What a better place to write about sleep than on vacation at the beach? Typically, sleep is the most elusive of my lifestyle habits, not because I am a poor sleeper, but because I relish the quiet time at night and early morning, and enjoy immersing myself in medical research, reading, or even cooking an experimental concoction during the late night hours. I have set-up challenges and deals with enticing rewards, if I get to bed by 10 p.m. each night for say 2 weeks in a row. I can often make it for several days or even a week (at the outside), and then I’ll relapse. Or, I’ll get to bed early, and then wake up at 4 a.m.! I’ve convinced myself that maybe I am just one of those who constitutionally requires less sleep. This theory, however, is quickly debunked when I get to the beach, where I go to bed early, and can easily sleep 9-10 hours without wakening. And, I feel 10 years younger when I do……
We live in Boulder Colorado, just over a mile-high altitude. I have often wondered if the thin air and low humidity might hinder my Rocky Mountain sleep. Also, at home there is a seemingly endless stream of ‘to-do’s – work and household related, all which contribute to paring down my sleep hours. I am certain without the full slate of life responsibilities, most sleep better on vacation.
From a health perspective, other than the obvious ‘good sleep hygiene list’ that most of us know, what regulates our sleep? The inverse relationship between cortisol, the stress hormone, and melatonin, the sleep hormone is key. When we awaken in the morning, ideally the cortisol is at its highest level of the day and melatonin at its lowest. As the day progresses, our cortisol moves slowly down the slope and melatonin ramps up – until bedtime, when melatonin is high and cortisol at a low.
Why is it trickier to sleep as we age? First of all, our melatonin production decreases with age, so rather than producing it naturally as we did in our youth, we may need a boost. AN easy way to do this is with food –