The Benefits of Sleep
“If sleep does not serve an absolutely vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process ever made” – Dr. Allan Rechtchaffen
Getting sufficient high-quality sleep is essential for the proper functioning of our minds and bodies. Professor Matt Walker at the University of California, Berkley says “There is no tissue within the body and no process within the brain that is not enhanced by sleep, or demonstrably impaired when you don’t get enough”.
Sleep is one of the most undervalued components of our health. You don’t really appreciate what sleep does for your health, until you aren’t getting enough sleep or the right kind of sleep.
The damage lack of sleep can do is widespread and can be detrimental to your overall health. Studies have shown that short-term sleep deprivation causes increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, raises blood pressure, and impairs our bodies ability to regulate blood sugar.
You may be aware that you are not getting enough or the proper kind of sleep, but they answer we strive for is to answer: Why?
How are Our Awake Hours Affecting our Sleep Habits
How much are you moving?
The unfortunate truth is that we are a sedentary society. Many of us wake up with just enough time to get ready for work, go and sit at a desk for the majority of the day, then come home and sit on the couch and watch television or stare at our phones. This is a deadly combination, is all senses of the word. As mentioned briefly before, lack of sleep leads to a detrimental hormonal affect on our bodies. Stress and a sedentary lifestyle has the exact same effects on our bodies, so if we are incorporating all three of these in our lives the results can be quite destructive. Overcoming the movement aspect is covered in just a little bit, and it’s easier than you think.
What are you eating?
This is a topic that is covered in numerous studies, on the cover of just about every magazine, and seen on hundred of commercials. What we eat throughout the day has an effect on just about every aspect of our life. What we eat is what gives us the energy to perform the activities of our day.
How much are you staring at a screen?
Many of us are guilty of watching too much television, looking at a computer screen, or staring at our phones way too much. These types of technology emit blue light. Blue light by itself if not “unhealthy”, but it does affect our circadian rhythm. Blue light tricks our brains into thinking that it is day time and we should be awake, and it hinders the secretion of melatonin (the hormone necessary for sleep).
Tips for Healthier Sleep
The problem is: achieving healthier sleep is not a quick fix. It is a life-style change, but it should be a change that we are all willing to make.
Step 1: Create an Environment of Complete Darkness
Try to keep your bedroom completely dark and free of televisions or e-tablets. These devices emit a blue light that tricks our bodies into thinking that it is day time. If our minds think it is day time we will not secrete melatonin, which is required for deep healthy sleep. A way to “trick” your brain is to get rid of the blue light we mentioned before. Most phones have an option to soften the screen, turning it orange and decreasing blue light emission. Another simple solution is to get blue light blocking glasses you can wear at night while you watch tv or look at your phone. *I would like to thank Dr. Rangan Chatterjee for the latter suggestion.
Step 2: Be Exposed to Sunlight Throughout the Day
This may be one of the more difficult changes we need to make, especially if you work indoors. The benefits of sun exposure are numerous, so we won’t delve into this too much. Exposure to the sun is important in helping set your body’s rhythm. An easy way to incorporate sun and nature into your life is to go for a 15 minute walk in the morning, or simply having your morning coffee outside. Some very simple suggestions but it does take a little bit of discipline to incorporate into your life. If you don’t have time in the morning try a quick walk during your lunch break or as soon as you get home from work.
Step 3: Eat the Rainbow
When it comes to food, variety is literally the spice of life. As a society we do not consume enough fruits or vegetables and we eat too much processed foods. Processed foods make our bodies work harder to break down the food and less useful nutrients are being absorbed. Processed foods has an abundance of sugar, too much sugar for our bodies to handle, and a cascade of problems can arise. Although fruits and vegetables do contain sugar, it’s a different type of sugar that is not detrimental to our health. Fruits and vegetables also have numerous other benefits. Plants contain a compound called phytonutrients, which when consumed have an incredible impact on our health. Different colored foods have different phytonutrients. Your goal is try and eat 5 different colored fruits or vegetables each day.
Step 4: Create a Bedtime Routine
We are creatures of habit. Incorporating a bedtime routine will help not only fall asleep faster, but you will wake up feeling refreshed and well rested. This tip correlates to the first tip of creating an environment of complete darkness. Pick a time that you would like to be asleep and turn all electronics off 90 minutes before this time. Not only will this help get your mind ready for bed but it will also give you time to reflect on the days activities and get ready for what you have in store for the next day. I have incorporated writing a to-do list of things I need to accomplish the next day. This helps me clear my thoughts and aids in the relaxation process before heading to bed.
Step 5: Control Your Caffeine Intake
If you’re anything like me, you love your coffee in the morning. However, caffeine is a huge sleep disruptor. I won’t dive into the science behind how caffeine effects our bodies, but the actions of caffeine prolong sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), reduce total sleep time, reduce sleep efficiency, and worse perceived sleep quality. Some helpful suggestions if just need to have the hot drink or carbonated beverage
- Drink non-caffeinated herbal tea
- Avoid decaffeinated coffee as many brands still contain trace amounts
- Drink sparkling water in place of soda
- Drink chamomile tea in the evening
Incorporating just a few of these tips will improved your sleep, and thus improve your health. As you can imagine there is a lot more information on each of the topics and additional tips to improve your health and your sleep. If you are looking for more information please contact Dr. Sean at firstname.lastname@example.org
I also highly recommend “How to Make Disease Disappear” by: Dr. Rangan Chatterjee. This book is the inspiration behind this post.