I recently heard the quip that sleep is the new sex, and I kind of have to agree. While romance is fabulous, there’s nothing (and I really do mean nothing) like getting a great night’s sleep. And for most adults, long gone are the days when we could lounge in bed until the early-afternoon if we needed to catch up on sleep; for most of us, if we miss out on sleep, we never get to make it up.

In this month’s article on exercise and the brain, I discuss why sleep is so essential for muscle growth and healing when we exercise, but there are more reasons than that to make sure you get enough sleep. Sleep is sort of like credit card debt:  with credit cards, your debt isn’t just the accumulation of what you’ve borrowed — there’s interest to pay. Sleep works the same way. If you get into sleep debt, the interest is steep. First, there’s the obvious fatigue and fogginess we feel, leading to reduced mental and physical reaction times, coordination, judgment, and impaired memory. Consider that if you’re sleep deprived and operating a motor vehicle, it’s the equivalent of driving while drunk.

In addition to that fatigue and fogginess that result from skimping on even a few hours of sleep, it turns out that sleep debt is linked to depression, weight gain, thyroid problems, hormonal imbalances, and, perhaps worst of all, suppressed immune function. This means that your body does not have the energy to muster a fight against common ailments like colds and flus; know anyone who seems to catch every bug that goes around, even when others in their lives manage to stay relatively healthy? But in addition to having lots of minor illnesses, a suppressed immune system means that your body can’t combat the biggies, like cancer and auto-immune diseases. What we know is that getting adequate sleep — and by adequate I really do mean 8 hours a night for most people — will go further than any other measure you can take toward getting and keeping you healthy (and getting and keeping you thin, happy, and productive)!

Many people struggle with insomnia, or have a hard time falling and staying asleep. A few suggestions to help with this are:

  • Take a Magnesium Citrate supplement, 250 – 500mgs.
  • Start a yoga practice. Do 5 minutes of forward bends or child’s pose before bedtime, or anytime you’d like to relax. Or sign up for a yoga class and ask your instructor about restful poses.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous cardiovascular exercise each day. If you are overweight, start with a walk, and build up your speed and distance over time.
  • Finish eating at least 3 hours before bed (this will help with your beauty and weight maintenance, as will the extra sleep)
  • Greatly reduce or eliminate caffeine consumption. To avoid getting a caffeine headache, you can taper down by going from coffee on day one, to black tea on day two, to green tea on day three, to white tea on day four, and then just sticking with water.
  • Meditate, or listen to a calming audiobook at bedtime. Find any peaceful guided meditation that you enjoy (I’m particularly fond of Abraham Hicks’ meditations), and listen to it at bedtime. Alternately, pick a pleasant audiobook and listen on low volume. Kelly, a Dr. Mitra Ray staffer, says that this version of the Odyssey, read by Ian McKellan, is soothing and lovely and always puts her straight to sleep. You may be able to find it at your library, and it’s also available at Audible, or on Amazon).
  • Take a warm bath with sea salts or epsom salts.