Why is sleep important? Sleep is vital in the healing and repair of our heart and blood vessels, our memory, regulating our moods, reducing stress and our overall physical health. There are many variables that prevent us from getting the sleep that our bodies need. Do you find that once you lay down after a long day, your brain is suddenly flooded with ruminating thoughts? Or you feel a wave of restlessness? To understand why external factors rob us of our repairing sleeping process, we need to understand how the body induces sleep. We can also learn how to halt external factors that interfere with sleep.
Circadian rhythm is our body’s natural internal clock which is governed by light and darkness. Our ancestors went to bed when it was dark and awoke when the sun rose. Over the years, our internal body clocks have dramatically changed. When you spend time in front of a computer or watch TV before bed, you compromise the natural induction of sleep by the exposure of blue light from the screen. Blue light mimics the sun’s light and actually tells your body to shut off melatonin production (the hormone that’s associated with sleep onset). The light enters through your retina and heads to your hypothalamus, your hypothalamus then sends messages to your pineal gland to inhibit the production of melatonin. Melatonin is essential for sleep. This hormone helps control your sleep and wake cycles.
Did you know that your body actually has an internal clock dictating which organs are repaired at certain times? For example, from about 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., your body repairs the liver, which aids in detoxification and regulates hormones. Testosterone is produced from about 4-6 a.m., which is critical for balancing out the other hormones in your body. If we are awake during these hours, you miss out on that vital rejuvenation period. This eventually lowers your immune system. The Journal of Occupation and Environmental Medicine recently found that women who work the night shift had a 400 percent higher risk of cancer. Other published research states that sleeping less than 7 hours per night increases your chance of getting the flu or a cold by 300 percent. Additionally, lack of sleep causes premature aging, immune system depletion, and hormonal disturbances. Since our body requires 8-10 hours of quality sleep each night and most of us average about 5-7 hours, it seems as though the odds are against us. The good news is that it is possible to achieve good, quality sleep despite stressful lifestyles and battles with insomnia.
Here are some guidelines to help you modify your lifestyle to achieve that restful, peaceful sleep:
- Change your diet before bed. Decreasing carbohydrates and sugars before bedtime and increasing good fats and protein in your meal will prevent your body from becoming too warm and active during digestion. Eating something like an avocado or yogurt will promote relaxation. Both avocado and yogurt contain high amounts of magnesium, potassium and healthy fats.
- Take a magnesium supplement before bed (400-500mg). Magnesium is essential for sleep. A deficiency in this vitamin can actually cause insomnia and other sleep disturbances.
- No caffeine after 12 The half-life or “lasting effect” of caffeine is about 12 hours. By consuming caffeine (preferably in the morning), you lessen the risk of having it in your bloodstream when you are trying to go to sleep.
- Change your sleeping environment. It’s important that your room is completely dark and the temperature of your room is cool. Studies have shown that even the light on your alarm clock can disturb your sleeping patterns. It’s suggested to wear loose fitting clothing, a sleeping mask and set your thermostat to a temp in the lower 70s.
- Decide on a sleeping pattern. Your body not only loves patterns, it needs patterns. When it comes to sleep, it’s vital to try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake at the same time. This helps to put your circadian rhythm in order and aids in the development of a “natural alarm” so your body will wake itself at the same time each morning. Going to bed around 10 p.m. and waking up around 6 or 7 a.m. is the ideal sleep pattern that has been suggested by many specialists.
We all lead busy lifestyles which involves high amounts of stress. A stressful lifestyle is all the more reason to make getting the proper amount of sleep a high priority. Sleep deprivation intensifies stress.
1. Try going to bed one hour earlier per night until you reach a bedtime that is as close to 10 p.m. as possible.
2. Design a “sleep/wake” plan.
Tailor this plan to your own schedule and needs, and if possible, try to place sleep as a top priority (leave the late-night partying to someone else!). Your hormones, immune system, and future self will thank you for making these changes now. After all, it’s never too late for sleep!
The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. Marque Medical is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.