-light activity. If this is a behavior that is too difficult to integrate into your schedule, other solutions include finding blue-light-blocking glasses or installing a blue-light-filtering app on your phone.
Step #4 - Take sleep-promoting supplements
- FACTS: Approximately 30% of all adults deal with some level of insomnia, with 6-10% of people demonstrating severe symptoms. Recent research shows that the consumption of magnesium, vitamin B and melatonin can be highly effective for those with insomnia and can significantly improve sleep quality.[xiii]
- SOLUTION: If you are experiencing frequent bouts of insomnia, taking a sleep-promoting supplement can be a simple way to improve your sleep schedule. Consulting with your doctor or pharmacist is always a great way to confirm which supplement could be the best fit for you.
- to offer neck support.
- Side Sleeper - a firmer pillow with increased thickness to fill the space between the head and shoulder.
- Stomach Sleeper - a very thin pillow or no pillow at all in order to avoid overextending the neck.
Bottom line: sleep is the key to everything we do. It is the source of creating impeccable health, having the energy to pursue our passions, and enjoying the time we are given in this life.
As someone with a disability who is in a vulnerable population for sleep disturbances, I often felt like I was doomed to endure poor sleep. It wasn’t until I took a hard look at the science of sleep that I realized I could turn my sleep ship around.
My first step was committing to a dry, comfortable sleep with Attends Premier Overnight Bladder Control Pads. Other pads that I’ve tried left me feeling uncomfortable throughout the night, with my dignity in the toilet by morning. Not only do the overnight pads help me to get the best sleep I’ve ever had at night, but they also help me to live a bolder, more adventurous lifestyle during the day.
Taking this first step toward owning my sleep journey made me realize how many other changes I could make to get a better night’s sleep. After eventually achieving bladder and sleep schedule control, I was able to change my life in ways that I couldn’t have even imagined. It has boosted my health in a significant way and given me the energy to pursue my dream career and passions. What could better sleep do for your life?