Give Yourself the Gift of a Good Night’s Sleep!
Americans are sleeping badly: 60 million of us have a chronic sleep disorder:
- Sleep apnea*
- Restless leg syndrome
- Periodic limb movement
*This can be related to the functional size of the airway, which can be influenced both by upper cervical spinal alignment and temporo-mandibular dysfunction (TMJ/TMD).
That 60 million number represents one in five Americans. But it doesn’t include those of us who are chronically sleep deprived – and the health implications of chronic sleep deprivation are deeply serious.
Some of you may be familiar with the case of a child that’s gotten on a bad sleep schedule: they’re cranky and fretful, and they are more susceptible to opportunistic infections and illness. We grownups are no different! Whether we like it or not, we need a routine that supports us.
Even one week of insufficient sleep can alter the genetic activity controlling our stress and immune system responses – which means we are losing the innate capacity of the body to repair and re-build. For example, recent research suggests that the movement of cerebro-spinal fluid during sleep removes metabolic waste around the brain; this could have extraordinary implications for a number of conditions.
Here are some of the specific ways sleep deprivation affects your overall health:
|Higher levels of anxiety|
Higher rates of depression
Higher risk of physical injury
Disrupted estrogen production (increased risk of breast cancer)
Increased susceptibility to food cravings
Impaired memory & mental processing
|Impaired white blood cell production
Higher risk of high blood pressure
Higher risk of stroke
Higher risk of heart disease
Higher risk of diabetes
That’s the why; what about the how?
Alcohol: after the initial sedative effect of a “nightcap”, your body has to metabolize the alcohol; this makes for a restless night, and a harder day ahead. If you’re waking between 1 and 3 am, your liver may be over-taxed.
Stimulants: caffeine or nicotine close to bedtime stimulates the adrenal (“fight or flight”) system; what we need is to let that system calm down so the body can rest. Unfortunately for us chocolate lovers, it also contains caffeine.
Exposure to natural light: your daily dose of sunshine is important at every age, as it helps maintain your sleep-wake cycle.Food: a large meal close to bedtime forces your body to work on digestion rather than rest and repair; this problem is accentuated with heavy or spicy food.
Exercise: a vigorous workout is a great general health benefit, but it’s much better in the morning or early afternoon; the evening should be reserved for gentle yoga or an easy stroll.
Bedtime routine: your body needs to de-compress from the day; try to resolve any knotty problems well before bedtime.
Bedtime environment: let your bedroom be about sleep (not television or computing!), with a firm comfortable bed and pillows*; it’s a bit like Goldilocks’ porridge: not too bright, not too hot…
*I always ask my patients to bring their pillow(s) into the office; you’d be surprised how many people are sleeping on a pillow that is part of their neck or back problem. Both mattresses and pillows have a shorter useful lifespan than you might think.
If you’re curious about how much sleep you need, see this post for some age-appropriate guidelines.
A good night’s sleep is basic to our well-being. None of us can function well, let alone flourish, without it. Not only will it benefit you, but there’s a positive ripple effect on every single person you meet during the course of your day. So this holiday, give yourself the gift that keeps on giving!