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December 11th 2012

The Best Medicine: Sleep

Sleep
has come into the spotlight again. From the days of “high carb, low
fat” diets and the “sleep is for pussies” era, we have arrived at an
unhealthy place. One of the initial ways to get your health back on
track is to improve your sleep. The reasons for improving sleep are
abundantly beneficial and affordable. Here’s how “early to bed and early
to rise” will benefit your health.

Benefits

Some of the main benefits of a great night’s sleep are: One, you will
think clearer and have a consistently better mood pattern. Two, you
will potentially lose weight or change your body composition. The
potential to burn fat and build muscle increases when you get
appropriate rest. Three, you will look better because your healing and
replenishing patterns will be able to do their job. Four, you will help
all of your hormones get back towards a natural state.

When 8 hours isn’t really 8 hours!

Eight hours really isn’t eight hours unless you live in a box with no
light. Our body is programmed to deal with light rhythms, known as the
circadian rhythm, in that your body’s hormones rise and fall with your
exposure to light. So midnight to 8 a.m. is not going to give you the
same replenishing rest as going to bed at 10 p.m. and sleeping until 6
a.m. Here’s why: At night your cortisol level starts to fall, and your
melatonin level starts to rise. You simply get the best sleep when your
cortisol levels are lower and your melatonin levels are higher. This is
abundantly clear when you realize that the main job of cortisol is to
increase blood sugar for immediate use in physical and emotional stress
and that of melatonin is to cause drowsiness and lower body
temperature.  Cortisol starts to change direction and swing back up
around 1-2 a.m. when melatonin is decreasing. Are you still sleeping
when this happens? Yes, but the quality of your sleep diminishes as the
waking hormone, cortisol,  rises and the sleeping hormone, melatonin,
falls. Ok, now for the doubters out there: some studies say we were
two-phase sleepers back “in the day”. The sun went down, we slept for
four hours, woke up for two social or productive hours, and then slept
another four. The problem with this sleep model today is that now we
have MML ( man-made light ). Remember all forms of  light can kill
melatonin secretion, and the environment we are dealing with, MML from
computer screens, TVs and light fixtures forces us to be highly
efficient sleepers and pack in a solid eight hours in order to get
enough rest. Most of us don’t have 10 hours of darkness to play with!

“Fix It” Strategies

The first and simplest ( not easiest ) way to improve your sleep
quality is to start turning down your electronics as early as possible. I
am an advocate of putting my phone on “airplane mode” at 8 p.m. Most of
my friends and clients know that if I’m not answering, I’m sleeping, or
getting ready to. Avoid checking email and doing business unless it is
urgent. What I’m saying is: start winding down and reduce your external
stimuli as much as possible.  Second, get your room as dark as you can,
get blackout curtains, and keep the room at a cool temperature. NO
light, period! That means no digital clocks, TVs,  VCRs  or other
blinking type indicators. Some folks go as far as taking all electronics
out of the bedroom. Reserve your bedroom for two things, sex and sleep.

The other way to help you monitor your sleep is with an iPhone application like Sleep by MotionX,
which not only monitors your sleep, but also has an alarm that wakes
you at the optimal time in your sleep cycle. That way, you have an
easier time getting those feet on the floor and starting the day! I use
this monitoring system EVERY night. It also shows me how long it took me
to fall asleep, how long I slept, and it shows my light sleep and deep
sleep cycles. You can even use it to track your heart rate! They say one
of the best ways to improve something is by monitoring it.  “Wait a
minute!  You just told me to shut off my electronics and now you want me
to sleep with them?” No. Shut down your electronics earlier in the
evening. This means turning down your screen brightness, getting your
phone on ‘Airplane Mode’ and setting your alarm. Then when you get into
bed, all you have to do is start your Sleep by MotionX timer and you are off to lala land. No melatonin spared.

Wrap Up

Improving your quality of sleep is a major player in total health.
Getting good quality sleep and letting your body repair and rejuvenate
can really improve your overall quality of life. For practically every
health and lifestyle issue out there, good sleep is a positive adjunct
to improving everything you do, and how you feel about it! Do the best
you can and take small steps in improving your sleep.  You will see: It
will make you Stronger, Healthier, and Happier!

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