Sleep, lack of sleep…it’s impact on your health, and what you can do to improve it.

Sleep Blog

Sleep is one of the simplest things you can do to improve your health…but for some, sleep seems elusive. Either you struggle with falling asleep, staying asleep through the night, waking up after a night of sleep feeling exhausted, or some combination of all of the above. Many of us know, obviously, when we’re tired sleep helps to restore our energy levels…but do you know the other benefits to sleep? Do you know how sleep deprivation can adversely impact your pain levels? And are you aware that there are ways to improve your quality of sleep? We will discuss all of these in the following article.

Sleep not only helps to restore energy levels, it actually effects every part of the body. So here is a list of some of benefits of sleep:

  1. Weight: Studies show that people that get adequate amounts of quality sleep, weigh less than those that that were sleep deprived. Also, studies show in dieters those that got adequate amounts of sleep lost more fat than those that were sleep deprived; those that were sleep deprived lost more muscle…both groups lost relatively equal amounts of actual weight.
  2. Pain: Suffering from chronic pain can disrupt your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Unfortunately when your pain starts disrupting your sleep it begins a negative feedback loop that can actually decrease your pain tolerance. So, the more sleep deprived your are the more pain you experience…that’s why sleep is so crucial when dealing with chronic pain issues. But it is definitely a battle to get adequate sleep when dealing with pain issues.
  3. Memory: Sleeping helps with memory, as it allows the brain to eliminate a lot of the unnecessary information you encountered during your waking hours. Sleep also helps with learning…a process called consolidation allow you to essentially practice skills learned during your waking hours, while you sleep. This made sense to me when I thought about it…I remember learning to drive a manual transmission and can remember waking up from dreams where I just kept picturing the gear shift and repeating, “1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, reverse” over and over. I also remember in college a few times where I was trying to memorize anatomy or chemistry formulas, and would wake up repeating them over and over in my head. The brain retains things best with repetition or practice…but that only goes so far. If you are not filtering out all of the unnecessary things you encountered in your day when you sleep, you’re mind becomes overloaded. It’s like when your smartphone or computer is at or near capacity for memory…it runs MUCH slower, and does not function as it should. But you’re brain not only negates unnecessary information acquired during the day, it also reorganizes information stored in the brain which can lead to more creativity in addition to better brain function 😉 .
  4. Hyperactivity: Hyperactivity (both mentally and physically) can be caused by lack of sleep, especially in children. Research shows that children react to sleep deprivation differently than most adults do, whereas most adults feel tired and drained, children actually become hyper. However, some adults can experience hyperactivity when sleep deprived, but more likely they will feel more scatter brained. They may feel as if their mind is running a mile a minute, and they’re unable to keep up…they may then be left with fragmented and incomplete thoughts. When you’re brain is firing so fast you can’t physically keep up, this can lead to memory problems, because you get too far ahead of yourself.
  5. Inflammation: Inflammation is linked to a number of autoimmune and chronic diseases. Sleep helps to not only regenerate & repair tissue but it also can decrease inflammation. Studies show that people that get 6 hours of sleep or less per night, have higher levels of C-Reactive protein (CRP) in their blood. CRP is a protein that is produced by the body in response to injury, your levels also rise when there are higher levels of inflammation in the body. When we sleep, since our bodies are healing and repairing damaged tissues, our levels of CRP can decrease. The more nights in a row you get adequate sleep, the more likely you are able lower you CRP  overall. So, if you’re feeling extra stiff and feel as if your inflammation levels are higher than normal, you should make an extra effort to get some more Zzz’s.
  6. Mental Health: One of the biggest thing that sleep influences is mental health. If you are not getting adequate amounts of sleep, studies show that you are at higher risk of developing depression. If your job and life prevent you from sleeping adequately during the week, studies show that sleeping longer on the weekends does not make up for the missed sleep during the week. You need to be consistent with your sleep routine. Studies suggest getting sufficient sleep is associated with mental stability, other studies suggest that chronic sleep disruption lead to emotional vulnerability and negative thinking.

