Radically Resilient Health Podcast
SLEEP: A WAKE-UP CALL
Written by Leah GiaQuinta, PT and Carolyn Dolan, DPT, Cert MDT, MSHN
Most of us have encountered the stigmas of American sleep culture in one form or another. We see it posted in memes, hung up in our favorite coffee shops, and plastered on souvenirs when traveling through the Big Apple. New York City: The City that never Sleeps. If sleep deprivation equates with productivity, entertainment, and fun, does that inherently associate healthy sleep habits with a lazy, boring, and inactive lifestyle? Of course we know that with anything and everything, perfection is the enemy of good enough. But we might take a closer look into some of these myths about sleep. While we may spend a third of our lives sleeping, sleep is not unproductive.
The “Beauty” of Sleep
Though we observe sleep as a reduction in consciousness, sleep is far from the absence of activity. Our sleep cycles offer an incredibly active and dynamic process of rest and recovery. During sleep, our bodies are able to synchronize systems and organs, which in turn offers an optimal physiological environment for healing. More specifically, other benefits of healthy sleep habits include the following:
1. Improved Cognitive function: only during this decreased state of consciousness can our brains synthesize memories and solve problems. Struggling with a work or life conflict? Sleep on it!
2. Calmed Nervous System: this allows our bodies to regulate stress and pain. The Dali Lama himself said, “sleep is the best meditation.”
3. Hormone Regulation: Sleep facilitates normal physiological processes with our hormones. Our cortisol levels tend to dip around bedtime, but they increase through the night during sleep to stimulate wakefulness in the morning.
4. Benefits to our eating habits: hormones ghrelin and leptin help to regulate appetite centers. When we are tired, we are hungry. Sometimes Angry. Sometimes Hangry! No physiological state is more unproductive than a hangry one.
5. Connectedness: Healthy sleep routines allow families an opportunity to connect with each other before bedtime. When we unplug our screens, we often establish meaningful connections with the relationships off the screens, whether that means encouraging storytime, family game night, or evening conversations.
Conversely, there are many health detriments as a result of sleep deprivation. Behaviorally, may find ourselves making poor food choices or opting for more coffee than is optimal. Physiologically, we may experience a slower rate of recovery from an injury, or more noticeably, an increased state of pain associated with it. While we may spend a third of our lives sleeping, our bodies are never “asleep at the wheel.”
How much is enough?
The National Sleep Foundation offers these daily recommendations for sleep:
When it comes to sleep, there are some factors that we can control and some that we cannot. Many of us have work requirements, at home or in our careers, that keep us up at night. Since our bodies’ cortisol levels are dependent on sunlight, we find our sleep systems out of whack when we are required to spend many hours indoors. Screentime is another sleep disruptor that has been required of us in exponential time quantities in the wake of this current global pandemic. Dietary factors might be our most manageable metrics to manipulate. Our daily intake of caffeine and alcohol directly affects our bodies’ ability to sleep, and high-carb diets can disrupt cortisol levels by stressing our bodies with insulin production. But despite all of these obstacles that get in the way of hitting the recommended hours listed above, our bodies are resilient in creating adaptations when we require them to do so. The ability to fall asleep and wake up rested is key. Philosopher George Gurdjieff said it best: “Rest comes not from the quantity but from the quality of sleep.”
Sleep Like a Baby
The good news is that there are many things we can do to combat the elements that keep us from a good night’s sleep. Here are a few tips for encouraging good sleep habits:
1. Environment: Keep your bedroom cool and dark. Blackout curtains help eliminate light, and ideal environmental sleeping temperatures range between 60-72 ℉.
2. Unplug the screens: Turn off all screens 1-2 hours before bedtime, and try to keep screens out of your bedroom. It’s important to decrease our bodies’ stimulation over blue light exposure, so if screen time is necessary, try using blue light blocking glasses to assist with your evening routine. You can also try installing F.lux onto your computer to dim blue lights according to the normal sun cycle
3. Eat nutrient-dense foods: While making healthy changes to your nutritional intake often results in increased energy throughout the day, you may also become more sensitive to signals that your body is tired. We often are more apt to recognize the signs our bodies communicate with us because our gut-brain connections become more fine-tuned. Eating nutrient-dense foods will facilitate an enhanced physiological system that in turn enables you to hear what your body needs – including sleep. Eating processed foods will do the opposite, shutting off our brains from our bodies.
4. Get outside and move: When we are able to get out in the sunshine, our bodies are able to convert cholesterol to Vitamin D, which is important for improving sleep. Movement and exercise will also improve sleep, regardless of the daily time table. Contrary to popular belief, exercise does not necessarily adversely affect sleep if it takes place near bedtime (1). There are far greater improvements in health by exercising than not, as long as it doesn’t drastically alter bedtime or wake-time routines.
5. Avoid/minimize alcohol and caffeine: There are many studies to support the effects of stimulants and depressants with sleep. Alcohol has been proven to delay sleep onset and disrupt the second half of sleep (2). It is also known to disrupt our bodies’ circadian gene clock (3). Caffeine can also affect circadian rhythms. Try to keep consumption of caffeine to a minimum and before noon to allow it to clear your system prior to bedtime.
6. Make it a routine: There are books coaching parents all over the world on developing routines for healthy sleep habits for children. The same goes for adults. Make a plan, carry it through, find what works, and make adjustments as necessary.
Optimizing our sleep is important. Sleep deprivation presents a real obstacle for many of us; however, our bodies are resilient and can handle our fluctuating stages of life that often present us with sleep loss. Work schedules require routines that may not be optimal, but adjusting other lifestyle choices may be helpful to maintain the healthiest balance. Of course, if none of these factors are effective and you still find yourself having trouble sleeping, always refer to a sleep specialist. If these lifestyle changes do begin to make a difference and you need an extra boost in balancing the variables for your sleep routine, supplements like Vitakinetics can help to support you in the interim. After all, “Vita” means “life!” Instead of pushing back sleep ‘til you’re dead, we hope that by adding sleep to your “productivity list,” you might come alive in the process!
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