By Dr. Shari Jainuddin, ND
Sleep is, and has been, my number one health tip. I tell people off-the-cuff, “I never cheat on my sleep”. I made this commitment to myself and stayed committed even through situations that begged for pulling overnighters. I would tell myself that what I got done during the day had to be enough and if it wasn’t, then I’ll have to deal with those consequences. I’m thankful I kept this promise to myself and think it has significantly impacted my health and wellness for the positive and helped me survive years of living in survival mode.
Sleep. Sounds easy enough. We don’t really have to do anything; we actually have to do nothing! While we may think we are “doing nothing”, this is a busy time for the body. Here is a very crude, yet I feel effective, analogy.
At many large office buildings, employees are busy working during the day (think pre Covid-19 days). Garbage and messes are produced, supplies are used up. After hours, the building’s custodial employees come in and take out the garbage, get things straighten up and supplies restocked. (In this analogy, the custodial employees will only come to work if everyone has stopped working and gone home for the day.) If people never leave the office building or they leave but come back too quickly, their work is never completed. If this happens, over time the excessive accumulation of waste gets worse and begins to cause problems in the workplace: aisles get blocked, smells start to fill the air, supplies run out. The workplace becomes an overall place of disorganization, chaos, things no longer run smoothly, and workers are less and less productive. As with the custodial workers duties after normal business hours, during sleep our bodies are hard at work cleaning up waste products, repairing tissues, and regenerating “supplies” needed to function optimally. The disarray that happens in the office if this critical job does not take place or is never completed, is analogous to the disfunction and disease that can happen to us due to acute and chronic sleep deprivation. Increase risk of hypertension, diabetes, infection, certain cancers, anxiety, depression, weight gain, dementia, cardiovascular disease, an inability to concentrate, poor coordination, “crabbiness”, and numerous other health issues may be related to the quality and amount of sleep a person is getting.
Sleep is so critical to health. It cannot be overstated. Adults should get between 7-9 hours per night and teenagers should get more, about 9-10 hours per night. Contrary to popular belief, the elderly need 7-9 hours per night as well (although many of them will try to convince us otherwise 😊). As you are reflecting on how many hours you got last night, also contemplate how many hours you got when you felt great. Shoot for that number that made you feel great the next day. Determine when you want to wake up and do the math backwards to calculate when you should be sleeping by and go back one more hour, an hour before bedtime. Use this as a time to start getting ready for bed and slowing down for the night.
There is the saying, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. But little do many people know, skipping sleep may put them there a lot sooner than planned. It is that important. Getting an adequate amount of sleep supports the immune system, mental health, and our ability to optimally function and handle the stressors of the day. Ironically, sleep is not always as easy as “doing nothing”. (Yes, I’ve had and do have my fair share of trials with it.) It is not typically just one factor that contributes to difficulties with sleep; our lifestyle has us wired to be “on” and it is not always easy to turn “off”. Medications may also play a role in sleep disturbances. In our Live Well @ Home Video Series – 5 Ways to De-stressing Your Immune System at Home video (click here: https://youtu.be/pGoG2OMcB8I), I discuss some tips that address common contributing factors and will point you there for more information. And as always, make sure you discuss your sleep habits and any concerns you may have with your doctor.
Wishing you a restful night’s sleep!