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Is Your Sleep Restful?

It’s 2 a.m. and you are wide awake. The alarm clock casts a green glow on the walls, the refrigerator hums, your dog pants; if you were asleep you wouldn’t notice, but the insomnia turns these little things into annoyances. According to the CDC, sleep deprivation is linked with poor quality of life and well-being, injury, chronic disease, mental illness, and decreased concentration or productivity. 

If the ideal sleep is 8 hours, then research shows if you get 2 hours less, or only 6 hours of sleep, then you perform the same as you would if you were impaired by alcohol… and you lose the ability to be aware of the cognitive change after a few days of the deprivation! Research indicates a decrease in insulin sensitivity by 30%, decreases in testosterone and growth hormone by 30%, and increases in inflammation and ghrelin (your hunger hormone) with decreases leptin (your satiety hormone) … all setting you up for a day of brain fog, hunger, and weight gain.

Man yawning

7-9 Hours of Sleep Lowers Disease Risk

Every bit of research that’s been done on in the last decade on sleep is clear; a lack of sleep causes a decrease in health. In the brain, the lack of sleep leads to a decrease in cognitive function, memory, learning ability, retention of information, and mood. Physiologically speaking a lack of sleep impacts immunity, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels, muscle fatigue and inflammation. Long term sleep deprivation can lead to all sorts of health challenges and literal changes in brain physiology. If you want to help yourself and decrease your disease risk, you need to prioritize sleep.

Not getting enough sleep is a risk factor for inflammatory diseases such as pre-diabetes, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.  Multiple studies show strong associations between sleep duration and increasing health risks.  Specifically, studies show that a 2-hour deficit, even over one night, can decrease insulin sensitivity by 30% – that means your blood sugar is staying high while your cells aren’t getting enough glucose to function.  This makes you hungry while having high blood sugar, a dangerous combination long-term effecting weight and increasing your diabetes, cardiovascular, and cancer risks.  Sleep deficits also effect blood pressure and inflammation as seen through increases in CRP levels which together increase all inflammatory disease states.

“Sleep is nature’s best attempt at cheating death”

Matthew Walker PhD – Sleep researcher UC Berkeley

Sleep Can Slow Down the Aging Process.

Sleep is essential for numerous reasons. You solidify your short term into long term memories during sleep.  When you are sleeping your parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest portion of your nervous system, is active so you can absorb nutrients, repair tissues, and heal.  This means better immune function, decreased risk of any disease, your body builds, repairs, and cleans up all of your tissues: your muscles, nerves, gastrointestinal system, and brain.  When sleeping your gut microbes also get a break from having to digest and break down foods so can do their other functions like create vitamins, hormones, and neurotransmitters: all helping you to feel great.

  • Optimized sleep benefits
    • Decreases risk of Alzheimer’s
    • Cleans out the brain – glymphatic system
    • Improved memory, cognition
    • Reduces hunger and balances blood sugar which together help control your weight
    • Increases motivation to keep up other healthy habits
    • Better immune function

Glymphatic Cleansing During Sleep

Diagram from AARP

Have you heard of the glymphatic system?  The glymphatic system was first discovered and named in 2013 so, a fairly new discovery (Interestingly it takes about 20 years for scientific discoveries to become mainstream information).  The glymphatic system is our waste clearance system for the brain and central nervous system that activates during sleep.  When we sleep (and go into deep meditative states) our cerebral spinal fluid and interstitial fluids mix and create a pulse (known for a long time in the cranial sacral massage world, by the way, but mechanisms are now more well-known).  This pulsing fluid can widen the spaces between neural tissue and cleanse the areas of our brain. No sleep means no clearing or cleaning of metabolic wastes, such as amyloid beta plaque, heavy metals, dead/dying cells or neurotransmitters and more, from the brain nerves and tissues which increases our disease risks.   

So How Can We Sleep Better? 

There are a number of nutrients needed to cue sleep onset and to keep you sleeping as well as other lifestyle factors that help prepare the body to sleep and ensure your body has what it needs to make repairs and lower disease risks during sleep. 

