Sleep Your Way to the Top...
...is the advice Arianna Huffington offers after doing the research for her book, “Thrive.” She sums up her findings: “There’s practically no element of our life that’s not improved by getting adequate sleep.”
Science agrees that sleep is critical for our emotional wellbeing, cognitive function, daytime performance, physical health and life expectancy.
A study from UC Berkeley showed that sleeping only four to five hours in just one night drops your natural killer cells - the ones that attack the cancer cells that appear in your body every day - by 70%. The World Health Organization has classified any nighttime shift work as a possible carcinogen. Adults 45 and older who sleep less than six hours a night are twice as likely to have a heart attack or a stroke in their lifetime compared to those who sleep seven to eight hours. Adults sleeping only 6.75 hours a night are predicted to live only into their early 60s without medical intervention. The time it takes for seasoned athletes to achieve physical exhaustion who obtain anything less than eight hours of sleep drops by 10-30%. Is it time physicians begin whipping out their prescription pads and writing “Get a good night’s sleep every night and you won’t need to call me in the morning.”
Formerly, it was thought that our bodies shut down while we slept, but in fact our bodies use the time we are asleep to repair, restore, heal, maintain and detoxify. “Not only is a good night’s sleep required to form new learning and memory pathways in the brain, but also sleep is necessary for those pathways to work well,” according to the NIH. Deep sleep triggers the release of growth hormones, boosts muscle mass and repairs cells and tissues.
Without Seven to Eight Hours of Sleep, it’s a Nightmare:
• Difficult time focusing, paying attention, are more easily confused.
• Make bad decisions and demonstrate unhealthy, risky behaviors.
• Show a slower reaction time. (After being awake for 19 hours, we have the same response rate as someone who is drunk. The Institute of Medicine estimates that one out of five auto accidents in the US results from drowsy driving - 1 million crashes a year.)
• Increase in “clumsy” accidents like tripping, falling, cutting oneself.
• More irritable, depressed and stressed. • Increase in addiction relapses.
• Increase of diseases including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes.
• Increase in internal inflammation and common illnesses.
• Higher BMI (Body Mass Index), overweight, larger waist circumference and obesity.
• Cravings for foods high in fat, sugars, salts, carbohydrates and alcohol.
• Lower life expectancy. Life could be Dreamy with Adequate Sleep:
• Learn new tasks better and remember them, increase creative insights and improve creative problem-solving.
• Better mood.
• Improve immune system.
• Increase in leptin, an appetite suppressor and decrease in ghrelin, an appetite stimulator.
• Lower BMI.
• Higher tolerance for those with chronic pain. • Better sex life.
• Longer life expectancy.
Studies show that just one bad night can negatively affect our functioning, health and mood for at least 48 hours. So how much sleep is enough? Sleep needs vary a bit from person to person, and vary greatly depending upon age. For the average adult, seven to eight hours is the minimum needed to avoid devastating effects on the brain and the body. Some of us might need up to nine hours each night to feel rested and perform well.
How will you change your schedule to protect yourself and those around you while improving your quality of life? It seems so obvious that knowing what we know we all would do everything in our power to make sure we get to sleep on time, and yet the World Health Organization reports that only one third of us in developed nations are sleeping enough. Maybe we need more proof or maybe we need a better strategy.
Avoid Sleep Disruptors:
• Caffeine (Even one cup of coffee can have an enormous effect on daily energy levels and should not be enjoyed 8 hours before bedtime.)
• Nicotine and alcohol. • Eating grains, sugars and large meals within two hours of bedtime.
• Certain medications including antihistamines, antipsychotics, antidepressants, asthma medications, blood pressure medications, diuretics and steroids. (Consider asking your doctor for alternatives if you feel they are interrupting your sleep.)
• Exercise within four hours of bedtime.
• Noises and lights of any kind (TV, video games, mobile phones, computers, Kindles, alarm clocks, night lights, etc.)
• Naps after 3 p.m.
• Temperature that is too warm.
• Changing sleep schedules.
• Using our bedrooms for anything other than sex and sleep.
Steps to Sleep Well:
• Wake and go to sleep at the same time each day - even on weekends.
• Get at least 30 minutes of sun midday.
• Exercise for at least 30 minutes and practice yoga.
• 2 hours before bedtime, set your alarm to remind you to:
• Dim the lights.
• Take a warm bath and drink decaffeinated hot tea.
• Supplement with “Calm Magnesium” (with doctors approval).
• Turn the temperature in the bedroom to 60-65 degrees in the winter and 70 degrees in the summer.
• Practice restorative yoga. • Read or listen to music - make sure it’s calming.
• Lay on an acupressure mat for 30 minutes.
• Fall asleep listening to guided imagery. (I strongly recommend any of Belleruth Naparstek’s meditations, especially General Wellness and Sleep.)
Make sleep a priority. Take it step by step to make it doable and sustainable. Begin by going to sleep 15 minutes earlier this week. Next week, add another 15 minutes, until you achieve eight quality hours each night. Soon you will be reaping the rewards, achieving more, feeling healthier and happier and living a stronger life.