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“Sleep is the golden chain that binds health and our bodies together,” - Thomas Dekker
At its core, sleep is the way in which our brains and bodies restore, repair, and prepare for the following day. Without it, we cannot function properly. In fact, Dr. Matthew Walker, neuroscientist and author of Why We Sleep: The Power of the Mind and Dreams, stated that, “Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer.”
This is, in part, because our stages of sleep target specific recovery processes, and when compromised, bodily systems do not receive the attention needed to function optimally:
Stage Zero, Awake: 2-5% of the average sleep cycle. This stage accounts for the time when you first attempt to start falling asleep.
Stage 1, Light Sleep: 10% of the average sleep cycle. Stage one is characterized by a decrease in heart rate and breathing, a drop in body temperature, and muscles may relax and jerk. It is typically easier to wake up during light sleep and return to normal function. The brain is still fairly active in this stage, producing slow brain waves that occur mostly in the frontal lobe.
Stage 2, Light Sleep: Nearly 50% of the average sleep cycle. Stage two is similar to stage one yet set apart by the brain producing rapid, rhythmic waves of activity (known as spindles). Some experts hypothesize this is the brain consolidating, processing, and filtering memories acquired from the day.
Stages 3, Deep Sleep: Approximately 13-23% of the average sleep cycle. In deep sleep, blood pressure continues to drop as the body goes into recovery mode. Growth hormone is released and blood flow to muscles increases in order to begin tissue repair. The brain produces long, slow brain waves and it becomes more difficult to wake up in these stages, leaving you feeling groggy.
Stage 4, REM Sleep: Accounts for 20-25% of the average sleep cycle. REM sleep is characterized by “rapid eye movement” and is the stage in which your mind is recharged and re-energized. The previous stages are considered NREM stages (non-rapid-eye-movement stages).
REM sleep is characterized by increased heart rate, increased respiration, a lack of temperature regulation, spikes in brain activity, vivid dreams, immobility, and is associated with benefits for learning and memory.
REM sleep begins approximately 70-90 minutes after falling asleep.
Research suggests that sleep cycle stages three and four are particularly critical to overall health and a lack of either will leave you feeling tired, impairing cognitive and physical function.
An average sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes. You need about four to six cycles of sleep every 24 hours to feel refreshed and rested.
Despite the need for at least seven hours of sleep per night, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), over 70% of adults in America report that they do not get enough sleep on a regular basis and, over 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems.
Chronic sleep problems can be due to or exacerbated by certain health conditions such as Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Lyme disease, autoimmune disorders, and more as they are linked to disturbed sleep, significantly more nighttime awakenings, and unrefreshing sleep.
Short-term symptoms of a lack of sleep:
Long-term symptoms of sleep loss:
Hormones are critical chemical messengers that are the way in which cells send signals to trigger virtually anything from hunger to sex drive.
Supported thyroid function: A lack of sleep affects your ability to manufacture thyroid hormone properly, is associated with an elevated Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) level — which is associated with hypothyroidism — and may impair T4 to T3 conversion, a crucial process for thyroid function.
Increased growth hormone production: Healthy sleep is linked to higher levels of growth hormone, which can help with weight loss and metabolism.
Balanced adrenal function: Sleep deprivation is one of the main causes of adrenal burnout, which in turn can lead to worsening adrenal fatigue, lowered immunity, increased belly fat, and worsening sleep patterns.
Less cravings: Hormones control appetite and when lacking sleep, you are more likely to crave simple carbohydrates and junk food, making it more likely that you will consume more calories.
Supported insulin levels: Lowers your insulin sensitivity and may be a risk factor for insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes reduces levels of the hormone glucagon, which helps release fat from your cells. Less sleep means less fat is released.
A specific study on overworked physicians demonstrated the clear connection between sleep and mental performance. This study found that doctors with moderate, high, and very high sleep-related impairment were 54%, 96%, and 97% more likely to report clinically significant medical errors. Other studies have yielded similar results showing that sleep can improve academic performance in children, adolescents, and young adults.
There is a large body of research that demonstrates that sleep is linked to physical performance. Sleep is correlated to enhanced:
Compromised heart health is one of the potential long-term consequences of sleep deprivation. An analysis of nearly 20 studies found that fewer than 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis resulted in a 13% increased risk of death from heart disease. There is even evidence that each one-hour decrease in nightly sleep may potentially be linked with a 6% increased risk of mortality and heart disease.
A lack of sleep is directly correlated to impaired immunity and an increased risk of illness. In fact, a lack of sleep decreases the activity of natural killer T cells in the body by ~30% drop, according to Dr. Walker. Moreover, in one study participants who slept fewer than 5 hours per night were 4.5 times more likely to develop a cold compared to those who slept more than 7 hours. Those who slept 5–6 hours were 4.24 times more likely.
Poor sleep can cause inflammation throughout the body. This is because sleep is critical in the central nervous system, particularly the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Sleep loss, especially from disturbed sleep, is known to activate inflammatory signaling pathways and lead to higher levels of undesirable markers of inflammation, like interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein.
Structure Your Sleep: Having a set schedule allows your body to naturally start winding down around your bedtime and naturally start waking up around your wake time. Pick a bedtime and a wake-up time to support a regular, healthy circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is the principal driver of your sleep routine. It is defined as your body’s internal clock, a 24-hour cycle that maintains the balance between sleep and wakefulness.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene: Sleep hygiene is a concept that was developed in the 1970s to assess the sleeping habits of those with mild to moderate insomnia. In short, sleep hygiene is the habits you have developed around sleep. To practice good sleep hygiene, consider the following:
Exercise Regularly: Today, the average person spends more than half their day sitting and the typical office worker spends 15 hours a day sitting. Thus, many of us just may lack the activity our body requires to “feel tired” and get a restful night’s sleep: you simply may just be “too awake.” One study found that regular exercise nearly halved the amount of time it took older adults to go to sleep and provided, on average, 41 minutes more sleep per night.
Consider Your Diet: If you struggle with falling asleep, it is essential to avoid coffee starting in the afternoon. Research suggests that coffee up to six hours before bedtime can negatively influence sleep quality.
It is also beneficial to avoid eating late (after 8 pm) and avoid drinking alcohol at night as it negatively affects the hormonal cycles involved with sleep. Specifically, alcohol is known to alter the production of melatonin, the “sleep hormone,” and disrupt sleep patterns.
Still need help getting a truly restful night’s sleep? Contact us today and our team of licensed physicians will uncover the root cause and empower you to feel refreshed and rested again.
Holtorf Medical GroupThe Holtorf Medical Group specializes in optimizing quality of life and being medical detectives to uncover the underlying cause of symptoms, rather than just prescribing medications to cover-up the symptoms. We are experts in natural, prescription bioidentical hormone replacement and optimization, complex endocrine dysfunction, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease. We’ve dedicated our practice to providing you the best in evidenced-based, integrative medicine that’s not only safe and effective, but provides measurable results.
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