January 18, 2012
By David Blyweiss, M.D.
In This Issue:
- Why the importance of sleep is so under-rated
- How you can beat the odds stacked against getting as much as you need
- Putting your entire resolution together into one great day
5 Easy Ways to Get All 8 Hours
Blame it on Thomas Edison for testing that final filament, inventing the light bulb. Or Benjamin Franklin for flying kites with his son in a lightning storm for that matter! First, electricity and light bulbs… now a world that doesn’t sleep, and a body that is urged to stay up instead of accepting its need to lie down.
Your body doesn’t see this as progress. In fact, it protests. Loudly. But if you’re like most people, you don’t even notice anymore. Most of us have become so accustomed to being sleep-deprived, we don’t know what it would feel like to actually get enough sleep every night.
We consider it normal to have to use an alarm clock to get up in the morning… and to hit the snooze button 25 times. We think watching television is putting us to sleep, not keeping us awake. Or that losing our memory as we get older is normal, not a consequence of long-term sleep deprivation. Most of us believe the 8-hours-a-night guideline applies to everyone else, but not us. That we can make do with less.
Not true. None of it. Here’s what is true…
Getting enough sleep is one of the most important building blocks of health. It affects every single system in your body. Sleep rebuilds your organs and muscles, replenishes your mind, and even regulates your appetite, hormones, and blood sugar. And, it turns on the coordinated release of specific hormones, rhythmically throughout the night, to allow for optimal replenishing and regulation.
Long-term studies on people who chronically don’t get enough sleep – such as nurses and firefighters who perform shift work – have shown that sleep deprivation shortens life expectancy and puts you at higher risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a whole host of chronic illnesses.
Maybe when you’re young, you can afford to ignore the truth for a while. But along with age comes wisdom… and the courage to face the truth. So, here it is:
Sleep 8 hours a night and you add extra years and quality to your life. Get less… and you don’t.
That said… here are some tips that will put you in the habit of getting enough sleep, every single night:
1) Use dark and light to signal your body’s natural rhythm: During the light of day, your body produces melatonin, a critical sleep hormone and powerful antioxidant. At night, the melatonin releases into your system, inducing sleep and indicating to your body that it is time for the daily refresh and renew cycle. Be sure you get enough bright light during the day and complete darkness all through the night to keep this cycle intact. You may need to install some special lighting inside the house if you live in a gloomier climate, and wear eyeshades at night if you can’t achieve 100% darkness. When you get enough light and dark throughout the day, you’ll see… both falling asleep and waking up become effortless when you let your body’s natural rhythm do all the work.
2) Develop a consistent routine: Just like when you were a kid, setting a daily bedtime and having a consistent routine really works. If your day starts at 6am, then bedtime should be at 10pm… and your bedtime routine should start at 9pm. Lights go down, electronics go off. Drawing a hot bath or taking a hot shower will raise your core temperature, and getting out will drop it, telling your body that it’s time to hibernate. Pick a short, relaxing activity such as reading (nothing too exciting though!) or meditating that will wind down your mind. As soon as your eyes get heavy and your breathing slows, turn off the lights and allow yourself to drop into sleep. Do this both on weekdays and weeknights, and within a few weeks your body will be in the habit, and sleeping – and waking refreshed – will become natural.
3) Separate eating and sleeping times: Finish dinner 3 hours before bedtime, and all fluids within 2 hours of bedtime. This will ensure that you’re not disturbed by frequent bathroom trips. Eating a high-protein snack a couple hours before bed, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and grains and sugars right before bed can ensure you get an uninterrupted 8 hours.
4) Create a relaxing sleep environment: Reserve your bedroom for sleeping and intimacy only. This means no TV, computer, or piles of work strewn across the floor or on the bedside table. Maintain your bedroom more as a sanctuary than a work space. Keep it cool at night – around 65 degrees is optimal – and use blankets to keep warm. And if you or your partner find sharing a bed inhibits your sleeping, consider separate beds or bedrooms. You may both get better rest, and enjoy the quality of your intimate time in bed together, if you are getting the quantity of sleep you need elsewhere.
5) Solve any sleep problems you have: If you follow the first four guidelines and find you still have difficulty falling and staying asleep, do some troubleshooting to figure out why. Here are a few of the most common problems:
- Restless legs and leg cramping is a common complaint I hear from new patients. Add more calcium/magnesium and potassium to your diet, and possibly even use additional supplements, and see if they settle down.
- Urinary tract, bladder and prostate problems can take a serious toll on your sleep cycle. I cover each of these in other issues of Advanced Natural Wellness – or you can see your own physician – to address these issues.
- Adrenal stress is another common sleep disruptor. In the final issue of this series, I’ll share some tests you can do to see if this is affecting your sleep.
- And last but not least, changes in hormone production – including the sleep hormone, melatonin – can be the culprit. You might try taking melatonin, or better yet, a combined sleep supplement that also included relaxing herbs, botanicals, tryptophan and other sleep aids if you have a hard time falling – and staying – asleep.
By now, you’ve probably realized that it will take some effort to carry out your very simple, very basic resolution to eat right, gently move your body and mind, and sleep 8 hours a night. But I hope you also realize that it will bring you tremendous rewards in the coming months and years.
If you haven’t already downloaded your free Resolution Report, take a moment and do so now.
The next and final issue in this series will help you take steps to start personalizing these recommendations and tips, so they are more tailored to your unique health needs. In the meantime, I hope you’re enjoying the fresh start of a New Year – and making progress on your new health goals.
As always, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org along the way with your questions and concerns. I’ll start addressing them right here in the newsletter at the end of this special series