By Dr. Holly Thompson
Sleep is vital to radiant health and well-being. Even though we don’t yet understand everything that sleep does for us, we know it plays a major role in maintaining our, mental, emotional, and physical health.
Memory and Brain Health
- While you sleep, your brain is busy. The glymphatic system is a newly discovered waste clearance system in our brain and central nervous system. It is similar to the lymphatic that does the same thing in the rest of our bodies.
- The glymphatic system works mainly while we sleep to remove toxic substances and waste products as well as deliver nutrients to our brains.
- This may be why sleep plays such an important role in memory. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that adequate sleep dramatically improves the ability to learn a new task and consolidate memories. It spurs creativity.
- It also contributes to emotional stability and good decision making skills.
- Lack of sleep negatively affects mood, motivation and judgment and is implicated in depression, anxiety, irritability, and other mood disorders.
There are so many physical benefits to sleep (see the following):
- Your immune system depends on enough sleep to function at it’s best.
- Sleep is when your body heals and repairs itself, helping to curb inflammation.
- Long-term sleep deprivation is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, and kidney disease.
- Because sleep is important for regulation proper blood sugar, chronic sleep deprivation is implicated in diabetes.
- Sleep is needed for proper hormone balance.
- Sleep is also a major factor in weight gain. When the body is not getting adequate sleep, the hunger and satiety hormones get out of kilter. You guessed it: the hunger hormone, ghrelin, levels go up while the satiety (signaling you are full) hormone, leptin, goes down. The result: your appetite signals are skewed and you are more hungry and probably are going to eat more than you need to.
Quality of Life
Everyone knows that you just plain feel and look better when you are sleeping well. Turns out, you are more productive, less accident prone, and live longer as well. It can be hard to get enough sleep!
Sleep deprivation is a major problem in our country. But before you go reaching for a sleep aid (some of which are suspected of interfering with the glymphatic system along with a host of other side effects), please give some serious effort to proven lifestyle changes that aid the sleep process.
First of all, you need to make time for sleep. That means 7-9 hours every night. It works best if you can go to bed and get up roughly the same time every day. Our bodies like their sleep, like their meals, on a regular schedule. A lot of health gurus recommend a 10pm bedtime and a 6 am wakeup, but this is a guideline and you may need to adjust it by an hour or two for your lifestyle.
Many people get into bed but can’t get to sleep. Others may fall asleep right away, but then wake up and then can’t get back to sleep. And the worst part of this is that it tends to be the same night after night. The sleep pattern is off.
You have probably heard most of the usual recommendations about eating earlier, avoiding upsetting topics at night, making time to wind down, making sure your bedroom is completely dark and not too hot. These are all great.
Stress reduction techniques such as meditation, time in nature, warm baths can also make a big difference.
Some recent research has shown that light plays a major role in how our brains and sleep hormones function.
One of the best ways to help reset the pattern is to get outside, morning light as soon as possible after you wake up. Stay outside as long as you can, but at least for a few minutes. This begins to shift the sleep/wake hormones into a more normal pattern.
The blue light that is emitted from electronic devices (phones, computers, televisions) can also disrupt our sleep/wake cycles and cause insomnia. The current recommendation is to avoid all screen time for two hours before bed. If this is not doable for you, be sure to put your phone on the “night shift” setting and download software that greatly diminishes the blue light coming from your computer. Flux https://justgetflux.com/is the one I use on my Mac or you can get SunSet Screen http://www.skytopia.com/software/sunsetscreen/) for your PC. Both of these apps are free and easy to install.
If these measures don’t help or help only a little, acupuncture and Chinese medicine can help, and without weird side effects. As always in Chinese medicine, one size does NOT fit all. There are many time test3ed formulas that really help sleep, but they must be fitted to the pattern of disharmony. There are formulas for difficulty getting to sleep, difficulty staying asleep, difficulty getting back to sleep, nightmares, disturbing the sleep, hot flashes and night sweats waking you, etc.
Re-establishing a healthy and restorative sleep pattern is one of the best things you can do for your health. Click here to see how I can help!
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