The Science of Sleep: How to Get Better ZZZ's

By Janene Mascarella

Nothing is as beneficial to our health and happiness as a good night’s sleep. For some, getting much needed shut eye isn’t always so easy and in this fast-paced world—rest is often elusive. “Everyone feels better after a good night sleep, but actually you ARE better after a good night’s sleep,” says Dr. Nancy Simpkins, Internist and Medical Consultant for the state of New Jersey. 1 “Your immune system reboots while you are sleeping. When your metabolic rate is slowed during sleep, repair of systems can take place on the cellular level. In addition, production of certain gut hormones which curb appetite are produced in higher levels while you sleep.”

How much sleep time should we be getting? That all depends on your age. The National Sleep foundation recently revised its recommended sleep amounts--specific for different age groups. 2 For instance, it is recommended that adults 26-64 years old get 7-9 hours of sleep each night and toddlers get 11-14 hours.

How heavily should we rely on these types of reports and recommendation? “Sleep studies are all interesting because they try to tell us what is the optimal amount of sleep that we each need,” says Simpkins. “I agree with the studies that show that infants and small children need at least 10-14 hours a night sleep. But as we age, our sleep needs are dependent on our individual lifestyle and metabolism. Most adults feel better sleeping between 6-9 hours a night but can get away with less if needed.”

As much as we all know how restorative it is to get enough sleep, still many of us ignore the guidelines and our body’s cue’s to snooze. According to the Better Sleep Council, 48% of Americans say they don’t get enough sleep, but less than half of them take any one specific action to help them get better sleep.3

The best way to ensure you get the rest you need: “routine and relaxation,” advises Simpkins. She says everyone has to establish a healthy bedtime routine that works for them, which should include personal relaxation techniques (warm bath, herbal tea, breathing techniques etc). Stephanie Holdenried, a holistic nutritionist from Mill Valley, California agrees.4 “I advise my clients to make a bedtime ritual of gradual winding down. Here are some of Holdenried tips:

Reduce screen time. Have one to two hours of no screen time before bed. Turn off the screens by 9pm if you're going to sleep at 11pm. A recent study published in the Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences points to screen time equaling lower melatonin levels in the body which means we don't fall asleep as quickly nor can we get into a deep sleep.

Take a hot shower or bath. Use Epsom salts if taking a bath. Epsom salts have magnesium in them which is a natural muscle relaxer. Add some lavender essential oils for further nervous system relaxation to the bath or use a lavender scented body wash or salt scrub if in the shower.

Read something soothing or enjoyable, not something that will get your ire up. Save that for the next morning. Stick to magazines or a physical book versus an e-reader unless it is one that is not backlit.

Have a cup of herbal tea (non-caffeinated). Peppermint or Chamomile. Avoid caffeine and chocolate.

Get blackout blinds for your room. The body needs total darkness to let cortisol hormone levels go down for the night and give you a good night's sleep.

Sources not cited or linked to above:

1 Interview: Dr. Nancy Simpkins (, February 5, 2015



4 Interview: Stephanie Holdenried ( February 3, 2015

This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical, legal, financial, or other professional advice or used in place of consulting a licensed professional. You should consult with an applicable licensed professional to determine what is right for you.

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