How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep: Q&A with Samantha Cassetty, RD

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Getting a decent night’s sleep is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. Unfortunately,
busy lives and hectic schedules mean that many of us are not getting adequate sleep or a proper night’s rest. A sleepless night not only has a significant effect on your performance and how much you’re inclined to eat the next day, but also how strong your immune system is, your weight, and how stressed out you are. So to discover more about getting a better night’s sleep and its importance, I spoke with Samantha Cassetty RD.

A registered dietitian and nutritionist, Samantha Cassetty has spent numerous years helping millions of people eat, sleep, and feel better with real results. Samantha not only has an impressive educational background, her professional life is also quite remarkable. She spent six years as the Nutrition Director for Good Housekeeping, was the VP of Nutrition at Luvo, led by Christine Day (formerly the CEO of Luluemon), and author of The Girlfriends Diet and a contributor to the New York Times bestseller 7 Years Younger: The Anti-Aging Breakthrough Diet. Now, for over two years, she runs her own company: Samantha Cassetty Nutrition and Wellness.

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How many hours would you recommend for a decent night’s sleep? Some people say they can get by with only five hours. What are your thoughts on that?
Most of the information I have seen is 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. If you think you only need five or six hours a night this is what I would suggest to find out for sure. If you went on vacation for a week let’s say and you didn’t set an alarm for any day of the week and went to bed when you were tired and woke up when you naturally woke up, and you didn’t drink excessively or look at your phone before bed, would you really only need five hours? That is your answer.

Many people take melatonin to help them sleep or magnesium. Would you recommend one over the other?
I would recommend magnesium. Melatonin is a hormone. The supplement is not meant to be taken over a long-term basis. Most of the studies on melatonin are short term so that is why I say use caution with it. Melatonin is not a long-term strategy, whereas magnesium is an essential mineral.

Do you have a preferred magnesium?
Magnesium needs a carrier to get absorbed. A common form is called magnesium citrate and that type of carrier attracts water into your GI system. It can cause a laxative light effect for some people. Whereas magnesium glycinate the carrier has been linked to calmness. Therefore, it seems to be an especially good form for promoting sleep. OMG is magnesium glycinate which means it is more available to your body. It doesn’t cause GI distress and on top of that it comes in ready to mix drinkable packets.

There are many studies that say we need to put down our phone before bed because of the blue light. Could you please elaborate more on this?
Sleep is such a problem right now because our stress levels are really high and we are constantly connected to our phone which admits this blue light which interferes with the natural production of melatonin. It’s a viscous cycle. It’s not just the blue light, even though it is very problematic. Try to put your phone down an hour before bed. It’s hard. Turn off notifications. Set your phone to do not disturb at a certain time. Whether you’re looking at Instagram or responding to an email, your brain is looking at that as Active Time. It is not that it is a social activity or a work activity, it is your body needing to stay awake and alert. You are not able to unwind in the same way because the brain is still on.

We can retrain our behavior if we start with something small and then understand the rationale of why we are doing it. Remind yourself that you want to get a good night’s sleep so it is driven from your personal desire which makes it an easier habit of change. Be committed to that purpose. It takes an average 66 days to change or incorporate a habit. Same thing putting the phone down.

You probably get this question a lot. Many people will say they like to have a glass of wine at night, or a drink with dinner because it does help them sleep better. What are your thoughts about alcohol and getting a decent sleep?
First of all, alcohol is a natural depressant. It depresses your central nervous system. Many people do find alcohol helps them fall asleep faster. At the same time, it’s a toxin to your body. It causes GI, dehydrates you, and interferes with your ability to stay asleep. The next day it interferes with your productivity and appetite. It is hard for many people to stick to the cap of one drink a day for women and two for men. One suggestion I make to my clients for example, is if you are going out to eat and you’re in a heavier drinking environment, when the waiter comes and asks what you would like to drink say give me a minute. When the waiter comes back then you order your drink. At least you have slowed down the pace and will have one drink less. Also, very important, the one drink a day rule doesn’t mean you get to save them all up for Friday night. Same goes for sleep. Don’t think you can skimp out on sleep all week and then catch up on the weekend.

Napping can be heavenly if we are lucky to have some free time. What are your thoughts on napping?
Napping can interfere with your sleep. If you need a nap make sure it is under thirty minutes. If you are getting decent sleep its very unlikely you will need a nap.

What do you do when you are wide awake in the middle of the night?
I recommend listening to Yoga Nidra, which is a special meditation to optimize sleep. Also, Insight Timer or any another form of meditation. It will put your body in a deep relaxation mode. Most people when they get up in the middle of the night eat or watch TV. These are two habits I would really try to avoid. If you eat your body is not doing its nighttime cleansing its supposed to do such as clearing out the toxins and rebuilding the muscles. You need to give your body time to do this so I would suggest not eating for a period of 12 hours. Let’s say from 8pm to 8am.

Anything else you would like to say before we go?
Sleep is really important for job performance, immunity, weight control, and heart health. It is such an important topic and when we look at our overall health, we cannot overlook sleep.

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Peter Tobias

A very interesting interview. Thanks for doing it.