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.
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.
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!