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Let Sleep Be Thy Medicine.

by Prateek Dasgupta 4 months ago in self care

My struggle with sleep and how I plan to overcome it this year.

Let Sleep Be Thy Medicine.
Photo by Cris Saur on Unsplash

I have always been a light sleeper. The slightest sound of a dog’s bark or a bird chirping wakes me up. In my college days, I used to struggle to sleep when my roommates studied with the light on.

For years, I used to wake up feeling drowsy. Caffeine was a lifesaver. Tea, coffee, and diet soda helped me pull through the day.

I observed the days when I didn’t sleep well, I ate more. This contributed to a severe weight gain after I graduated from college. The less I slept, the more I craved for an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Since 2018, I dropped 48 lbs, thanks to consistent dieting and exercise. But I could not develop a routine for a sound sleep. I always thought that eating well and exercising were the keys to good health, but I didn’t think about how important sleep was.

But this changed since last year.

In late April 2021, I caught COVID-19, the dreaded delta strain. Sleep routines went out of whack. It wasn't a priority, I was trying to survive. I just couldn’t sleep. Exercising was out of the question, as recovery took eight weeks.

The lack of sleep started affecting my mood and work. My relationships with friends and family began suffering. I was falling sick often, though I was a healthy man with no co-morbidities before the pandemic.

Why was I falling sick often? 

I am not a person who gives up, hence I dug deep. I needed to sleep better. 

Sleep is medicine

Sleep is essential for enhancing T-cell activity. T-cells are white blood cells that play an important role in our immune system. We minimize the amount of stress in our bodies through sleeping.

Thus, getting a good night’s sleep helps T-cells work properly. When a T-cell detects a virus in one of our body’s cells, it activates integrin, a sticky protein. The integrin attaches to and destroys the virus-infected cell.

Was poor sleep making me sick?

Researchers from the University of Tübingen examined integrin levels in sleep-deprived and sleep-activated people. They discovered that, during sleep, the signaling molecules that trigger integrins were more active. The Scientists concluded that getting enough shut-eye boosts our immune system by improving our body’s T-Cell response.

But how can you get a better night’s sleep? There are innumerable diets and workout routines, but few strategies for improving sleep. However, changing a few habits might have a significant impact.

I decided to make these behavioral changes a part of my New Year's resolution to improve my sleep.

How can we get a better night's rest?

To understand my sleep issues, I had to learn all I could about sleep and what it does for our bodies. Scientists recommend we sleep 7–9 hours a day.

A person’s sleep cycle is broken down into stages throughout this time period. But for the sake of simplicity, let us divide it into REM and non-REM sleep.

REM stands for rapid eye movement. It is the phase of sleep that is crucial for our survival as a species. This stage of sleep is critical to our immune system, longevity, and memory. This is the phase where brain activity starts and we have intense dreams.

 I realized I was having trouble with this sleeping phase.

That’s why I took some time to sit down and think about how I might improve this step. I had stopped drinking alcohol since 2018. I used to enjoy drinks at least thrice a week. That can explain why I was groggy and was not at my best in the mornings. 

Alcohol is a sedative and delays our sleep. Although we believe it aids our sleep, it has the opposite effect. After giving up alcohol, my caffeine intake has increased.

This was affecting my ability to get a good night’s sleep. But again, I love tea. Tea also has many health benefits. Hence one of my resolutions this year is not to take tea beyond 4 pm in the afternoon.

I have reduced my coffee and diet soda intake to a bare minimum and the goal is to stop diet soda while limiting coffee to twice a week. Though there are some recommendations for cutting off caffeine by noon, I haven’t got there yet. I feel an afternoon goal is realistic at this point.

Dark chocolate became a late-night indulgence for me. It disrupted my sleep since it is caffeine-rich. To avoid this craving, I am making it a point to brush my teeth after an early dinner by 7 PM.

I have also started intermittent fasting, which helps control my cravings for food. Now, I don’t want to snack as much as I used to.

In his book The Indistractable, Nir Eyal argues it is an evolutionary characteristic of humans to dwell on negative experiences rather than favorable ones. Psychologists refer this to as “Negativity Bias”. I was not immune to negative bias.

But it was affecting my sleep. How to counter this? 

I observed I felt negative thoughts when I was browsing social media before sleeping and when I wake up. To counter this, I have stopped using social media before sleeping. I am trying to avoid checking my devices first thing in the morning.

Though scientists say blue light can affect our eyes, devices and glasses are available to block them. I prefer to read a book before sleeping and sometimes I need my tablet for the same. 

To remember the positive experiences I write down two achievements throughout the day for which I am grateful. It could be as simple as making a tasty dish or completing writing 1000 words.

Negativity will affect our sleep and it is important that we take care of ourselves and not let poor experiences set the tone for the upcoming days.

My actionable steps for 2022.

Are we getting enough sleep with increased rates of insomnia and sleep apnea? Contrary to the common assumption, it is impossible to “make up” for lost sleep. Let us be kind to ourselves and take efforts to improve our sleep.

Our body will appreciate it afterward. Workplace stress, late-night coffee and alcohol usage, excessive food consumption, and use of technology close to bedtime are all major hindrances to proper sleep.

To summarize my resolution to sleep better:

  • I’ll keep my sleeping area cool; the optimal temperature is 23–24 degrees Celsius.
  • I will not use my smartphone or laptop around sleeping time. The blue light generated by electronic gadgets interferes with the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone, and thus our sleep cycle. To reduce my exposure to blue light, I wear blue light filter glasses and alter the settings on my tablet.
  • After 4 p.m., I avoid caffeinated beverages such as energy drinks, coffee, and tea.
  • I am avoiding eating high-calorie foods close to bedtime. My dinners will focus on a protein and fiber-rich diet.
  • I will continue intermittent fasting to reduce my cravings for a snack.
  • To minimize negative bias, I shall jot down two accomplishments per day.
  • I plan to consume a high-protein diet and exercise regularly.

I sincerely believe that if I am consistent with my actions and make them a habit my sleep will improve. Let us work towards a healthier future where no one is sleep-deprived.

self care

About the author

Prateek Dasgupta

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