Sleep Strategies

  • Bask in the morning light
    • For most of us, a good night’s sleep starts first thing in the morning.
    • Our brain’s chemistry and body clock are affected by light, and light stimulates hormones and neurotransmitters that greatly influence our overall feelings of well-being. Bright light exposure early in the day stimulates our body’s production of serotonin (mood and happiness) and regulates melatonin (sleepiness) in the evening.
  • Hydrate at the right times
    • Drink 8-12 oz of water the moment you wake up
    • Meet your hydration needs before dinner
    • Avoid drinking before going to bed or sleep will be disrupted by your need to eliminate
  • Move your body
    • Exercise in the morning helps set your internal circadian rhythm, helps you feel alert and promotes better sleep at night
    • Qigong, tai chi, walking, yoga … gentle movements improve breathing and improve the quality of sleep in those with sleep apnea
    • Exercise also relieves stress, a major cause of insomnia
  • Muscles: The Key to Better Sleep
    • In order to sleep well, the muscles must first be totally relaxed and/or exhausted from some type of physical labor or exercise
    • Exercise also lowers stress so that you can relax at bedtime
  • Curb the Caffeine
    • A well-balanced diet will maintain a consistent energy level but instead, most Americans reach for the stimulant caffeine in coffee, tea, soda or energy drinks for their pick me up.
    • On average, caffeine has a half-life of five to six hours, meaning that 50 percent of the caffeine is still circulating in your system five-to-six hours after drinking it. There is a huge variability in our sensitivity to caffeine.
    • For most people avoidance of caffeine-containing beverages or foods after 2 p.m. Works, but if you’re sensitive to caffeine, avoid it after noon (or earlier).
  • Fill Up On The Right Food At The Right Time
    • What you eat and when you eat could be holding you back from a restful night’s sleep. Each time we eat insulin is released – one of the many processes that is also linked to the circadian rhythm. Food can signal wakefulness in the brain and interfere with our ability to fall asleep.
    • A large meal full of spicy foods right before bed will probably keep you up. Finish eating three hours prior to going to sleep to allow digestion to occur and the contents of your stomach to move into your small intestine, which may also prevent other problems like heartburn and insomnia.
    • Sugar and alcohol prior to bedtime can wake you up in the middle of the night or make you super hungry in the morning; a warning sign of blood sugar imbalances.
    • Just as better sleep will help you make better food choices – sleep keeps the appetite hormones ghrelin and leptin in check – losing weight can help you sleep more soundly.
  • Decrease Indigestion Risks
    • Dairy, spicy foods, chocolate, caffeinated drinks, high fate or acidic foods, tomatoes and fruit juices can also kill sleep efforts because they cause heartburn which is exacerbated by lying down. Heartburn is especially problematic for people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux. If you have belching, burning chest, fullness or upper abdominal pain then maintain an upright posture for 2-3 hours after eating
  • Blood Sugar Stability for Optimal Sleep
    • When we eat starchy carbohydrates, our body releases insulin – one of the many processes linked to the circadian rhythm.
    • We need to flip our Standard American Diet (SAD) around and eat more fat, fiber, and protein for breakfast and have a modest portion of starchy carbohydrates at night for optimal blood sugar balancing.  Think veggie omelets instead of cereal or toast and don’t just have protein and a salad for dinner, add a starchy sweet potato serving or a serving of quinoa.
    • Again, sugar and alcohol prior to bedtime can wake you up in the middle of the night or make you super hungry in the morning; a warning sign of blood sugar imbalances.
  • Go easy on the alcohol
    • Alcohol is a sedative that leads to sleep fragmentation, which means you’re briefly awakening multiple times over the course of the night
    • Alcohol may increase your deep sleep; however, it decreases your total hours of sleep.
    • Alcohol disrupts REM sleep by suppressing the REM stage during the first two cycles, which are not only important for mental and emotional health and creativity but getting more REM sleep is also associated with a longer life span
    • Avoid alcohol (wine, beer, and hard liquor) within 3-4 hours of your bedtime
  • Amber lights & electronic detox
    • At night there isn’t supposed to be any blue/green light (the moon and stars are not blue green, fire is orange/yellow).   Night is the signal for sleep, rest and rejuvenation – this has been the pattern for millions of years of evolution.
    • Our past 100 years of indoor lighting and now screen lighting in the last 30 or so years emit lots of blue and green light and our bodies aren’t designed to deal with this and it causes significant pineal gland and circadian rhythm disruption.
    • It’s specifically the blue and green wavelengths in computers, tv’s, phones and other devices that effect our circadian rhythm and those wavelengths give our brain the signal that it’s daytime and the time to be alert, active, and energetic.  A series of neurotransmitters respond to that – orexin (wakefulness), serotonin, dopamine, GABA, cortisol, leptin, ghrelin, thyroid hormones… basically everything with mood, energy and metabolism and blood sugar.
    • Get 30 min of bright light within 30 minutes of waking. 
    • Electronic detox a few hours before bed.
    • Use light dimmers inside after dinner.
glass with alcohol

Alcohol is a tricky substance: It’s an undercover sleep marauder. It’s also the most common self-medicated sedative”, says Carl E. Hunt, MD, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. “Contrary to popular belief, that seemingly harmless nightcap before bed may be relaxing at first but has a rebound effect and can cause you to wake up in the wee hours of the night. So, if you want some quality shuteye, it’s best to just say no”

Create a Sleep Routine

Just like parents do for babies and small kids, we too need a routine to help cue our body that it’s time for sleep.  Try a few of these tips to help set the right atmosphere for your tired body.

  • Turn off those devices and instead, take a bath, read a book, do a puzzle or something else relaxing
  • Place a drop of essential oil on your pillowcase
  • Cool down your room (your body temperature needs to drop 2-3 decrees Fahrenheit to initiate and maintain sleep
  • Invest in good bedding and a mattress that meets your needs
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day of the week if possible

Sleep Is Crucial for Weight, Brain Health, And Immune Function

In summary, we need to prioritize sleep.  The old excuse of “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” used to be a common mantra for me, but I’ve realized in the last few years that sleep is crucial for weight control and optimal health. Some data that says that lack of sleep can be a bigger predictor or visceral fat than diet or exercise alone can be and sleep isn’t just about repairing the muscles, but it’s also repairing brain and nerve tissue, consolidating memory, activating immune cells and more! I hope this article helps you prioritize sleep.

Post Author: EZBalanceWellness