Sleep is our most precious and often most over looked commodity. One question I ask my patients when doing nutritional consultations is how long and how well do you sleep? The reason for this is how well you sleep plays a significant role in how healthy and happy you are.
Statistics show that poor sleep plays a role in virtually every aspect of disease and disease related issues as well as performance. Despite the various mandates given on the amount of sleep that you need each of us has our own unique sleep requirement, which varies by age, sex, genetic and physiological factors. A good rule of thumb however is that a sufficient amount of sleep is that which allows for spontaneous awakening and leaves you with enough energy to feel refreshed and alert for the whole day.
There are many reasons why people don’t sleep well and with systematic evaluation the root cause can be uncovered and frequently resolved. Causes such as breathing problems, adrenal fatigue, drinking to much alcohol to late, shift work, worrying, hormonal changes, sleeping environment and even animals in your bed all play a role in how well you do or do not sleep.
Breathing: Sleep apnea is a condition in which you temporarily stop breathing while sleeping. It is more common than you would think and causes an individual to wake frequently through the night. Many times the individual isn’t even aware that this is occurring. More often it is the person that they sleep with who recognizes the irregularity in their breath or the fact that when they snore they sound as if they have temporarily stopped breathing. Diagnosis is relatively easy and involves doing a sleep study. If you require treatment for sleep apnea the results generally can and do make a significant difference. Aside from being more rested people report having more energy, getting sick less often and many even report weight loss.
Adrenal Fatigue: The adrenals are two small glands that sit on top of the kidneys and are responsible for multiple functions in the body but are especially helpful when responding to stress. They release what we call the “flight or fight” hormones. However, the adrenal glands do more than just release adrenaline when we get under stress. They control a whole host of other hormones. One hormone that the adrenal glands control is cortisol, which effects the sleep/wake cycle. When your cortisol rhythms are disrupted you cannot sleep well. Additionally, if you wake up between 1-3 AM your liver may be lacking the glycogen reserves needed by the body to keep blood glucose levels high enough through the night. So you literally wake up because you are hungry. This is easily remedied by eating a small high protein snack before bed such as peanut butter or cheese on a cracker.
Alcohol and Food: Many people use alcohol as their sedative to induce sleep. While it is true that alcohol may reduce the amount of time it takes to get to sleep, alcohol that is consumed close to bedtime has been shown to disrupt the second half of the sleep cycle. Eating and drinking late or too close to bedtime can cause heartburn and/or reflux, which disrupts sleep as acid backs up into the esophagus. If you have to eat late for whatever reason eat on the lighter side to avoid indigestion and disrupting your sleep patterns.
Worrying: Worrying about your relationship, money, your job and any big changes such as marriage, buying a house or starting a new job or even worrying about your sleep itself can all cause you to not sleep well. For some writing lists before the end of the day helps to organize them which let’s their brain take a rest. For others it is a matter of doing something calming such as taking a bath or meditating that redirects their mind. Some read and others watch TV. It’s helpful to remember that the old adage is still true, “Worrying never solved anything”.
Animals: Many sleep issues as well as back pains have been simply resolved by getting our beloved pets out of the bed. Don’t get me wrong I love my dog and she is the best snugger in the world, but if I ‘d let her she would have the whole king sized bed to herself before morning. Admittedly more than half of dog and cat owners sleep with their beloved pets. Whether it is dog, cat or whatever my experience is that people report they will constantly change their positions to accommodate their animals sacrificing their own comfort and disrupting their sleep.
Sleep Environment: Light in your bedroom can easily disrupt your sleep. Get rid of or cover ambient light such as alarm clocks, DVD players, cable boxes and using room darkening curtains and shades can significantly enhance your ability to sleep deeply.
According to leading sleep researchers the following are the top ten questions to ask yourself when trying to correct sleeping problems. Check out how your sleeping rates?
- Do you keep a regular sleep/wake cycle?
- Are you drinking or eating caffeine up to 6 hours before bedtime and are you mindful of your daytime consumption?
- Do you avoid smoking near bedtime or if you awaken in the night?
- Do you avoid alcohol and heavy meals later in the evening?
- Do you get regular exercise?
- Have you minimized noise, light and excessive hot or cold temperatures where you sleep?
- Do you go to bed at the same time each night?
- Can you awaken without an alarm clock?
- Do you sleep with animals in you bed?
- Do you have a successful method for dealing with excessive thoughts or worry while trying to go to sleep?