Why Sleep? Practices To Improve Sleep Hygiene

MIB 626, Anti-Aging

Sleep is complex and essential. It is vital for good physical, cognitive and emotional health, and quality of life. Read on for motivation to prioritize getting to bed on time and adopting healthy sleep habits!

In this blog you will learn:

  • What are the functions of sleep?
  • What are the different stages of sleep?
  • What are the consequences of not getting enough sleep?
  • How can we get a good night’s sleep

In this blog series, we will move beyond this intro to sleep to look at cognition & sleep, the circadian rhythm of sleep, the best diet for sleep, the best supplements for sleep, sleep & light exposure, the importance of optimally aligning diet, light & the natural environment for sleep, and other fascinating information about sleep! 

How Common is Insomnia?

What are the Functions of Sleep?

Cellular Restoration & Recovery: During sleep, the body recovers. Cells repair, recover and regrow. This recovery includes tissue growth and repair, muscle repair, protein synthesis, hormone release, memory consolidation and metabolism regulation. Sleep lets the brain detoxify and remove metabolic waste products that accumulate during wakefulness. This restoration process is crucial for overall health and well-being.

Memory Consolidation: During sleep, newly acquired information is processed and stored in the brain. This is essential for cognitive function, enhancing memory retention, learning, problem-solving and decision-making.

Brain Plasticity: Brain plasticity is the brain’s ability to organize new experiences and information. Sleep helps maintain brain plasticity, allowing for new and stronger synaptic connections and pathways to form. This enhances learning, problem-solving, creativity and adapting to changing environments and new information. 

Energy Conservation: Less bodily energy is expended when we sleep. The body conserves energy for tissue repair, immune system functioning and thermoregulation. This energy-saving function of sleep is thought to have helped our ancestors conserve energy during darkness when hunting and gathering were not possible.

Hormone Regulation: Sleep helps regulate the release of hormones. For example, cortisol is involved in the stress response. Poor sleep leads to slower cortisol declines in the night. On a regular basis, this can disrupt overall recovery, tissue repair and increase insulin resistance. Human growth hormone is released during sleep. Its important functions involve tissue repair and regeneration to build muscle. 

Immune Function: Adequate sleep is crucial for a healthy immune system. During sleep, the body produces immune system cells called cytokines, regulates immune responses, fights off infections and pathogens and reduces inflammation. 

Emotional Health: Sleep is important for regulating emotions, maintaining a stable mood and coping with stress. Lack of sleep is linked to increased irritability, mood swings, stress, anxiety and depression. Getting enough sleep promotes emotional resilience and mental well-being.

What are the Stages of Sleep?

Sleep has different stages that cycle through the night. The sleep cycle is typically divided into two main categories: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Each category has distinct characteristics and functions.

Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) Sleep:

  • Stage 1: This is the transitional stage between being awake and asleep. It lasts only a few minutes and makes up about 5% of total sleep time. Brain waves start to slow down from the waking state and muscle activity decreases. 
  • Stage 2: This stage is the onset of true sleep, lasting for approximately 20-30 minutes in the first cycle and becoming longer in later cycles. Brain waves continue to slow down. Heart rate and body temperature decrease, preparing the body for deeper sleep.
  • Stage 3 or Slow Wave Sleep: This is the deepest stage of NREM sleep. Muscles relax completely. Physical restoration, growth and memory consolidation take place. The body can focus on maintenance tasks, repair tissues and boost the immune system.

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep:

  • REM sleep is the stage marked by rapid eye movements. It typically occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and recurs approximately every 90 minutes throughout the night, becoming longer in later sleep cycles. Brain activity during REM sleep resembles wakefulness, with rapid brain waves similar to those seen during alertness. 
  • REM sleep is the stage of vivid dreaming. It is the time for emotional processing and memory consolidation. Despite increased brain activity, the body is essentially paralyzed during REM sleep, likely to prevent acting out dreams.

Sleep Cycle:

The stages of sleep form a cyclical pattern known as the sleep cycle. A typical sleep cycle lasts about 90-120 minutes and consists of alternating periods of NREM and REM sleep. As the night progresses, the proportion of time spent in REM sleep increases while the duration of deep NREM sleep decreases.

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

Generally speaking, we need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. There are individual differences. Some people do well on 7 hours and some people really need that extra bit longer.

What Happens if We Don’t Sleep Enough?

There are some surprising health consequences of poor sleep:

  • Overweight/Obesity: People who sleep less than 7 hours are 1.83 times more likely to be overweight and 1.57 times more likely to be obese than people who sleep 7-9 hours per night (NCOA Adviser, 2024). 
  • Diabetes: People with pre-diabetes and insomnia have about a 30% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes (NCOA Adviser, 2024). 
  • Heart Disease: People sleeping less than 6 hours a night are 27% more likely to develop atherosclerosis (or coronary artery disease), where plaque builds up inside blood vessels or in the arteries of the heart (NCOA Adviser, 2024).
  • Mental Health: People with inadequate sleep have 2.5 times higher risk of mental health issues compared to those with adequate sleep (NCOA Adviser, 2024). Improving sleep has a significant effect on mental health, depression, anxiety, rumination and stress (Scott AJ, 2021). It is a dose respondent relationship, with better sleep quality leading to better mental health (Scott AJ, 2021).
  • Dementia: A 1% reduction in deep slow-wave sleep every year in people over 60 years old equals a 27% increased risk of developing dementia (Himali JJ, 2023).
  • Accidents & Lower Productivity: Sleep deprivation can lead to more car accidents, accidents at work, lower work productivity and poor performance at school in children.
  • Breast Cancer: Sleep disturbance increases risk of breast cancer (Ahmad SB, 2023). Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is important in halting the spread of cancer and immune system regulation. Melatonin deficiency is associated with breast cancer and neurodegenerative disorders (Ahmad SB, 2023). 

