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Better Sleep, Better Life: How To Improve Your ZZZs

We spoke to an expert about how to upgrade our sleep hygiene

Gone are the days when getting by on four hours of sleep per night is considered 'good', or 'normal'. These days, we're learning more about how important sleep is to our well-being, and how lack of it can impact our health in a negative way. If you think getting less than 7 to 8 hours per night can be remedied with a cup of coffee the next morning, think again. We spoke to sleep specialist and sleep coach for children and babies Maria Campos Lopez of Himbing PH, and asked her about our burning questions on ZZZs. Read on and get enlightened!

Metro.Style: Why is sleep such an important part of our health and well-being? 

Maria Campos Lopez: If food is fuel for our body, sleep is fuel for our brain. It supports healthy brain function and maintains our physical health. It affects all aspects of our lives. Think about how you feel when you lack sleep—you are very short tempered, it's hard to make decisions and everything is generally a blur. Sleep affects our brain function, it enhances our memory, learning, focus and concentration. Sleep also strengthens our immune system, it helps us build our resistance. It affects our mental and emotional health—the part of the brain that helps regulate our emotions increases when we sleep, the lack of sleep is also closely linked to anxiety and depression. The lack of sleep also brings about a lot of physical health problems—it has also be linked to weight gain, high blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. 


MS: How does our current world inhibit proper sleep? What common factors affect people these days? 

MCL: We are too busy! We feel that we need to be productive, so on our to do list, sleep usually falls last. We treat sleep as a luxury, but it is in fact a necessity. We need to understand that sleep is an important biological factor to our health and well being. I think that people actually know this fact but it really does feel like there is not enough time in the day to complete all our responsibilities—however, we have to think long term and big picture. There is no point in burning out in the day to day but will not have the quality of life we need to thrive. 


There's a phenomenon now called "revenge bedtime procrastination" (I am guilty of this too!) wherein when all the tasks are done and the household is sleeping, we stay up for our own personal me time—usually bingeing on our shows or social media 'til the early hours of the morning instead of clocking in our sleep! We then wake up the next day tired and the overtired cycle continues! We have to also be intentional about booking our personal time without sacrificing sleep. 

MS: What are your best tips for upgrading sleep hygiene? 

MCL: We have to understand that our bodies need rest and that sleep is not "unproductive" so first, but most difficult step, is really to prioritize sleep. We have to carefully plan out our daily tasks and activities, factoring in sleep as part of the schedule.


We have to understand as well that we cannot "make up" for lost sleep. We rationalize by saying we'll pull an all nighter because we can rest over the weekend. We can't recover that lost sleep.  


It would also be helpful to observe if your difficulty with sleep is occasional or chronic. If your perpetual tiredness makes day to day living difficult then it would be a chronic problem and if it is chronic, you may want to consider seeing a medical doctor for an evaluation, like for example snoring and breathing problems will impact quality of sleep and this might need a proper medical diagnosis of sleep apnea. Sleep studies can be done. If there is nothing physical, it may be caused by anxiety or similar psychiatric disorders which are heavily linked to insomnia or the difficulty of staying asleep. You can seek help from qualified mental health practitioners- licensed psychologists and psychiatrists.


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MS: Are there tools/products one could use to improve sleep? 

MCL: It's really a good schedule and prioritizing sleep which will make sleep better but setting up the environment will be helpful. You want to make sure your room is clutter free and make sure not to work in your room. If space is an issue, make sure not to work on your bed. The bed should be used for sleep! Make sure your room is like a cave—cool, dark and quiet. We need a cool room and good air circulation to sleep well as our body temperature naturally lowers when we sleep. Nice to have would be black out blinds but you can also do any make shift things to cover your windows and block out lights. For lights in your room and bathroom, you want to use warm colors, like yellow and orange. Definitely not white light which reminds us of day time. (will go into the next question more regarding light). If the environment is noisy, you can't use white noise or earplugs. 

MS: Light is a huge factor in our sleep patterns. How can one use this to his/her advantage? What are things to avoid/look out for? 

MCL: We all have a natural body clock or circadian rhythm and this is affected by the light. Light tells our body to move and the hormones of adrenalin and cortisol are released. When we feel tired and it starts to get dark, the hormone of melatonin is released which helps us fall asleep faster. However, when we use white lights or our gadgets at night—we tell our body hey its day time and the melatonin stops and adrenalin is released, so we have a fake burst of energy and then extreme difficulty falling asleep when we actually lie down. The key here (and again something so difficult) is to unplug from all our gadgets at least an hour before bed! We need to give our body a chance to wind down and realize that we are tired; so dim the lights, pick up a book or do some meditation and prayer as part of your pre-sleep routine. During the day, we want to be exposed to as much day light as we can and at night, dim and cool light colors. 


MS: Are there foods that affect sleep? 

MCL: Anything with caffeine negatively impacts sleep, so make sure your last cup of coffee is about lunch time. There are studies that have shown there is food that promotes sleep such as almonds, tart cherry juice, chamomile tea, milk, and bananas. However it is important to note that we do not want to have very heavy meals which are high in fat and sugar will disrupt sleep. 


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Maria ends her advice with this: Make it a conscious effort to prioritize sleep. Like any good habits, we build it with patience and consistency. If you are finding sleep difficult now, try to keep a sleep diary of what you are doing and then slowly take steps to improve sleep hygiene and continue to observe—sleep should get better! And if it doesn't, after a few weeks, make sure to consult a professional. It will be handy to have the sleep diary because they will ask you to start one when you do a consult anyway. 


Maria Campos Lopez specializes in sleep consulting for babies and children and gives wellness talks on sleep for different corporations. She is currently completing her MA in psychology to be able to cater to adults very soon. For more information on sleep, visit www.himbing.ph or e-mail maria@himbing.ph. Follow her on Instagram at @himbing.ph