The Importance of Sleep and Getting Those Zzz's

Sleep makes you stronger, smarter and healthier.

Although most of us will sleep more than 25 years in our lifetimes, much of that sleep will lack the essential ingredients for wonderful, rejuvenative rest. Sleep is critical for the body and the brain, and this week we’ll take a closer look on the importance of getting some shuteye.

The brain goes through about five sleep cycles (90 minutes each) during a seven/eight hour sleep period. These are broken down into REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and Non-REM periods. During Non-REM periods we have lower brain activity, deeper sleep and muscle rejuvenation. During REM sleep we have increased brain activity, consolidation of emotions and memories and rejuvenation of the brain.

Here are some more benefits of sleep:

  • Improved energy: After seven-to-eight hours of restful sleep, the adrenal glands are fully rejuvenated and able to sustain strong energy levels throughout the day. 
  • Weight loss or management: Researchers studying sleep in teens found that a lack of sleep could lead to insulin resistance and possibly diabetes. Additionally, a recent study suggests that less sleep in men will increase their appetite while women feel less satiated. Both of these will lead to a larger waistline and increased risk of disease. 
  • Natural Detoxification: Between the hours of 10pm and 2am, the liver cleans itself. It has various phases of detoxification that take harmful toxins and chemicals in the body and gets rid of them. If you are not asleep during this time you will lose some of the benefit of the body’s natural detoxification. 
  • Sharper brain: Sleep is where we consolidate memories, convert them from short-term to long term. Deep sleep helps the neurons in our brain rest and rejuvenate.
  • Live longer: A very interesting 22 year long study of over 21,000 twins found that “risk of death being the smallest in average sleepers (7–8 hours).” In this study, it was not beneficial to sleep less than 7 hours and more than 8 hours. 

Although these are some of the most significant, there are many more benefits of healthy sleep. For some, getting good sleep can be difficult. Here are some tips on how to get healthy, rejuvenative sleep. 

  1. Light Dinner: Make breakfast or lunch your biggest meal, eat a light dinner, close the kitchen no later than 8 p.m. This will give your body time to digest and prepare for rejuvenation. 
  2. Turn down the noise: Melatonin is a sleep inducer and is released by the pineal gland when the brain senses darkness. If you are in front of the computer or TV you may not benefit from this process; 30-60 minutes before sleep, turn down the lights and the noise, prepare your body for sleep.
  3. What is your sleep routine? Consider a nice calming or sleep inducing herbal tea. Each night, about an hour before bedtime, turn down the noise, brew some sleepy tea, sit in a quiet place and do any of the following: talk to your spouse, read a book, meditate, breathe etc. 
  4. Ideal sleep hours 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.: Sleeping between 10pm and 6am allows you to take advantage of your natural liver detox and secretion of a powerful antioxidant and rejuvenator - glutathione peroxidase. 
  5. No upper or downers: Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine will keep you up and alcohol may disrupt your sleep by waking you up once the sedative effects wear off. 
  6. Get into a rhythm: The body loves rhythm, especially when it comes to sleep. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day will make sleep easier and your body happier. 
  7. Kick your spouse out of bed if you need to: Many people report that their spouse engages in sleep-disrupting behavior. This could be anything from snoring to watching TV. Your bed is for sleeping and if your spouse is making that difficult for you... Sofa city. 

Thanks for reading, and sweet dreams!

This column is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Naturopath Chris Ogilvie works at Integrative Health Center of Virginia. 


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