Clearly, we need to sleep well to avoid developing diseases, being involved in accidents, to function well and to feel our best. The way to ensure consistently sleeping well is to practice good sleep hygiene. This is especially important if we are experiencing problems with sleep. 

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What is Good Sleep Hygiene & How to Consistently Sleep Well for Optimal Health? 

Good sleep hygiene is a set of healthy habits that optimize sleep quality:

Sleep Schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends. Consistency regulates the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, which promotes sleep quality. Make time for a solid 7-9 hours in bed. Avoid staying up too late watching TV or Netflix or playing video games.

Bedtime Routine: Design a relaxing routine to go to bed and to sleep. This sends a signal to the mind and body that it’s time to unwind and go to sleep. This is what we do with children and it works for adults too. Include activities like reading a calm book, taking a warm bath, practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation or gentle yoga stretches. This tells the body it’s time to calm down. 

Sleep Environment: Is your bedroom conducive to sleep? Keep it cool, dark and quiet. Use blackout curtains, earplugs or a white noise machine to block out distractions. Turn the heat down. Use AC or a fan in warm weather. Too much light in the evening suppresses the body’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.  

Screens Before Bed: The blue light emitted by screens and devices disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm, the natural sleep-wake cycle. The light suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. Avoid all screens (smartphones, tablets, computers) at least 1 hour before bed. Or you can use blue light blocking glasses to block out this harmful blue light. We wrote a blog about blue light and blocking glasses here 

Mattress and Pillows: A good mattress and pillows help support the body and promote good sleep posture. Make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable for you. There is no formula on which mattress or pillows are best. This is based on individual personal preferences and sleep position.

Caffeine: Avoid caffeine close to bedtime. It interferes with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Stop drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks by 2pm. Some people may need to stop earlier in the day. The cutoff time varies for different people. Everyone metabolizes caffeine at different rates. Slower caffeine metabolizers will need to stop caffeine at an earlier time.

Alcohol: Don’t drink excessive alcohol and stop all alcoholic drinks at least 1 hour before going to sleep. Alcohol may feel like it makes you sleepy. But it disturbs blood sugar regulation, bathroom schedule and other processes. Excess alcohol makes it harder to stay asleep through the night. Instead, opt for non-caffeinated herbal teas or warm milk if you would like a nighttime drink.

Diet: Avoid heavy meals, spicy foods and excessive fluids in the evening. Eat a light dinner and choose easily digestible snacks if you’re hungry before bed. Eating too close to bedtime can disturb sleep due to possible acid reflux, poor digestion or blood sugar imbalances. Eating late is associated with a higher BMI and less sleep. The best rule of thumb is to finish eating 2-3 hours before going to sleep. Dinner times may vary according to your individual circadian rhythm, lifestyle, work and family life schedules. 

Exercise: Consistent, regular physical activity improves sleep quality by reducing stress and promoting relaxation. But vigorous exercise close to bedtime is not recommended as it can energize you and make it harder to fall asleep. Exercise earlier in the day promotes better sleep quality by reducing stress. Evening exercise can be gentle yoga or a post prandial evening stroll.

Stress: Stress and anxiety can make it difficult to fall asleep. Stress management techniques can help to calm the mind. Try techniques like mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation or journaling to calm down before bedtime. Manage stress with various techniques like meditation, breath work, yoga, tai chi and others. Apps like Insight Timer, Headspace or Calm can help with guided mediation or breath exercises, bedtime stories and other ways to relax.

Add these tips to your daily routine. They can help optimize your sleep. Let us know if you need help improving your sleep!

** Follow us for our next Blog on Sleep Strategies to Live Longer and Be Stronger through Diet, Lifestyle and a Functional Medicine approach **

SUMMARY

  • Sleep is a complex and essential process yet 30% of adults have symptoms of insomnia (NCOA Adviser, 2024).
  • Sleep is vital for cellular recovery, memory consolidation, brain plasticity, energy conservation, hormone regulation, immune function and emotional health.
  • The stages of sleep include non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
  • if we don’t sleep enough, we are more likely to develop health issues like overweight/obesity, diabetes, heart disease, mental health problems, dementia, accidents and cancer.
  • Good sleep hygiene is important for consistently sleeping well for optimal health. Good sleep hygiene includes a consistent sleep schedule, bedtime routine, a conducive sleep environment, avoiding screens, caffeine and alcohol too close to bedtime, the right diet, exercise and stress management

As always, please get in touch with us. If you or someone you know is struggling with sleep issues, contact our clinic today. We can work on any issue(s) and improve your health. Book a free health evaluation call with us today. We can answer your questions and book an initial consult with a functional medicine doctor in our clinic.

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