How to sleep to avoid disease

Sleep is nice. More importantly, sleep is vital…

Your body and brain require sleep for you to live, because sleep is when your cells and systems do some of their most important work.

In fact, it’s almost mind-boggling if you consider just how much your body is up to after you jump in the sack… and how dangerously close you come to ruining your health if you’re not benefiting from any of it — just because you’re not sleeping right.

And “right” means much more than just how long you’re in the bed…

Now, everyone has an occasional restless night. But if you’re one of the 50 to 70 million of us (Americans) who has a sleep disorder, you’re facing a boatload of chronic conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. It may be hard to believe, but not enough quality sleep is also the reason you could be battling obesity and depression.

What should happen when you sleep?

For starters, while sleeping, your body needs to “service” all of your systems that have been extremely busy doing all the things they have to do when you’re awake. If your sleep is interrupted or cut short, so are these necessary restorative processes…

  1. Gut balancing — With help from your gall bladder and liver (about 11pm-1am).
  2. Detoxification — Your liver, spleen, kidneys and lymph system detox your blood, organs and systems.
  3. Immune balancing — Cytokines, white blood cells and red blood cells renewed.
  4. Hormone balancing — Adenosine, melatonin breakdown, DHEA and cortisol balances, adrenals restores (11pm – 1am) chemistry and function; blocks growth hormone.
  5. Cardiometabolic restoration — Processes occur that are heart protective; pancreas able to produce appropriate amounts of insulin; Hormones for hunger balance (decreases ghrelin — to not be hungry, increases leptin — to feel full).
  6. Brain restoration — Regeneration of nerve function, energy balance, mood balance, memory and cognitive functioning and cells in your hippocampus (area of brain for memory, emotions, spatial navigation).
  7. Skeletal muscle and boney matrix restoration — Heals wounds, builds muscle mass, restores chemical balance for stronger bones; Increases human growth hormone; Lipolysis (breaks down fat); decreases pain.

As a functional medicine practitioner, I can tell you that these seven restorative processes of quality sleep affect (in order) the seven core physiological processes of functional medicine. If you’re not getting the right kind of sleep (quality sleep), you’re not getting these benefits…

That means you’re missing out on sleep’s biggest benefit: the prevention and reversal of most chronic illness. But making it work for you is just a matter of correcting the triggers and imbalances robbing you of quality sleep. But first…

The ‘right’ sleep

Sleep is made up of phases. These phases include periods of deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) that cycle every 90 to 120 minutes. Multiply that by 4 or 5 cycles and you get about 7.5 or 9 hours respectively. Any more or any less and you could experience mood disorders, bowel dysfunction, metabolic imbalances, premature aging and the chronic diseases I’ve already mentioned.

But it’s not just the amount of sleep that matters — it’s the quality, too. During the night, the cycles increase in length, in succession, and it’s important they’re not interrupted. If they are, you end up starting over and over again. That’s no good.

It’s crucial that sleep be “in a row,” not four hours here and five hours there.  And, if possible, it’s best that you’re not jolted awake by an alarm clock that startles you mid cycle. Allow the mind and body to wake up naturally as it has completed its restorative cycles, including about an hour of REM towards the end of the last cycle.

Waking up without an alarm clock is not as odd as it may seem. When your body routinely gets quality sleep, your body clock is all you need to wake up on time.

Improve the quality of your sleep — starting tonight

There are several things that could impact the amount and quality of your sleep. But I’m going to focus on three that I feel are at the top of the list… and advise you on what to do about each one…

Hormonal imbalance

An imbalance of your adrenal hormones can definitely upset your sleep cycle. Nearly every adult in the U.S. is adrenally imbalanced and subsequently sleep deprived. This leads to serious long-term physical and mental health issues.

Other hormones that should be checked would include thyroid, progesterone, testosterone, growth hormone, and melatonin levels. A few simple blood tests could help determine if your levels are off. If you need help balancing them seek a doctor of functional medicine in your area. You’ll have a better chance of long-term relief versus the quick short-term fixes of mainstream medicine.

