The Epidemic That's Killing Us Softly

Posted by Jennie Ann Freiman MD on

Faceplant into the spaghetti at dinner? Cranky, clumsy, can’t focus? Those the least of the problems for anyone suffering sleep deprivation. Solid research from around the globe finds that during sleep we actively flush out brain toxins, regulate hormones, repair and regenerate damaged cells, and strengthen the immune system. Impaired quality or quantity of sleep is scientifically related to an increase risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, depression, cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, obesity, immune suppression and cancer. The senior author of a recent comprehensive review of Sleep And Human Aging offered this wake up call, “Nearly every disease killing us later in life has a causal link to lack of sleep.” Ebola may strike fear in your heart, but sleeplessness is the real threat.


Adults need an average of 7 - 8 hours of quality sleep every day. These steps help channel the inner night owl:

1. Starting at least two hours before bedtime:
    ▪    Finish eating dinner
    ▪    No vigorous exercise
    ▪    No stimulants (caffeine, smoking)
    ▪    Dim the lights
    ▪    Limit alcohol

Foods rich in tryptophan and/or vitamin B6, both building blocks for melatonin, the sleep hormone, are good choices for the last meal of the day. Options include elk, poultry, fish, seafood, chickpeas, hummus, eggs, beans, lentils, quinoa and walnuts. A small amount of carbs push tryptophan into the brain, where it’s needed. Dairy, leafy green vegetables and other calcium-rich foods guide the brain processing of tryptophan. Almonds, rich in magnesium, and tart cherry juice, a natural source of melatonin, also help.  Remember that caffeine is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola drinks and some pain killers. Alcohol may help with falling asleep, but once it wears off, sleep is more likely to be disrupted.

2. Keep the bedroom cool, dark, quiet, clean:
    ▪    Lower the bedroom temperature to a sleep-promoting 65ºF (18ºC)
    ▪    Block out all light with black-out curtains or sleep mask
    ▪    Cancel all noise with ear plugs or white noise machine, such as a fan
    ▪    Populate the bedroom with large leaf plants which filter indoor pollution + allergens
    ▪    Ban electronics

Hunter-gatherers matched the body’s daily rhythms to natural light, but in modern times, the sun has lots of competition. Artificial light confuses the sleep-wake cycle, interfering with both the quality and quantity of nightly shuteye. Blue light, emitted by electronics (computer, tablet, smartphone, TV, digital display alarm clock/radio), LED and fluorescent lighting, suppresses melatonin more than any other form of light.

3. Create a routine:
    •    Go to bed at the same time every day, even on the weekend
    •    Get natural light first thing in the morning
    •    Exercise daily

Routine allows the sleep-wake cycle to operate at peak performance. Bedtime no later than 11pm helps prevent a surge in cortisol, a wake-up hormone. As soon as the alarm goes off in the morning, distinguish the bedroom as a sanctuary of sleep by throwing open the curtains. Natural light signals it’s time for melatonin production to quiet down. Make room for sleep-promoting exercise during the day, and if you have to nap, keep it short and no later than at 3 pm.

4. What about sleeping pills?
Sedatives offer sedation, a quick fix, not the quality, restorative sleep needed for health. Long term use of sleeping pills is risky and stopping them can lead to rebound insomnia, an inability to sleep that’s even worse than the original problem. At best, sleeping pills should only be used short term. Try natural sleep remedies instead:
    ▪    Acupuncture
    ▪    Aromatherapy: put 1 drop of organic lavender oil on a cotton ball, leave at bedside
    ▪    Tart cherry juice, ½ cup shortly before bedtime
    ▪    Chamomile or passion flower tea, 1 cup before bedtime

5. Any other tips?
    ▪    Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex: it’s not a home office or movie theater
    ▪    Meditate to reduce sleep-interfering stress
    ▪    Take a hot bath before bedtime. Body temperature drops when you get out, inducing drowsiness
    ▪    Avoid drugs that interfere with sleep, including SSRI anti-depressants, beta-blockers, antihistamines
    ▪    Rule out sleep-disturbing medical conditions: sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, etc

It turns out “get some sleep” is great advice. Your health and wellness depend on it.

Disclaimer: This article was created for informational purposes only, is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Oobroo™ Inc or its staff.

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  • Always so wonderful to read and re-read what corroborates the way I live… most of the time!

    Lise Vachon on

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