In a fast-paced society where productivity is often prized more than rest and relaxation, sleep has become an undervalued commodity. Yet, as science has found, sleep is necessary for optimal health, and it is one of the foundational pillars on which your longevity rests.1

After years of research and analysis, scientists have also found there are unique changes that happen in the body during sleep to help protect your brain and overall health. Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, the quantity and quality of sleep have been negatively impacted.2 Sleep neurologists are calling the resulting sleep disturbances “COVID-Somnia.”3

Neurology Today reports that from February 16 to March 15, 2020, prescriptions for medications used for sleep problems rose 14.8% compared to the same period in 2019.4 This was well before the U.S. experienced the first lockdown in California on March 17, 2020.5 In other words, anticipation of a potential event raised anxiety levels and made it more difficult for people to sleep.

Experts from the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep list other factors that have also created a rising challenge with sleep disorders, including disrupted daily schedules, reduced exposure to sun in the mornings, more napping during the day and excessive use of digital media in the evening.

Dr. Rachel Salas, associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins, spoke with a reporter from Neurology Today and described the situation:6

“All our patients are suffering from shifts in their sleep patterns due to their fears about getting the virus, concerns about loved ones, not being able to go to work, not having social contact with others.

Some of them now meet the diagnostic criteria for chronic insomnia: not being able to fall asleep within 30 minutes more than three times a week for more than three months. They get into bed, the brain kicks in, they start worrying if they’re going to lose their job, if their family member is going to survive, and they literally cannot fall asleep.”

In addition to discovering the small things you can do that a big difference in the quality of your sleep, it may also help reduce concerns by learning how you can take control of your health. One of the simplest, most effective and easiest ways to reduce your risk of COVID-19 and the severity of illness is to raise your vitamin D levels, which I discuss in “Vitamin D Cuts Sars-CoV-2 Infection Rate by Half.”

Mattress Coolers Help Challenges With Foam Mattresses

A 2016 study reported in BedTimes Magazine revealed that specialty bedding is purchased by nearly 30% of people, including 16% who buy foam-only mattresses.7 CNBC reports there are nearly 175 online companies shipping foam bed-in-a-box mattresses directly to your front door.8

CNBC also reports that the International Sleep Products Association survey in 2018 showed that 45% of mattresses purchased that year were online.9 Foam mattresses were first introduced in the 1950s but initially had little impact on innerspring mattress sales.10

By the 1960s the U.S. space program sought to modify the current foam product for the astronauts’ seat cushions. The ability of the foam to contour to the body is triggered by body heat. The rising popularity of these mattresses has likely sparked the development of a new product designed to keep sleepers cool at night.

Traditional innerspring mattresses naturally provide good air flow throughout the product and help your body to regulate temperature.11 However, the design of a memory foam mattress reduces air flow as it absorbs heat from your body to trigger the contouring effect that many find more comfortable.12

There are a variety of products that attempt to address the concerns of “sleeping hot” on a foam mattress. These include foam mattresses with built-in stretch knit toppers to wick away moisture and keep you cool, and traditional spring mattresses with foam toppers covered in organic cotton.13 Other companies have developed separate toppers for memory foam to help absorb moisture and regulate heat.14

The Importance of Temperature Control at Night

Companies advertise additional benefits to using a topper such as extending the life of your mattress, isolating movements from your partner or pet and providing relief to tired joints. Choices in material, firmness level, size and cost are available. Another option is a water-cooling topper system, which uses a thermal control unit to regulate the temperature of the mattress.15

Some, like Chris Masterjohn, Ph.D., are satisfied with their cooling mattress.16 Yet, not all cooling mattresses help all people. If you choose to try one there are a couple of factors you may consider:

Refund — It’s important you are covered by a money-back guarantee. Until you know it improves your sleep quality, it’s best to be able to return your mattress since it can be costly.

Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) — The goal is to radically reduce or completely eliminate exposure to EMF. To accomplish this with an electrical device, consider using a shielded cable running from a wall socket in another room.

