You already know the importance of sleep to your health. But did you know that sleep governs over 600 genes? Those include weight loss genes (such as CLOCK) as well as the genes that predict your risk of Alzheimer’s disease (APOE4). If you’re like me and have the variation of CLOCK, you need eight hours of sleep per night to lose weight, because the gene variant can raise your daily levels of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you hungry. In this article, I want to share the latest tips on how to fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep so that you get all of the downstream health and beauty benefits of a full night of restorative sleep.
Tip #1. Take Vitamin D!
This vitamin is also a hormone, and it appears to have direct brain effects on your regulation of sleep, specifically in the diencephalon (the part of your brain that contains the hypothalamus and regulates hormones) and brain stem (trunk of the brain). Some hypothesize that sleep disorders have risen to epidemic levels because of widespread vitamin D deficiency, and I agree. Vitamin D has hormonal, neurological, and immunological influences on pain in the body, playing a key role in the cause and continuation of chronic pain and associated problems such as insomnia. Lack of sleep, disrupted circadian rhythms, and low vitamin D levels can impair healing and repair. It’s difficult to gain a sufficient amount of it through your diet. The best food sources are liver and low-mercury fish such as herring, sardines, and cod. Sunshine is still the best way to get vitamin D, but if you have a genetic defect in your vitamin D receptor, like I do, it may be almost impossible to get enough sunshine to keep your vitamin D in the optimal range of 60 to 90 ng/mL (the optimal range for sleep and achieving a healthy weight). Generally, I recommend about 2,000 to 5,000 IUs/day, but the best strategy given the multiple genes involved in vitamin D metabolism is to track the blood levels over time. As you’ll find with many nutrients, there is a U-shaped curve between vitamin D and health, so too little is bad, and too much is bad too. You want get just the right amount.
Tip #2: Upgrade Your Microbiome.
It’s clear that your microbiome powers most of your body’s key functions, including sleep. Preliminary findings from a study of adults over age 65 found that those with better sleep quality also had more of the good gut microbes, including Verrucomicrobia and Lentisphaerae, and improved cognitive flexibility. Other findings suggest there is a link between gut bacteria and normal sleep patterns. This is especially true when we consider that the food we eat fuels important hormones, such as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which governs sleep and mood. Bad sleep, functional constipation, and low microbe proportion may be connected. We know that sleep deprivation leads to obesity and weight gain.
There is certainly a connection between poor gut health and poor sleep. I suggest amping up your intake of prebiotic foods, like leeks and avocados.
Tip #3. Sleep on Your Side.
Sleep on your side! Your brain’s glymphatic system, like shampoo for your brain, cleanses damaging and toxic molecules associated with neurodegeneration (aka brain decay). It works best when you’re sleeping on your side so I use a pillow between my bent legs to pin myself in a cozy side-lying position. It also helps decompress my low back. Sleeping on your right side activates your vagus nerve, which connects nearly every organ of your body. The vagus is the main nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system. It governs stress resilience. Keeping it toned to promote a better mood, digestion, and energy.
Tip #4. Kick out ALAN (Artificial Light at Night)!
That means no TV in the bedroom and no screens three hours before bedtime. I even have special dim lights set up across my house to make it even better for my eyes. This maximizes your body’s natural production of melatonin. I step away from the smartphone, tablet, computer, and television, in order to protect my body’s natural release of melatonin, the hormone that encourages sleepiness. Instead I enjoy quality time with my husband and daughters before, doing only relaxing activities and keeping any stressors out of my head. ALAN throw off our body’s natural rhyme and make it harder for us to fall asleep and get good night’s rest.
Tip #5. Keep Your Room 64 Degrees Fahrenheit
As you age, sleep becomes way more important, but night sweats and stress can disrupt sleep quality. Keep your room at 64 degrees, cool enough to minimize hot flashes and night sweats. Wear comfortable, loose layers of clothing. Enjoy your pillows, especially between your legs if you’re sleeping on your side. You can consider taking a magnesium supplement for its relaxing mineral properties. Magnesium counters the stress response, helps your muscles release, and may even enhance your sleep.
Tip #6. Cut Out the Toxins: Alcohol and Caffeine.
I wish it weren’t true, but over half of the population in the United States has the slow metabolism gene for caffeine, which means that drinking coffee can make you feel like a genius for two hours, followed by a jittery and sleepless mess. The gene is called CYP1A2, and I have the slow metabolism variant. That means I can occasionally have a cup of green tea or matcha in the morning, but not coffee. When I get off of all caffeine, I sleep an extra thirty to sixty minutes per night. See what’s true for you by getting off of caffeine for three weeks and noticing what happens to your sleep quantity and quality. Alcohol causes similar problems: it raises cortisol and gives me night sweats, in part because my genes that process alcohol are not optimal. After age 40, if you struggle with good sleep, select your vices carefully or avoid them altogether!
For more on healthy sleep and how it promotes better aging and hormone balance, read my book Younger.
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