Like I said earlier, for some sleep is elusive…you lay there trying to fall asleep, but you cannot fall asleep. You’re brain may be working overtime and you may struggle to fall asleep because you cannot quiet your mind or thoughts enough to drift off to sleep. Some people may struggle with pain and trying to fall asleep, finding it difficult to find a position that gives enough of a relief from pain to allow sleep. Regardless of what your struggle is with sleep, it’s time to start fighting back. Here are a list of a few things that can help improve your sleep:

  • Develop a routine…Go to bed at the same time every night (I personally, try to make sure my butt is in bed at 10pm). If you like to sleep in on the weekends, most sleep experts recommend that you don’t alter your schedule by more than 30 minutes…unless you are exhausted and have not been sleeping well. Then you may require more sleep. Also when you are ill, your body requires more rest and sleep so it can fight infection. With your routine, you should incorporate a few things that relax you and promote sleep. Start them around the same time every night, regardless of if you are sleepy or not…basically you are training yourself to sleep, the same as you would train yourself to get up at the same time daily. Once you get acclimated to this routine, you should find it easier to get to sleep. This is something I used to struggle with for years. I’m naturally a night owl, I could stay up until 2/3/4am without a problem…but it became a problem when it was time to get up in the morning. I finally decided to give the sleep routine a try, and it works. It didn’t take me long, but I try to be in bed by 10. Normally I’m asleep within 30 minutes or so of hitting the sack. There are nights that I don’t fall asleep until 11 or 11:30, but that’s MUCH better than 3 or 4 am! So give it a try, and give it some time…say 2 or 3 months.
  • Try to only use your bed for sleep…no sitting on it doing homework, work, or any other wakeful activity. We are creatures of habit and routine, if you only associate your bed with sleeping and rest, then you’re more likely to have less trouble falling asleep.
  • Try soaking in a hot bath…some people find that soaking in a hot epsom salt bath helps to sooth aches, reduce inflammation, and help with a more restful night sleep. Since epsom salt is a form of magnesium, this does make sense. Magnesium helps to relax muscles and promotes a more restful sleep. Although you are not going to absorb enough to avoid supplementing if you’re deficient, it should be enough to help with sleep.
  • Find something that consistently helps to relax you, or makes you fall asleep regularly. In college it was forcing myself to read a text book 😉 but it worked like a charm… Crocheting is something else that works well for me. Reading, listening to a guided meditation or relaxing music, deep breathing exercises, counting backward from 1,000, anything that may relax you to sleep…and make it part of your routine!
  • Supplements…there are many supplements that can help with sleep
    • Melatonin- I’ve talked a lot about Melatonin in previous blogs, but it really can help you to get a better night’s sleep if you’re not sleeping well. It normally will not cause you to fall asleep. So, if falling asleep is an issue, you’ll have to add something else. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body that helps stimulate Stage IV (REM) sleep. Click the linked melatonin at the beginning of the paragraph to be referred to an earlier blog on the subject.
    • L-Theanine- L-Theanine is an amino acid that promotes relaxation and can be helpful in inducing sleep in those that have a hard time relaxing. L-Theanine comes from tea leaves, but in much smaller amounts than you would get in a supplements. Most therapeutic dosages range from 200-250mg.
    • GABA- GABA, like Melatonin, is produced by the body. GABA actually helps with anxiety and restlessness. Combined with Melatonin is can help one to fall asleep naturally. My favorite GABA supplement can be found here.
    • Magnesium- Magnesium deficiency is VERY common, and is not normally detected by a blood panel. You can have a mild deficiency and your labs will appear normal. Magnesium deficiency can cause a number of problems, but one of them is sleeplessness. So try taking a magnesium supplement at bed time. It can also help relax the muscles as well. My favorite it Natural CALM. I also have an entire blog dedicated to Magnesium that can be found here.
    • Diphenhydramine- Diphenhydramine, aka Benadryl, is the active part of Tylenol PM and other similar OTC medications. Many people find that this anti-histamine makes them drowsy, and if it makes you drowsy as well it may be a good option for you to help you fall asleep.
    • Chamomile- Many people tout the benefits of chamomile tea helping them to fall asleep, but researchers say that studies do back up those claims. As with most supplements, it may not work for everyone but chamomile can help you to fall asleep. The two main cautions for this supplement are: 1) if you’re allergic to ragweed you will want to avoid this, because the plants are from the same plant family, 2) as with most supplements you will want to avoid this if you are pregnant or breast feeding.
