The one thing

Many times people ask me “what is the one thing” that they can do to improve their health.  What one thing will have the biggest impact on helping them achieve their healthy lifestyle goals.  It might surprise you that my answer is also likely the cheapest thing you can do for yourself.  Are you ready for the “one thing” that most people should do, well here it is……get good quality and quantity of sleep at the right time.  I know, eating organic and non-GMO is greatly important, so is reducing stress and balancing blood sugar, but the more we study and learn about sleep the more I realize its importance.  This is such a large topic that I will do my best to boil it down into some action steps you should consider implementing today.

First off, know what good sleep can do

Good sleep allows multiple body systems to repair and regenerate, your brain will clean itself of toxins accumulated during the day, the chance of remembering previously un-recalled material doubles, improves decision-making, greater emotional intelligence, improves cognitive function, heightened creativity, increases physical performance, consolidates memories and helps retain information, better test taking, improves mood and overall disposition, supports healthy weight, promotes hormone balancing, detoxification, stress reduction, improved energy, enhances physical appearance and much more.

The stats on lack of sleep

It is estimated that 40% of Americans are sleep deprived and most sleep disorders are undiagnosed and untreated.  A 2014 study showed 60% of the British had less than 7 hours of sleep per night over the past 6 months, while another study showed 66% of Japanese are sleep deprived (a 2013 study).  Studies have shown that 6 hours of sleep for 5 nights in a row caused an increase of fine lines and wrinkles by 45%, an increase in blemishes by 13%, and an increase in redness by 8%.  Nearly 30% of people with a sleep disorder are also dealing with depression.  18 million Americans have Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA); the Greek word for “apnea” means without breath.  With each apnea event, the brain is briefly aroused causing fragmented and poor quality sleep.  28% of people with ADD also have OSA.  30% of people with hypertension have OSA.  85% of people who snore are not aware that they do.  If you are 20 lbs over weight and/or have a neck size of 17″ you are likely to be a snorer, and men are snorers more than women at a ratio of 9:1.

What lack of sleep does

Lack of sleep is generally in one of four ways: can not fall asleep, wake up during sleep, wake up early and can not fall back to sleep, or sleep but do not feel rested.  The most common reasons for lack of sleep are stress, anxiety, lack of sleep structure, blood sugar issues, and depression.  Lack of sleep is correlated to: higher cortisol, effects genetic expression in over 700 genes particularly those related to inflammation, being tired at work is correlated to lower productivity and injury risk, being awake for 17-19 hours can have a similar effect on driving as drunk driving, decreased reaction time, reduced mental alertness, diminished attention span, impaired decision making ability, reduced memory, poor situational awareness, ineffective communication, depression, anxiety and other mood and mental disorders, erectile dysfunction, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome, ADD and reduced cognitive performance, reduction in immune cell numbers and activity, increase in inflammatory cytokines, weight gain, lower testosterone in healthy young men.  One study from Harvard showed that 5 or more 24+hour shifts per month increased fatigue related adverse events by 700% in the hospital setting, additionally fatigue related events resulting in death increased by 300%.

What are the challenges to sleep

The biggest challenge will be that our modern lifestyle is not conducive to health promoting sleep.  Sleeping less and working more hours is praised as a virtue in our society.  Many people prioritize work, social life, family, and success over a good nights sleep.  Our high stress lifestyle doesn’t allow our body and brain to slow down near bed time.  Many professions work “shift” work hours which disrupts our circadian rhythm.  The screens on our technology, phones, tablets, TV’s, emit blue light that gives our brain the signal that it is daylight and to be awake.  We consume too much stimulants like caffeine and sugar.  Another big challenge is with so many people snoring and having OSA, the spouse and family often have a difficulty sleeping near someone who snores.

Sleep drugs

Approximately $41 billion was spent on prescriptions and over the counter sleep aids in 2015.  These drugs often put the user in a hypnotic-like state during sleep, which can cause abnormal behaviors such as sleepwalking and sleep eating with no recollection of doing so.  Consumer Reports (2015) reported: these drugs helped people fall asleep 20 minutes faster than the placebo and they only added an average of 34 minutes to the total sleep time.  A 2015 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine reported a higher risk of dementia in people who regularly used these type of drugs, which are known as anticholinergics.  Another study showed that taking 132 or more doses of sleeping pills in 1 year increases risk of lung, lymphoma, prostate and colon cancers by 35%; the patients were also five times as likely to die during that time period compared with those not taking the pills.  An additional study showed that receiving hypnotic prescriptions was associated with greater than threefold increased hazards of death even when prescribed less than 18 pills per year.  Side effects of these drugs include: rebound insomnia, daytime drowsiness, confusion, constipation, dry mouth, addiction, allergic reactions, and problems urinating.

What can you do about sleep

Think about this for a minute.  When we raise children we set bed times, wake up times, nap times, out door play times and eating times.  Why?  Because we want them to be healthy and happy.  Okay, so why do so many adults not set these times?  Don’t they want to be healthy and happy?  I know you do.  So one of the best things you can do is start living a life with these structured times.  It is important to try to get 1 deep sleep cycle prior to 12 mid night so a 10pm bed time would be appropriate for most people.  We do need 7-9 hours of sleep.  1-2 hours prior to bed time begin a routine of slowing down your day to ensure you get good sleep.  Here are a few quick tips: don’t use technology near bed time, use blue light blocking glasses, if at all possible don’t work shift work hours, don’t read or watch anything that will get you upset or scared or stimulated, don’t drink caffeine or alcohol too close to bed time, don’t consume sugar or high glycemic foods close to bed time, the room should be cool (about 65 degrees seems best), your room should be calm, your room needs to be dark, expose your body and eyes to sun light early in the day, exercise and be active daily and the earlier in the day the better, hormonal balance is important for sleep, deep breathing can help calm and relax, write down tomorrows to do list instead of dwelling on it as you lay down at night, go to bed at the same time as your partner, reduce stress, no pets in bed, read a paper back book near bed time, make sure your bed is the right one for you and is not too old, clean sheets and pillows can help, white noise can help, make sure vitamin D levels are in the optimal range (between 50-80), omega 3 fish oil can help, eating kiwifruit and dark cherries can help, everyday should have the same schedule (sorry folks who sleep in on the weekends), studies show magnesium and inositol supplements can help.  I know many advocate the use of melatonin and I would just be careful, this is a hormone and I am just of the opinion that we don’t fully understand using this hormone as a supplement to micromanage the body vs using food to support the normal physiology and function of our body. 

Average Sleep Requirements
Age Sleep Required
Newborns 14 – 17 hours per day
Toddler/Preschool 12-14 hours per day
School-aged (6-13 years) 9-11 hours per day
Teenagers (14-17 years) 8-10 hours per day
Adults (18 – 60 years) 7 hours per day

In summary good healing, detoxifying, hormone balancing, improved brain functioning, stress reducing sleep takes both quality and quantity.  Sleep needs to be intentional.  We will be our healthiest when we sleep every day at the same time.  We all know that a poor nights sleep sets the stage for a mediocre following day, while a good nights sleep sets the stage for you to conquer the following day.  You must develop a sleep rhythm and routine that works for you specifically.

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