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Sleep: how to get more of it!

Updated: Jun 4, 2020

Why we need sleep and recommended hours

Adequate sleep is needed for brain health and for many processes in the body including metabolism, appetite, regulation of the immune and cardiovascular systems and hormone production. Normal sleep can be characterized by good quality and length, consistency and timing and a lack of sleep disturbances or disorders [1].

But how much sleep do you actually need? The CDC breaks down the numbers [2]:


According to the Public Health Agency of Canada [3],

  • 1 in 4 adults aged 18-34

  • 1 in 3 adults aged 35-64

  • 1 in 4 adults aged 65-79 Are not getting enough sleep...

There are approximately 100 sleep disorders and they fall into 3 main categories: sleep deprivation (a lack of quality or amount), disrupted sleep (inability to maintain sleep) and events that happen during sleep (such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome) [1].

Short- and long-term consequences of disrupted sleep

We sleep about one-third of our lives to allow the body to restore and rejuvenate, to be able to get through the other two thirds productively and energetically [4]. Because sleep is so vital to many bodily processes, its disruption can have significant short- and long-term effects. In the short term, a lack of sleep can cause stress, somatic pain (skin, tissue or muscle pain), psychological issues and decreased cognition, memory and performance. In the long term, disrupted sleep may cause high blood pressure, dyslipidemia (high amounts of fatty substances in the blood), cardiovascular disease, weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and an increased risk of certain cancers [1].

Some people are short sleepers and feel rested on less than 6 hours of sleep per night. But this is not in the majority (only 1% of the population) [5] and there is research to suggest it may be due to genetic variations [6]. If you never feel rested in the morning, are you taking a long time to fall asleep due to racing thoughts or are you waking frequently in the night?

Management

A Naturopathic Doctor can tackle sleep issues from multiple angles with treatments ranging from lifestyle recommendations to herbs, supplements and acupuncture. However, at the foundation of these treatments are root cause. If it’s stress, let’s address that!

To start, here are just a few lifestyle recommendations for improved sleep:

  1. Alcohol. I recently watched a Netflix documentary called “The Truth About Alcohol”. It explained that alcohol helps you fall asleep but later disturbs your sleep the second half of the night.

  2. Caffeine. Try not to consume this after 12pm. Its half-life (the time it takes half to be eliminated from your body) is 3-5 hours. The other half can stay in your body longer [7].

  3. Electronics. Avoid looking at screens before bed as the blue light can decrease your melatonin production [8]. You could set your computer to night shift using programs such as f.lux or use amber tinted glasses. But keep in mind that checking your phone, answering e-mails or scrolling through pictures doesn’t allow the brain to turn off before sleep. Try to avoid this 30min-1hour before sleep.

  4. Your room should be pitch black and cooler to what is comfortable (between 60-67 Fahrenheit or around 15.5-19 Celsius) [9]

Disrupted sleep has many risk factors including lifestyle, environmental, psychological, having a sleep disorder or a medical condition [1]. It’s important these be assessed by a healthcare professional.

References:

  1. Medic, G., Wille, M. and Hemels, M.E. 2017. Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Nature and Science of Sleep. 9:151-161. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5449130/

  2. How Much Sleep Do I need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed from: https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html

  3. What happens when you sleep? National Sleep Foundation. Accessed from: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/what-happens-when-you-sleep

  4. A tiny percentage of the population needs only 4 hours of sleep per night. Business Insider. Accessed from: https://www.businessinsider.com/people-who-sleep-short-hours-2015-11

  5. Pellegrinoi, R. et al. 2014. A novel BHLHE41 variant is associated with short sleep and resistance to sleep deprivation in humans. Sleep. 37(8):1327-1336. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25083013

  6. Sleep Education. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Accessed from: http://sleepeducation.org/news/2013/08/01/sleep-and-caffeine

  7. Figueiro, M.G., Wood, B., Plitnick, B. and Rea, MS. 2011. The impact of light from computer monitors on melatonin levels in college students. Neuro Endocrinology Letters. 32(2): 158-163. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21552190

  8. Find out what the ideal thermostat setting is to help you snooze longer. The National Sleep Foundation. Accessed from: https://www.sleep.org/articles/temperature-for-sleep/

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