Sleep is that somewhat elusive escape that some of us crave while others want to avoid because it takes time away from their busy lives. The truth is that without sleep, we cannot survive long. Let’s look at how we can get the most out of it.
Statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that lack of sleep is a public health epidemic, and that approximately 40% of Americans are sleep deprived. While some people choose to sacrifice their sleep to do more interesting things, others simply can’t sleep. I hope the following information will give you the incentive to pursue restful sleep as part of your optimal health plan.
Most experts agree that adults need an average of 7-9 hours of sleep. This requirement can be obtained all at once or divided up. Getting 6 hours at night along with a 2 hour daytime nap can work well as long as you dream.
It’s great to learn how to get better sleep, but it’s more important to understand why sleep is such a big deal. Sleep deprivation is correlated with serious medical conditions that include obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and early death (Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School.) Lack of quality sleep is associated with anxiety, memory loss, fat gain, mood swings, high blood pressure, and a decrease in physical performance.
Some of the things that interfere with quality sleep include having sources of light or electronics in your bedroom. The electronics should be removed and all lights should be turned off and/or covered up.
People often turn to sleep aid drugs when they can’t sleep, but typically the body just needs more of the proper nutrients. Prescription drugs are designed to force a reaction in the body. When help is needed, there are quality supplements made from scientifically formulated natural ingredients to help regulate sleep patterns and promote relaxation. Some of the most researched and proven ingredients include Tryptophan, an amino acid from protein, and the herbs, Lemon Balm, Passion flower, and Chamomile flower.
Sound sleep equates to getting REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. While the REM stage of sleep is associated with dreams, we can have REM sleep without remembering our dreams. When we go into this REM state, the brain’s lymphatic system drains poisons that have accumulated from normal brain usage during the day. REM sleep allows us to wake up renewed, refreshed, and revitalized.
According to a National Sleep Disorder Study, 85% of all sleep problems are lifestyle-related and curable by following healthy habits. The short list of life-style related decisions includes food choices, sleeping habits, and activities. The foods we eat need to provide us with the nutrition to sleep well. If the body doesn’t get what is required for nighttime cellular repair, sleep is often disturbed as the body searches for the nutrients. Disordered sleep patterns also frequently result from eating or drinking something too close to bedtime that has naturally occurring caffeine. However, the synthetic caffeine found in most energy drinks or pills is even more disruptive.
Now let’s take a look at our activities. Do you spend your free time exercising, listening to music, watching TV, socializing on Facebook or surfing the net? All of these activities have merit as long as there’s balance and activities are timed properly. For example, exercising closer than 2 hours before bedtime is counterproductive to sleep. Also, we shouldn’t watch television or spend time on the computer before bed because the light is disruptive to our master clock.
The master clock is a group of nerve cells in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN. Approximately 20,000 of these cells are located above the hypothalamus. This nerve tract travels down our spine through the mid-back/thoracic spine. (Yes, getting adjusted also helps us sleep better!) The master clock coordinates the other trillions of body clocks in the body to keep them in synch.
Like most organisms, we have a 24 hour circadian clock that’s influenced by cycles of light and dark. Disrupting our natural circadian rhythms with unnatural light sends confusing signals to the body’s cellular clocks and endocrine system, thereby influencing hormones and cell cycles, as well as cellular growth and repair.
An important hormone you’ve probably heard of is melatonin. Produced by the pineal gland, melatonin regulates sleep and wakefulness. Bright light exposure, especially sunlight, helps increase production of melatonin. The absence of light in the evening triggers the release of melatonin. This is why experts recommend getting at least 15 minutes of sunlight every day.
Director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Robert Stickgold says that sleep increases our ability to gain insights that would otherwise remain elusive, that the brain extracts meaning while discarding unimportant details to help us make sense of our lives. (Mercola.com “The Many Reasons Why You Need Sleep.” 10/2015).
Other research (2011 Journal of American Medical Association) shows that quality sleep helps the brain process new experiences, thus increasing our understanding and knowledge in what’s called “memory consolidation.” Not surprisingly, a study with 300 women showed that those who didn’t get good sleep had an 85% chance of developing dementia (memory problems) after 5 years.
Research shows that if you get consistent good quality sleep at night, you can lose unwanted body fat, elevate your metabolism (energy), improve your immunity, slow the aging process, and reduce your risk for all the major diseases.
I believe that getting quality sleep is more important than hours spent sleeping and have heard that a number of famous people, including Albert Switzer and Nicola Tesla, only slept 3-6 hours a night — although they probably had that all important nap. The trick is, to get what you need to be all that you can, and to feel your best. Since it usually takes 5 hours to burn down the cortisol and go into a 60% fat burning mode, lots of us have an incentive to try to get those ZZZZs.