How Do You Sleep?
Not getting enough sleep contributes to systemic inflammation, hormone imbalances and can impair our judgment similar much the same way as alcohol. This blog post gives tips on combatting lack of sleep.
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How Do You Sleep?
Probably one of the most significant health concerns plaguing our society today is lack of sleep. Most Americans struggle to get the seven to nine hours of sleep required each night to function at their best during the day. Even if we manage to stay in bed that long, the quality is usually lacking. Poor quality sleep is associated with many physical and mental health concerns, from obesity to depression. Not getting enough sleep contributes to systemic inflammation, hormone imbalances and can impair our judgment much the same way as alcohol.
The two primary issues that we typically face are either difficulty falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night—or possibly both! Either way, sleep deprivation is a major concern that contributes to other deficits in our health and mental function.
When it comes to difficulty falling asleep, a racing mind is typically the cause. Insomnia or the inability to fall asleep is usually a result of too much stimulation. It certainly could be due to too much caffeine, but in most cases, it is our perpetual thoughts that are the culprit. Chronic anxiety and worry activate the sympathetic nervous system, causing a rise in cortisol levels. This puts us at a higher risk for health issues and disease; it’s also a massive cultural problem.
However, if we fall asleep without issue and often find ourselves waking up in the middle of the night, that’s an entirely different matter. The two most common causes of this phenomenon are either a dysfunction of metabolism or an out-of-sync circadian rhythm.
Metabolic issues can cause something referred to as “reactive hypoglycemia.” This is when our blood sugar drops in the middle of the night, causing us to wake up. In general, if we persist in eating a diet that is higher in sugar and refined grains, and have developed the habit of constant grazing throughout the day, our body demands that we continue this pattern throughout the night. Therefore, we end up waking in the middle of the night with the desire to eat. Some of you out there might have discovered that when you eat something, you go back to sleep quite easily. Otherwise the result could be an hour or two of tossing and turning before you can fall back to sleep.
One way to combat wakefulness during the night is to focus more on food quality. Eliminate refined flours, grains and sugars as much as possible, and replace them with complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and proteins—especially for your first meal of the day. By doing so, you help keep blood sugar fluctuations under control, rather than rapid spikes and drops. Blood sugar regulation is essential for mental clarity and metabolic balance.
The other big issue related to waking in the middle of the night is our circadian rhythm. Serotonin helps stimulate us to wake up and be productive, whereas melatonin causes a more relaxing effect and aids us in our ability to sleep in the evening. When these neurotransmitters become out of balance, our sleep becomes disrupted.
A primary cause of circadian rhythm dysfunction is the amount of artificial light that we are exposed to on a regular basis. In nature, the blue light frequency that radiates from the sun helps raise our serotonin level with the intention of stimulating wakefulness and productivity. On the other hand, when the sun goes down the blue light fades and is replaced by red light frequencies. As a result, our serotonin levels decline and melatonin levels rise, helping us get to sleep.
The primary driver of regulating our circadian rhythm since the beginning of time is the rising and setting of the sun. Unfortunately, modern day living conditions have created a disruptive pattern that confuses this system. Artificial light sources from electric lighting television and smart phone screens are unfortunately the main culprit.
Modern day lighting and electronic screens cast the same blue light frequency as the sun. Artificial sources of blue light cause our circadian rhythm to become confused. Spending several hours in front of a computer screen, smartphone, tablet or television—in addition to fluorescent and LED lighting—is a major health concern. When we send these signals to our brain at 9, 10 or 11 p.m., it confuses our brain and our circadian rhythm. So, you can see how this ends up being a significant problem. Sure you might pass out from exhaustion; but, if three or four hours later you find yourself staring at the ceiling wide awake, you should consider adopting a pre-bedtime routine that supports a healthy sleep pattern.
The easy answer to each of these two situations is to back off the sugar and refined grains throughout the day, and to unplug from electronics about two hours before you go to bed. Easy, right? I know that both of these suggestions seem challenging, but if you work on them a bit each day, I promise that it will get easier and you will notice a difference in your sleep quality.
Here are some suggestions to help get you going. For those who find it difficult to fall asleep, guided meditation and breathing exercises have been scientifically proven to reduce stress, calm the mind and aid in better sleep quality. It just takes time and patience. Try using the meditation apps “Calm” or “HeadSpace” while you are lying in bed.
As for combatting the amount of artificial blue light that we are exposed to, here are a few options:
- Try a pair of blue light blocking glasses. The Uvex Skyper blue light blockers are inexpensive, under $10, and cut out most of the blue light from electronic screens and lighting. Just be sure to put them on about the time the sun goes down.
- For those of you that spend most of your evenings on the computer, try a blue light blocking app such as “Iris” or “f.lux.”
- In your living space and bedroom, replace any fluorescent and LED lighting with warmer incandescent bulbs.
Regardless of what sleep issue you are dealing with, it takes time for our system to readjust and correct itself. But if you struggle with sleep, it is imperative that you invest the time and effort to fix the issue. Sleep inducing medications are not the answer. They do not allow the body and mind to engage in the therapeutic process needed to reset hormones, neurotransmitters and rebuild tissue.
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