How Exactly Does Sleep Affect Us?
Matthew Walkers is one of the youngest sleep advocates, author of the best seller Why We Sleep, and manager of the Center for Human Sleep Science in Berkeley University UC. Walker in his wonderful talk at TED Talk analyzes the wonderful things that happen when we sleep - and the worrying things that happen when we don't, both for our brain and our body.
The good news is that the benefits of good sleep include increased creativity, learning ability, concentration, lower blood pressure, better mood regulation, higher immunity, fertility, and youth (you didn’t see that coming, right?). In fact, according to Walker, "sleep is the system that keeps us alive and Mother Nature's best effort for immortality." Sounds nice?
The bad news is that lack of sleep, as more and more research shows, is directly linked to stress and diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and depression. Ouch!
What is it that keeps us awake?
Many factors can be responsible for the inability to sleep well at night. Stress, (these persistent thoughts that accumulate just when you want to relax), jet lag, your general health condition, the medications you take, or even the amount of coffee you drink, affect both the quality and the duration of your sleep. Insomnia can also be caused by sleep disorders or mental illnesses, like depression.
In addition to the above, for a year now the COVID-19 pandemic had various effects on our sleep, with the difficulties presenting a sharp increase.
Even before the pandemic, about two-thirds of adults in all developed nations failed to get the recommended 7 to 8 hours of rest every night (World Health Organization statistics). Last year, however, has brought us face to face with increased anxiety, depression, and disruption of our daily routines. Circumstances that made it difficult for us to track time and disrupted our relationship with sleep.
With the exception of medical conditions that should be monitored by a doctor, stress remains the most popular reason amongst the above, that results in sleep deprivation. What is special about this fact is that stress causes insomnia and lack of sleep causes stress. It’s a vicious circle and it is up to us to break it.
Can CBD help with this?
From the evidence gathered so far it seems that yes, CBD can help with sleep difficulties, while at the same time contributing to our overall wellness. The way it helps is by interacting with our endocannabinoid system which is the one that regulates functions, like our appetite, motor skills, mood, and sleep. Despite being a relatively "unknown" system to most, the endocannabinoid system has been described by scientists as "the most important physiological system involved in maintaining human health and well-being".
What does the research say?
The latest big research was conducted in 2019 and focused specifically on the use of CBD for sleep and whether or not it could have some effect. The study included 72 adults, with 47 experiencing anxiety and 25 experiencing poor sleep. Each person received 25 mg of CBD in capsule form each day. In the first month, 79% of patients reported lower stress levels and 66% reported better sleep.
Despite the many studies that show that CBD can help improve sleep, not all of them can explain exactly how this happens. In fact, many researchers claim that improved sleep is the direct result of reducing stress, in which CBD has proven benefits.
As new research comes to light every day, we will certainly soon have all the answers on how CBD works. In the meantime, as it is a natural, beneficial, and most important non-toxic and non-addictive compound, you can start enjoying its properties.
What else can help?
As a true advocate of sleep, Walker did not focus solely on its importance. He went on and gave us tips on how to improve it. We took notes and here are 11 ways to get better at it.
- Establish a routine - a sleeping habit. This means trying to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (yes on weekends too!).
- Try not to exercise intensely at least 3 hours before bedtime
- Avoid caffeine & nicotine. (Especially for caffeine it is best not to consume it after 1 pm. If you are having trouble sleeping)
- Skip alcoholic beverages before bedtime. Alcohol is sedative and sedation is not sleep. It also prevents REM stage which is when you are actually resting.
- Make sure your last meal of the day is light.
- Talk to your doctor about taking medication. Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs can affect sleep. If you are taking any medication before taking on any other supplement, talk to your doctor. If your treatment is responsible for the difficulties you are having, discuss your options (e.g taking medication earlier in the day)
- Allow time for relaxation. Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Light candles that smell good, read, listen to music or try meditation. Whatever you choose, give yourself the time and space it takes to leave the day behind and unwind.
- Take a warm bath before going to bed. This is always good advice! For even better results, use oils or bath bombs with scents that can relax you while enjoying the benefits of aromatherapy
- Turn off the lights and all electronic screens and devices, one hour before bed.
- Keep your bedroom temperature cool. Approximately 18 degrees Celsius is considered ideal for cooling your body during sleep.
- If you can not sleep, get out of bed. Do something quiet and relaxing until the urge to sleep returns.