Are you getting enough sleep for health & well-being?8 min read

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Many times people ask me (Judith) about what to do for certain health issues they have. Of course they are looking for me to tell them to take this vitamin, or eat some specific food, in order to fix their problem.

There’s a basic problem with this thinking. It is a prescriptive, or treatment, mentality – there is something wrong with my body so tell me what to take/do to fix it. What would happen if we were to be thinking not, how do I treat the symptoms I have, but how do I remove the cause?

No cause = no symptoms = no treatment required!

The reality is that God created our bodies as very complex things…each part is carefully designed to function synergistically with all the others. What happens in one part affects all the others. Yes, even our thoughts affect our well-being!!

This is why our overall lifestyle is so important to our health and well-being. It’s not just about eating the right things, or doing this exercise, or getting enough Vitamin (insert any letter here), drink more water…..the list goes on. It’s about how we incorporate all of these things into a lifestyle that promotes good health.

Our sleep habits make a big contribution to our health and well-being – whether that be a negative or a positive contribution.

We live in a society where it seems to be `normal’ for people to be `busy’, or `tired’, or getting only four or five hours sleep a night when asked about their life. It’s almost like these are a badge of success in some circles.

Reality check: what happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

`Sleep is a vital biological function. It is essential to physical and emotional wellness. No matter what age you are, limited sleep can affect every aspect of your lifestyle – from work to home to personal relationships. When your body works well, you sleep well.’ (From a publication by the Chiropractors Association of Australia)

Let’s look at what a lack of sleep can do to us…

  • Increased moodiness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Decreases memory retention
  • Decreases productivity
  • More irritable
  • Impatient
  • Headaches
  • Neck aches
  • Increases risk of hypertension
  • Increases stress hormone levels
  • Decreased immune function
  • Increases rick of obesity
  • Increases risk of heart disease
  • Increases risk of depression
  • For kids there is also increased risk of ADHD, depression and behavioural problems

Some of these can seem pretty minor, but others are real biggies. We often think that we (or a work colleague, friend, teacher, kids) are `having a bad day’. Perhaps it is sleep deprivation.

`In Australia, sleep disorders underlie 9.1% of work-related injuries, 8.3% of depression, 7.6% of non work-related motor vehicle accidents, 2.9% of diabetes, 0.9% of kidney disease and 0.6% of cardiovascular disease.’ (From a publication by the Chiropractors Association of Australia)

Rob Wolf (of The Paleo Solution) says ` Just one night of missed or inadequate sleep is sufficient to make you as insulin resistant as a Type 2 diabetic.’ Enough of that and you can develop full blown Type 2 diabetes!!

I don’t have time to sleep…

If we are not taking enough time to sleep we are assuming it is `wasted’ time or that it is time when nothing is happening. Either we don’t understand what is actually happening in our bodies as we are sleeping, or we don’t value ourselves enough to take care of out body. (It’s probably a combination of both for most people.)

While we are sleeping there is a natural healing/restoration process going on in our body. It’s only as we switch off all the external stimulation (including sound and light) that this can happen effectively.

What robs us of sleep?

Good sleep habits are important for the promotion of effective sleep.

Let’s have a look at some of the things that can affect the quality and/or the quantity of our sleep.

  • Today’s ‘24 hour society’, including all hours availability of the Internet has been viewed by many as disrupting sleeping patterns across the world. (From a publication by the Chiropractors Association of Australia)
  • Alarm clocks
  • Jet lag (it is said that for our body to recover it takes a full day for every time zone we cross)
  • Night shift work
  • Excessive artificial light
  • Vigorous exercise in the evening before bed – stimulates the production of cortisol when it should naturally be on the decrease in preparation for sleep
  • Digital stimulation – TV, computers, games – same as exercise
  • Irregular bedtime and wake times

The rhythms of life

Our body has natural rhythms. No, I don’t mean musical rhythms, though they could be likened to that. There are probably several, but the two that most relate to our sleep are the natural rhythm of the sunrise and sunset – the 24 hour day, and the rhythm of the earth going around the sun – the 365 day year.