    • Valerian & Kava- both of these supplements are plant based and have a long history of being used for help with sleep, as well as being used as a tranquilizer. Modern science tells us that these work well for some as a temporary solution, may 2-4 weeks max, and these may cause grogginess for some in the morning. In addition, they come with quite a list of things that you have to avoid if you decide to take these…so do some research before you try these out. I personally try to avoid supplements that have a long list of thing that they interact with. Although I don’t take any daily medications, I think it’s better to be safe than sorry.
    • 5 HTP- 5 HTP is another supplement that you hear many people recommend along side Melatonin. However, I rarely recommend this supplement because of the variety of medications it interacts with as well as how it reacts in the body. 5 HTP is a by product of L-Tryptophan (yes the sleepy Amino Acid in Turkey) that increases Serotonin production in the brain.  The problem? Most anti-depressants also increase Serotonin and you can get too much of this chemical, so if you have been prescribed an anti-depressant it’s best to leave this supplement alone. Too much Serotonin is associated with heart problems and anxiety. I’ve known quite a few people who don’t take any medications that have tried this supplement and felt it made them “crazy”, one person in particular stated she felt like it made her manic depressive. When she took it she would run really high and feel invincible (manic) and the next minute she was crying for unknown reasons. This is why I generally avoid this supplement. However, there are some that find that it works for them…if you decide this one may be a good fit for you, I like this one it actually contains the L-Theanine (they label it as Suntheanine) and Melatonin in it to support sleep and it’s chewable so it’s faster acting.
    • As with any supplement ALWAYS check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any supplement. Many supplements can interact adversely with each other, in addition to acting adversely with your prescription medications.
  • Cut the caffeine….Caffeine can help with energy during the day, but it actually takes quite a while for it’s effects to fully leave your system. It’s best to cut caffeine out all together and only use it occasionally. However, if you do decide to keep it in your routine, make sure you don’t consume any within 3-4 hours of sleep.
  • Eating habits…Avoiding big meals right before bed can help with sleep. Since our bodies are really only proficient at performing one task at a time, it’s best not to eat within 2 hours of bed time so our bodies have had sufficient time to metabolize our food. Also there are a few foods that can help with a better sleep at night:
    • Carbohydrate rich meals…it’s known that carbohydrate rich meals make us sleepy (that the more significant contributing factor to the Thanksgiving day nap than the tryptophan from turkey)
      *Interesting fact: prisons that serve higher carbohydrate meals have less riots and fights. Likely because they’re too tired to do so 😉 *
    • Tart cherry juice helps with melatonin production (and also helps to reduce inflammation…double win!)
    • Good sources of calcium (calcium deficiency has been linked with poor sleep)- yogurt, milk, cheese, and leafy greens are all good sources of calcium
    • Choosing whole grains as carbohydrate sources instead of processed simple carbohydrates…whole grains contain more magnesium which can help with better sleep
  • Drink lots of water during the day, but watch fluid intake at night…The more fluid you drink close to bed time, the more likely you will need to get up in the night and use the restroom. You want to try to make sure when you go to bed, that you are going to avoid as many interruptions as possible.
  • Avoid taking naps during the day…If you are sleep deprived, it may be tempting to take a nap during the day to try to catch up, but if you have trouble sleeping at night you may be doing yourself more harm than good. Skip the nap, and save that exhaustion for bedtime…until you’re confident that cat nap is not going to hinder your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep at night.
  • Exercise…exercise does one of two things to people, it can either energize or make you tired. If you’re the group it wears out, try moving your exercise to the evening before dinner.
  • Make sure your room is set up for optimal sleep…Your bedroom should be slightly cool. Most research suggests between 63-68 degrees. Keep a fan on to block out background noise throughout the rest of the house and outside. Make sure that you’re using a comfortable mattress and curtains. Make sure your room is dark when your trying to go to sleep…and lastly, this may sound silly, but I find I sleep easier in a well made bed 🙂
  • Try to stay around lots of light during the day…staying around light during the day and then going into a dark room to sleep helps to keep your circadian rhythms in check. Circadian rhythm is your body’s sleep/wake cycle.
  • Limit exposure to bright electronic screens at night…the light emitted from your phone, tablet, or laptop screen is enough to upset your circadian rhythm, so it’s best to put those down an hour or so before bed to allow your body to adjust.

If you suffer from sleep deprivation, insomnia, or chronic pain that interrupts sleep hopefully you will find multiple points throughout this blog helpful. It can be frustrating, but stick with it…if you are persistent you have the power to improve your sleep. Persistence and trial & error are key to figuring out whats best for your best nights sleep…start with one thing and slowly build.

If you’re in our area you can stop by our office and I’d be happy to sit down and meet with you one on one and see if I can help.

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