Stress

Stress is the reason too many of us lay awake at night. Stressors releases cortisol, which in excess, breaks down protein and imbalances the adrenals (see the hormone connection?). Everyone stresses. The difference with good sleepers is that they find ways to decrease their stress.

Meditation before bedtime is good way to both relax and let go of what’s been keeping you awake. And even Harvard says it works. Practicing meditation regularly for as little as eight weeks can cause beneficial changes in the brain’s grey matter, which itself encompasses regions of the brain that effect sensory perception, muscle control, memory, emotions, auditory functions and how we make decisions and apply self-control. In other words, the power of meditation positively affects almost every aspect of your well-being.

You can also make the best of stress by experiencing the seven scientifically proven benefits of gratitude.

Another great option is exercise. Exercise mentally and physically cleanses stress from your body. And you just may be tired enough to sleep like a baby. Get at least 20-40 minutes of exercise each day. This also builds melatonin from the pineal gland and supports your natural circadian rhythm.

One note of caution: don’t exercise close to bedtime. You’ll be too amped up to drift off to sleep.

Poor sleep prep

Sleep preparation deserves serious attention. It’s often the culprit and is also the easiest to do something about…

Young children sleep better when their parents follow a nightly routine to ready them for bed. Adults are not any different. So with the goal in mind of at least 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep, put the following steps into place and you’ll soon be sleeping soundly…

  1. Go to sleep at the same time each night.
  2. Consistently prepare/plan to be in your sleep sanctuary (bedroom) before sleep occurs, each night.
  3. Keep your bedroom cool. (Preferable 60 to 68°F).
  4. Begin the switch to darkness 1-2 hours before bed time. Avoid light from electronic devices, pull curtains and shut off most of the lights in the house, especially the bedroom.
  5. Quiet the house.
  6. Plan not to eat with a three hour window of your bedtime. Calming tea or water should be consumed no closer than two hours of bedtime. No stimulants (nicotine or caffeine — chocolate, etc after noon).
  7. Turn off the electronics one to two hours minimum before sleep. No visible screens or lights from LCD, TV, computer, phone, pad, etc in your sleep sanctuary at all.
  8. No alarm clock. I sense some resistance already with this one. If you insist, as a back-up to natural cycle completion, cover it and have it across the room, even if it’s infrared. Try to find one with a peaceful sound.
  9. Body and mind prep. Plan/prep for the next day, mediate or write in your journal — let things go and find the positive lessons; enjoy a warm bath or shower; try music, a white-noise app, and/or cuddling.

It may take a few nights to get your routine just right. But don’t give up. You’ll have better days and longer, healthier life.

Sources:
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  10. Knutsson, A., Hallquist, J., Reuterwall, C., Theorell, T., & Akerstedt, T. (1999). Shiftwork and myocardial infarction: a case-control study. Occup Environ Med, 56(1), 46–50.
  11. Spiegel, K., Tasali, E., Penev, P., & Cauter, E.V. (2004). Brief Communication: Sleep Curtailment in Healthy Young Men Is Associated with Decreased Leptin Levels, Elevated Ghrelin Levels, and Increased Hunger and Appetite. Ann Intern Med, 141(11), 846–850.
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  14. Simon N. Young. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007 Nov; 32(6): 394-399.
  15. http://www.news-medical.net/health/Hippocampus-Functions.aspx
Dr. Brad Cutler

By Dr. Brad Cutler

With over 30 years of clinical nutrition experience, Dr Brad Cutler has been a well-respected authority in digestive health, nutrition and natural anti-aging protocols. In 2014 Brad certified in Functional Medicine. His life is all about health, fitness, and what works nutritionally in the body. He coaches individuals in essential lifestyle principles as a part of his ongoing functional medicine practice. Brad’s mission is to inspire others to purposefully create thoughts and emotions that support wise food choices and lifestyle changes that improve health. Individual focus may include balance of digestion, detoxification, immunity, hormones, cardio-metabolic health, cognitive function and mood.

Brad may be reached for Health Coaching at functionalmedicineutah@gmail.com.