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March 10, 2021 - Stress and sleeplessness are familiar bedfellows. How do we break the cycle to get the immune-boosting zzz’s that we need? Sleep expert, Dr. Michael Breus shares his favorite tips. Save the date for his Masterclass on March 30.
According to Dr. Michael Breus, sleeping well when you’re stressed is difficult but not because of why most people think. It’s common to blame those racing thoughts as the source of the problem but it’s also our biology at work. When you’re stressed, your body releases a stress hormone called cortisol. This elevates your blood pressure which gets your muscles tensing, your heart pumping and your brain on overdrive. It’s called the “fight-or-flight” response, two activities not correlated with good sleep. Stress activates this hardwired survival mechanism. Whether or not there’s a saber tooth tiger chasing you, your nervous system thinks there is. Bottom line: Our bodies are hardwired to stay awake when we’re stressed.
On the other side of the coin, not only does stress lead to poor sleep, poor sleep also leads to more stress! Researchers at UC Berkeley found that a single sleepless night can lead to a 30 percent increase in emotional stress levels.
But let’s give our nervous systems a break. This is a safety mechanism. It’s trying to keep us alive because stress equals danger. What can we do about it? There are some basic sleep hygiene hacks that we can all follow, whether we are 8 or 48 or 88.
Dr. Breus will be joining our Wellness Pioneer Anna Bjurstam on March 30, 10:00 am PST, 1:00 pm EST, 6:00 pm UK time. You can sign up via our website.
In a family, sleeplessness can be shared as well. As anyone with a teething infant knows, when a child isn’t sleeping well, nobody in the house is sleeping well.
What are some ways to get the entire house back into their circadian rhythm?
First, let’s understand one of the problems that arise during a pandemic. With so many of us living our entire lives from home, the normal morning routines that kickstarted our day are often out the window. We wake up later, we don’t shower. Instead, we roll out of bed, turn on the computer – without video – for our morning calls and it all becomes a blur. The inconsistency in our wake-up times can mess up our circadian rhythm and make falling asleep and sleeping well more difficult.
Children are facing the same problem with attending school at home. Their wake-up times get pushed later, they’re getting less exercise and sunlight on their faces. They stay up later. Plus, they may have less-patient parents at the end of the day as mom or dad has spent the entire day juggling childcare, working and cooking, for example.
What Dr. Breus has seen in this scenario is a kind of sleep procrastination, where people put off sleep to have an hour or two of alone time in the evening after everyone has gone to bed. But spacing out by scrolling down one’s Facebook or Twitter feed is not very relaxing. As he says, if you’re going to veg out, do it with your eyes closed! Your future self will thank you.
Also, remember the importance of a consistent morning routine. Although the last thing we may want to do in the morning is wake a sleeping child, setting a time in the morning and sticking to it is the foundation of good sleep. After a couple of weeks, this routine will get easier and easier.
The secret to good sleep is the same for a child or an adult. We all need schedules. If there’s anything that’s going to save us during this challenging time, it’s our circadian rhythm. The good sleep that will come from a healthy circadian rhythm will make us stronger, more resilient, and healthier.
At the end of the day, sleep is a performance activity. You need the right equipment, and you have to train for it. According to Dr. Breus, the best ways to train are:
1. Wake up at the same time every day and make sure to get some sunlight in the morning. This sets your circadian rhythm for the entire day which is essential not only for good sleep at bedtime but for a strong immune system as well.
2. Move! When we don’t move, we put on weight and that increased weight can make it more difficult to sleep. Also, sleep has a recovery function. If you don’t do anything during the day that you need to recover from like pushing your muscles with exercise, you don’t need the sleep as much, so you don’t sleep as well.
3. Stop caffeine by 2:00 pm.
4. Stop alcohol three hours before you plan on going to sleep.
5. Don’t exercise before you go to bed because it can raise your core temperature which can make it difficult to sleep. If you do, wait four hours.
Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., is a Clinical Psychologist and both a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. He is one of only 168 psychologists in the world to have passed the Sleep Medicine Specialty board without going to Medical School. Dr. Breus was recently named the Top Sleep Specialist in California by Reader’s Digest, and one of the 10 most influential people in sleep. Dr. Breus is on the clinical advisory board of The Dr. Oz Show and makes frequent appearances on it.