The 24 hour day one is known as the circadian rhythm. It’s the one we hear the most about. Then the 365 day on is known as the circ-annual rhythm, not spoken of as often perhaps but still important as our sleep needs and patterns vary with the seasons.

These natural rhythms are important in that they control our sleeping and eating patterns, our hormonal secretion, our brain wave patterns, and our cellular repair and regeneration.  Without the patterns, these things get out of order and our bodies begin to show symptoms of `dis-order’ or disease.

We live in a society where it is possible for us to have the lights on 24/7. This is not just room lighting, but there are so many other lights in our homes. There are lights on stoves, clocks, microwave ovens, computer, standby indicators on TV, DVD player, radio, the air-conditioner; the night light in the hallway and probably many more. All of these things interrupt the rhythm of cortisol and melatonin in our body.

If our body is in sync with the sunrise and sunset we would have a healthy flow of cortisol and melatonin that looks a bit like the graph below.

As the sun rises our body prepares for action by releasing cortisol into our blood stream. This is the `fight or flight’ stress hormone – it causes the release of glucose and fatty acids from the liver which gives us energy. We are ready for the action of the day. This should taper off as the day goes on. As the sun sets melatonin is released and prepares us for sleep.

Unfortunately, sunset usually just means an exchange of natural light for artificial light and we continue being active late into the evening. It is then that our sleep patterns get out of order and disease sets in. The high cortisol levels lead to a higher level of sodium in our bloodstream which can lead to higher blood pressure. It also causes glucose to be released into our bloodstream, increasing insulin, leading ultimately to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.

How do we turn this around? Turn off the lights!!!! Go to sleep…..long before midnight!!!

`Any light after sunset erodes our sleep.’

How much sleep do we need?

In her book, `Lights Out! Sleep, sugar and survival’, T.S. Wiley indicates that we need 9 to 9 ½ hours sleep for around 7 months of the year (the colder months) with a little less (around 8 hours) during the warmer months.

Remember that the most valuable deep sleep happens at the beginning of your night.  Going to bed late and sleeping in `to catch up’ the required hours does NOT work!!

For a long time I have been aware that I function best on 8 ½ to 9 hours sleep a night. At times I’ve even felt a bit guilty about that. No longer! As I have gotten my sleep into a good routine – going to bed earlier – that I now wake more refreshed and ready to take on whatever the day may bring. It’s really a much better sense of well-being.

What about quality of sleep?

We should be aiming for sleep that causes us to rise refreshed and ready for the day.

To aid that we want our sleep environment to be one that contributes to a good quality sleep…..for calm, quiet, and dark.

  • Make sure you have some good block-out curtains
  • Cover all light sources (throw away the digital clock!)
  • No night light (even in kids rooms)
  • Make the room as quiet as possible (this includes kids rooms)
  • No TV or computer (iPad, ipod etc) in the bedroom
  • No fluorescent, white or blue lighting – try to have a bedside lamp with a dimmer
  • Try to keep the bedroom as uncluttered as possible
  • Turn you mobile phone off, or onto silent mode (don’t be tempted to look at your messages etc when you are preparing for sleep)
  • Don’t eat for about 2 – 3 hours prior to going to bed
  • Have a bedtime routine – things you do before going to bed that signal to your body that it’s time for sleep

As we embrace a healthy lifestyle there is certainly a lot for us to think about and we could get overwhelmed. I’ve found that the best approach is to spend some time to consider what steps I can take to be continually contributing to my own health and well-being. For example, in January this year I had an ah-hah moment and realised that we really needed some block-out curtains on our bedroom window. The bedroom seemed relatively dark, but I wasn’t sleeping particularly well. The curtains made a huge difference and proved to be an almost instant remedy.

What sort of changes could you make to your sleep habits in order to promote health and well-being?


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