Sleep is a basic necessity of life. We can’t do without it, similar to air, food and water. Many of us don’t get enough, or have disrupted, un-refreshed sleep which over time has a huge impact on overall health. Sleep is a time when we restore and re-generate. Many of us feel that we are wasting our time sleeping spending hours being non-productive. Actually, our system is not sedentary at all, it is just more responsive to internal stimuli rather than external stimuli.
Allowing for enough consistent, restorative sleep has many positive benefits:
- helps support a balanced immune system. When we sleep molecules are secreted that increase our resilience to ward off foreign invaders such as infectious bacteria and viruses that we may be exposed to during the day
- reduces inflammation in the body. Sufficient sleep has a direct effect on our cardiovascular system. High levels inflammatory markers, as seen in people with chronic sleep deprivation, have been correlated with heart disease.
- maintains our weight. When we sleep, hormones that regulate our hunger and appetite are secreted. With sleep deprivation these hormones are affected, driving our appetite and cravings for food high in calories, carbohydrates and fat. If you are having trouble loosing weight, sufficient quality and quantity of sleep is of utmost importance.
- reduces stress. Sleep encourages a state of relaxation and helps reduce elevated level of stress hormones. Chronic sleep deprivation will affect our mood to the point that many can suffer from fatigue, irritability, anxiety, depression, poor memory and impaired judgment. This cycle can feed on itself, further reducing our ability to manage stress on a day to day basis.
It is suggested that the most restorative sleep is achieved by going to bed before 12:00 midnight, ideally as early as 10:00 pm. Every hour of sleep before midnight is twice as restorative as each hour after midnight. Prior to the widespread use of electricity, people would go to bed shortly after sundown, as most animals do, and which nature intended for humans as well. Our systems go through different phases of activity throughout the night. For example, your gallbladder dumps toxins during the hours of 11-1 am. If you are awake, the toxins back up into the liver that then secondarily back up into your entire system and cause further disruptions in health.
Most adults needs between 7.5-9 hours of sleep a night. Some may think they can get away with less and then catch up on the weekend, but unfortunately we don’t have a sleep bank account; being sleep deprived during the week is not rectified by periodic times of more sleep.
Your surroundings (sleep environment) and activities around sleep (sleep hygiene) have a profound impact on quality of sleep. Here are some recommendations to achieve deep, restorative sleep:
- sleep in complete darkness or as dark as possible. It is important for your brain to secrete the appropriate hormones for sleep initiation and maintenance. Computers, tv, night, lights street light can all disrupt our sleep wake cycle.
- avoid shift work Those that perform shift work, esp working from 12-8 am can have a very difficult time maintaining their health. this is because the body never adjusts to this artificial cycle. and it is difficult to get the same quality of restorative sleep during the day
- avoid alcohol Although alcohol will make people drowsy, the effect is short lived and people will often wake up several hours later, unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol will also keep you from falling into the deeper stages of sleep, where the body does most of its healing.
- exercise Movement at the appropriate time of day has a substantial effect on the quality and ability to fall asleep. For some, exercise in the evening can cause too much stimulation so that it is difficult to wind down. On the other hand a sedentary day may provoke insomnia as the physical body may not be fatigued
- avoid caffeine Research shows that in some people, caffeine is not metabolized efficiently and therefore they can feel the effects long after consumption. That midday cup of coffee, tea, soda, or chocolate will keep some people from falling asleep. Also keep in mind that some medications, particularly diet pills, contain caffeine
- no TV or computer work right before bed Even better, get the TV/computer out of the bedroom. The time before bed should be occupied with calming soothing activities so the body knows that it is time to wind down. The stimulation of TV/computer will give the opposite message to the body and it will take longer to fall asleep. It with also disrupt the pineal gland as stated above.
There are several other recommendations we have for achieving and maintain restful sleep. Proper sleep will absolutely boost your health, your mood, and the quality of your life. Remember: sleep it not a luxury; it is essential for life!
Nina Paroo, ND