Cooling mattresses have likely found a market since memory foam creates heat that may offset the ambient temperature. Cold and heat exposure during sleep influence your sleep quality and therefore your health. Greater amounts of heat can affect the first segment of sleep, making it more difficult to fall asleep naturally, increasing wakefulness and decreasing rapid eye movement.17

Subjective data from 765,000 people in the U.S. showed that increases in nighttime temperatures increased self-reported nights of insufficient sleep.18 Other data also indicate that high temperatures affect multiple aspects of sleep, leading to:19

  • Worse sleep duration
  • Shallow sleep
  • Less sleep calmness
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Lower sleep satisfaction

On the other hand, cold exposure affects the later stages of sleep. In a real life setting experimental design, researchers found there were no differences in observed sleep patterns when people slept in rooms between 55.4 degrees F (13 C) and 73.4 degrees F (23 C).20

When you go to sleep, your core temperature goes down, and as you wake up it rises.21 However, this does not affect your peripheral skin temperature, which plays a role in maintaining your core temperature by adjusting blood flow to your skin.

Your core and peripheral skin temperatures are influenced by your sleep environment, including your clothing, ambient room temperature and the number of blankets used. Increasing your skin temperature just 0.72 degrees F (0.4 degrees Celsius) can suppress nighttime wakefulness and shift your sleep into deeper stages.22

Weighted Blankets May Also Improve Sleep Quality

Both the quality and quantity of sleep are important to your health. Experts recommend sleeping at least seven hours each night on a regular basis.23 A second option to help improve sleep quality is using weighted blankets.

According to one study, Swedish researchers found that people with psychiatric disorders who also had insomnia reported better sleep and less daytime sleepiness when they used a weighted blanket.24

The authors of the study engaged 120 people who were randomized into one of two groups who either used a weighted chain blanket or a light plastic chain blanket for four weeks. They concluded that the weighted blanket was an:25

“… effective and safe intervention for insomnia in patients with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also improving daytime symptoms and levels of anxiety.”

Weighted blankets work by applying deep pressure stimulation that lowers neurological arousal. They reduce activity in the sympathetic nervous system, while at the same time increasing activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.

This lowers your heart rate and blood pressure and induces a feeling of relaxation and calm.26 Additionally, weighted blankets help release serotonin that regulates sleep and oxytocin that helps reduce pain and stress.27

The authors of one study published in 2015 in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders engaged 33 participants who had complaints of chronic insomnia.28 The study lasted four weeks and the participants acted as their own control group, with the researchers taking a baseline pretest and posttest measurements.

The researchers found the blankets were “effective at improving sleep quality in recognized insomniacs, both in parameters measured objectively and subjectively.” In a separate study, scientists enrolled children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and measured objective and subjective parameters.29

They discovered that “ball” blankets improved the time it took the children to fall asleep and the number of times they woke up during the night; the blankets also reduced the number of nights it took the child more than 30 minutes to fall asleep from 19% to zero. Dr. Cristina Cusin, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, spoke with a reporter from Harvard Health Publishing, saying:30

“Weighted blankets have been around for a long time, especially for kids with autism or behavioral disturbances. It is one of the sensory tools commonly used in psychiatric units.”

Surprising Benefits to Sleeping Naked

Evidence suggests that ditching your sleepwear may have several benefits. Many of the health benefits come from preventing overheating from sleeping in a home that may be too warm.

Another benefit includes activating your body’s brown fat. This is a type of fat that helps regulate temperature by generating heat. People with higher levels of brown fat have faster resting metabolisms, better blood sugar control and higher insulin sensitivity.31,32

Researchers found that sleeping in a chilled room doubled the amount of brown fat in participants.33 When your body is cooler at night it also helps reduce the production of cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.”34 This can help reduce anxiety and stress, as well as improve sleep quality.

Quality Sleep Protects Brain Health and More

It’s important to pay attention to some of the small changes you make in your sleep routine since it can pay big rewards in your overall health. For example, researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center believe they discovered a clue as to why sleep is mandatory, especially for good brain health.35

During deep sleep, your brain uses a unique method to remove toxic waste, including harmful proteins that are linked to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. They also discovered the space between cells increases by 60% in deep sleep to allow for more efficient waste removal.36

The lead author of the article said, “In fact, the restorative nature of sleep appears to be the result of the active clearance of the by-products of neural activity that accumulate during wakefulness.”37 To take advantage of these unique and vital functions during sleep, consider the tips I share in “The Many Health Benefits of Sleeping Naked.”

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