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“Sleep is essential nourishment, it’s the body’s reset button,” explains California-based primary care physician Dr. Matt Montee, who treats patients with a variety of medical conditions — including insomnia and sleep disorders. “Each night. we have a golden opportunity to hit ‘reset,’ and when we wake up, it’s a chance for us to start fresh.”
Most of us know we need quality sleep, and, in all likelihood, more of it: The Centers for Disease Control recommends at least seven hours per night for the average adult to maintain optimal health. But studies show that more than 25 percent of us struggle to fall and stay asleep most nights, while 68 percent — at least 160 million Americans — spend at least one night a week in a restless state.
Researchers have connected impaired sleep to a variety of health issues, from Alzheimer’s and heart disease to depression, Type 2 diabetes, and even premature death. Additionally, a lack of consistent, quality sleep increases an adult’s risk of being injured during basic, day-to-day tasks, like cooking and driving. And it doesn’t stop there: Recent studies suggest that long-term sleep deprivation may affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, which could lead to serious illness over time. In a report presented to the American Society for Nutrition last week, scientists found that those who slept fewer than seven hours per night absorbed less magnesium, niacin, calcium, zinc and vitamins A, D, and B1. Lack of sleep can also make us crave high-fat, highly-processed foods, which are light on nutrients and can tax the digestive system.
Beyond the most basic sleep hygiene — which includes hiding your phone and electronic devices far away at night (the light from which can impact the body’s organic sleep cycle), avoiding late-day caffeine and late-night food or alcohol, and keeping a consistent sleep schedule (even on weekends) — simple lifestyle changes may help: Regular exercise during the day, for example, and spending more time outside in the sun or natural light. There are also multiple pharmaceutical sleep aids, none of which work for everyone, all of which come with downsides, including unpleasant side effects and risk of addiction. If you’re struggling to sleep and are wary of conventional sleep medications, the following sleep boosters may restore solid slumber — no prescription required.
Cannabidiol (CBD), a compound found in the cannabis plant, is non-psychoactive (meaning it won’t give you a typical cannabis “high”), non-addictive, and is currently being studied as a treatment option for an array of neuropsychiatric conditions, including epilepsy, anxiety, schizophrenia — and, yes, insomnia. Research is still limited and nascent, but early studies suggest that CBD works with our body’s endocannabinoid system to deliver a calming effect in the body. Anecdotal evidence largely bears this out: Many patients who have tried quality CBD products report improved sleep patterns.
“[I believe] CBD is one of the great regulators of sleep, one that we have prime access to use whenever needed,” says Dr. Montee. “Most of my patients find that their sleep is much improved with the use of full-spectrum CBD.”
He suggests patients start slowly with their CBD-for-sleep regimen: “It’s best to start low and increase your dosage as necessary. From here, you can slowly up your dosage until you feel it is optimized for best results.”
Dr. Montee recommends purchasing a high-quality, full-spectrum CBD oil such as RE Botanicals Classic Tincture which is made from USDA certified organic hemp and certified organic MCT coconut oil — it also passed Think20 Labs’ rigorous testing for safety and potency.
Though no one’s quite sure if a specific mattress type (spring or memory foam, for example) will improve sleep better than another, most experts agree that the age of your mattress can impact the quality of your rest each night. And for those with specific health problems — back or neck pain, allergies or asthma, gastrointestinal disorders like GERD — selecting a specific mattress for those needs could minimize symptoms and lead to more prolonged sleep.
Those who study sleep suggest replacing your mattress at least once every ten years. Choosing the right style and support is a matter of personal preference, but generally look for one that’s medium-firm, well-reviewed, and, because mattressing are difficult to test-drive, comes with a solid return policy. Any of the following will fit that bill.
Weighted blankets — quite literally blankets that have been weighed down with a heavy filling like plastic pellets or glass beads — were once a fringe therapeutic tool, mainly considered for autism or sensory processing disorders. But in the past few years, they’ve been gaining in popularity in the mainstream as a treatment for common conditions such as insomnia and anxiety. Beyond keeping the body more still and decreasing common sleep disruptors like tossing and turning, research suggests that the sensation of a heavier blanket may release serotonin in the brain, which helps us feel more calm and settled.
If you’d like to try a weighted blanket, there are a few things to consider before purchasing. The first is weight. Most weighted blankets come in 10, 15, or 20 pounds and the general rule is to choose one that’s closest to 10 percent of your body weight (for example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you’re looking for a 15-pound blanket). The second is material — do you prefer cotton or polyester? Heavier glass beads inside or something lighter like rice? In addition, some weighted blankets are stuffed with fillers which make them warmer, if you’re a person who runs hot at night, you may want to look for the coolest option possible.
Note: If you suffer from a chronic medical condition such as sleep apnea, problems with circulation, or heart disease, check with your doctor before choosing a weighted blanket; and always consult a physician before purchasing one for a child.
Spoiler alert: Unless you’ve replaced it in the past 18 months, your bed pillow is old, out-of-date, and, potentially, causing you to lose sleep. Here’s why: Pillows endure quite a bit of wear and tear in the few hours they’re in use on each night. They quickly collect dead skin cells, mold, dust mites, fungus, and mildew, all of which can mess with your nighttime breathing and even trigger allergic reactions. That means replacing your pillow at least every 18 months is the safest, most hygenic bet.
But which pillow to choose? Pillows are meant to support your neck and spine and keep them in the proper position overnight to reduce back pain and keep you from twisting out of alignment. The best pillow for you depends heavily on the position you sleep in — but should also allow for adjustments throughout the night.
In terms of material, goose down is the softest, but also the least hypoallergenic. It’s best for stomach sleepers or those who simply want a softer pillow experience. Memory foam tends to be firmer and better for side or back sleepers. Buckwheat, which has been used for centuries in Japan, has been hailed as a miracle pillow filling, the perfect material to support your neck; though many reviewers find the sensation odd. As with any purchase, check reviews closely and make sure the company has a generous return policy before you buy.
Though sleep masks have long seemed an overindulgence, depicted in popular culture as an ornament of the rich and pampered, there’s science to suggest that they could have real value for non-hoity-toity folks, particularly those who are struggling to sleep.
This is because a quality eye mask blocks out all light, creating complete darkness which triggers the brain to produce more melatonin and, in effect, tells our body that it’s time to sleep.