The Story About Bedtime

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

December 30, 2011

In This Issue:

  • Why going to bed was easier as a kid
  • What happens when you sleep…and what doesn’t
  • Should you be taking supplemental melatonin?

The Story About Bedtime

While it’s true that we need less sleep as we get older than we did as children and teens, it is also true that we aren’t as good at bedtime as we were when we were young. And we could be paying a high price for losing what might seem like a childish routine.

You remember how it worked.

At the same time every night, you did the same routine. You stopped playing or watching television for the night. Took a warm bath. Got into your jammies. Jumped into bed. Mom or Dad read you a book, tucked you in, and turned out the lights.

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Shortly after the lights went out, the Sandman came, and you drifted off to sleep…and stayed that way until you, naturally, woke up the next morning. Ready to go!

With a few adjustments for age and maturity, the wisdom of that bedtime routine is something we would be better off keeping as a lifelong habit…

Experts surmise that we are getting significantly less sleep than we did 30-40 years ago. While the recommendation has long been 8 hours, the average adult gets less than 7 hours a night now. For some, it’s significantly less.

Which means most of us are sleep deprived… and many of us don’t realize the toll it’s taking on our health.

Feeling sluggish and requiring round-the-clock caffeine is only the beginning. Recent studies show that when we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies aren’t able to regulate some of its most important processes:

Appetite: One possible explanation for the obesity epidemic is lack of sleep. A recent study analyzed 10,000 American adults between the ages of 32 and 49 and found that those who slept less than seven hours a night are significantly more likely to be obese. It seems that the hormones that regulate appetite are reset and refreshed while you sleep. Insulin levels are also regulated during sleep, leading researchers to believe that sleep deprivation is a step towards diabetes.

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Cell Protection: Sleep studies that have focused on professionals prone to interruptions in their sleep, such as nurses and firefighters, have linked insufficient and interrupted sleep with an increased risk in colon cancer and breast cancer. One possible reason is that melatonin levels are lower when circadian rhythms (the body’s internal clock that responds to light and dark) are off, and melatonin protects cells against cancer.

Mental Function: While we are sleeping, our system is actually quite active. We go through several sleep cycles throughout the night – light sleep, deep sleep, REM sleep – and each type of sleep refreshes us differently. When we are in deep sleep, the body is renewed. When we are in REM sleep, the mind is renewed. When you don’t get as much sleep as you need, the body will automatically favor deep sleep over REM sleep. This means that your mental function will suffer before your physical function.

In a culture that values productivity over just about everything else, and offers entertainment options and distractions 24/7, it’s easy to consider sleep a luxury, rather than the necessity it is.

But you do so at your own risk. And as it turns out, the risk might be greater than you think.

If you aren’t getting enough sleep by choice, my recommendation is to establish a consistent bedtime routine – one that is age-appropriate and works for your lifestyle – and stick to it.

But if you have trouble sleeping and aren’t sure what to do about it, keep reading…

Should You Be Taking Supplemental Melotonin?

If you are having sleep issues, the first thing you want to do is figure out why you’re having a hard time. If you’re doing everything right – using a set bedtime routine, allotting the right amount of time for sleep, and not eating within three hours of bedtime – and still you can’t fall or stay asleep, you might be a candidate for melatonin supplementation.

Melatonin helps regulate sleep. It is manufactured during the day, while you are in bright light, and then kicks in at night, when the lights are low, so you can descend into sleep. It requires the amino acid tryptophan for production, which explains why you feel so sleepy after a big turkey dinner.

If you aren’t exposed to bright light during the day, don’t get enough tryptophan in your diet, or have other factors hindering your natural melatonin production, you might benefit from supplementing. You can try straight melatonin in doses from 1-3mg. It’s always a good idea to start with a smaller dose and then move up as necessary.

Or to further increase your body’s ability to relax and fall asleep, try a supplement that also includes other ingredients, such as herbs for relaxation, and tryptophan to stimulate your body’s own melatonin production.

Resources:

Aldabal L, Bahammam AS. Metabolic, endocrine, and immune consequences of sleep deprivation. Open Respir Med J. 2011;5:31-43. Epub 2011 Jun 23.

Pace-Schott EF, Spencer RM. Age-related changes in the cognitive function of sleep. Prog Brain Res. 2011;191:75-89.

Hsieh SD, et al. Association of short sleep duration with obesity, diabetes, Fatty liver and behavioral factors in Japanese men. Intern Med. 2011;50(21):2499-502. Epub 2011 Nov 1.

Arendt J. Melatonin, circadian rhythms and sleep. New Engl J Med; 2000;343(15):1114-1116.

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