Why Sleep Matters—And How to Improve Yours

  • Written By:Lauren Slayton
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Chances are you already know you should eat vegetables, exercise, drink water, and get a good night’s sleep, but there’s a gap between what we know and what we actually do. When it comes to sleep, I find my nutrition clients know it’s important and yet don’t really prioritize it. It occurred to me that I’m writing this article in the “City That Never Sleeps” which might be an apt description, but not something we should strive for. Just as you’d approach a new food plan or exercise regime, it takes time and attention to improve your sleep.

Why sleep matters

Sleep is important for your immune system, your weight and your ability to focus. Sleep is when our body repairs itself and a chronic lack of sleep causes an increase in what’s called amyloid plaques, proteins associated with Alzheimers. But it’s not just long-term sleep deprivation, one night of sleeping less than 5 hours affects immunity and appetite.

Sleep-deprived adults tend to have higher ghrelin levels, more hunger, and less feeling of fullness compared to adults who get seven-to-nine hours of sleep. And if you ever want to get a guy to prioritize sleep, the sleep and testosterone link is strong. Matthew Walker, the sleep researcher, explains that men who sleep only 5 to 6 hours a night have testosterone levels of a man one decade older.

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How you can improve your sleep

Our bodies thrive on predictability. Try to set a regular bedtime that will allow 8 hours in bed. The Atlantic’s James Hablin coined a phrase “the Amazing Hour” where he suggests an hour screen free before bed. While screen free may be the ultimate goal, just start the process of dimming all lights (we need darkness for melatonin production)., brushing your teeth and if you choose to read, reading an actual book versus a tablet. You also want your bedroom cool, “sleep in the 60s” is the advice I give clients. And of course, Nora Ephron knew everything—she was right when she said if you can’t sleep, it was the second drink.

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Sleep Supplements

One supplement that almost everyone should take is magnesium. Magnesium has been shown to decrease the number of sleep disturbances during the night. (Magnesium glycinate and magnesium threonate are the two forms of magnesium I’d recommend for sleep.) Whereas magnesium should be taken daily, both passionflower and valerian can be used as needed. Both are well researched and effective.

Lauren Slayton is a nutritionist and the founder of Foodtrainers.

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