It’s time we begin prioritizing sleep for the sake of wellbeing, longevity, vitality and performance because your time in bed can either make or break your health
Imagine, a team of doctors invented a drug that could improve your motivation, focus, stress levels, injury risk, memory, glucose metabolism, muscle recovery and can even rebalance your hormones. Would you want to fix at least one of those? If so, it’s all yours.
This drug is available to everyone for free, every day, in fact, every night. It’s sleep. The power of sleep is highly underrated, yet it is a fundamental element of optimal health and human physiology. We spend at least the third of our lives sleeping. In our society today, however, a growing number of people aren’t getting the quality and the quantity of sleep they need.
When burning the midnight oil, I used to say, “I’ll just sleep when I’m dead.” Little did I know that skipping out on quality sleep would have a tremendous negative effect on my health. Unfortunately, too many people still have that mentality today, but I think it’s time we prioritize sleep for the sake of health, longevity, vitality and performance.
What’s too little and what’s too much?
“Insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic,” the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced. Additionally, sleeping less than seven hours per day is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and mental distress.
Dr. Jay Khorsandi, host of podcast “Best Night Ever!”, is a sleep expert and has been helping patients improve their health for years. He says the biggest cost of lack of sleep quality ranges from dipping energy levels, cognitive decline and early aging, to weight gain, moodiness and the list goes on and on.
“It’s an exception for somebody to have good sleep these days,” he says, adding, “while too little sleep can cause a problem, too much sleep can be a sign of one, such as an underlying disease or inflammation that your body is trying to recover with staying asleep.”
Dr. Khorsandi advises that six hours is too little and nine is too much.
Feel the benefits as soon as the next morning
The benefits of a good night’s sleep can be noticeable almost immediately. You might feel more alert and focused, having better executive function and attitude and decreased food cravings.
A lot of what makes up a night-time routine will affect what happens to the body while asleep. There are five sleep stages we cycle through about five times each night: two light, two deep and one REM sleep stage (rapid eye movement). Out of these, deep sleep is crucial to the body to repair muscles and tissues, stimulate growth and development, boost immune function and build up energy. Additionally, REM is when dreaming occurs, plus that’s when the brain stores the information from the day before, so it’s key to healthy memory and cognition.
Cutting a night short means cutting the amount of time the body spends in those restorative stages, which can cause problems during the waking hours.
Did you know that blood will flow out of your head during sleep? What replaces it is a pulsing wave of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is key to flush toxins and memory-impairing proteins out of the brain. As we age, our brain often generates fewer slow waves, which could affect the blood flow in the brain and reduce the pulsing of CSF during sleep. It can lead to a buildup of toxic proteins and a decline in memory abilities. This study’s findings provide some great new information about the brain during sleep.
What affects sleep quality the most
Temperature and light are two of the main influencers of sleep quality. The human body has a natural circadian clock that corresponds with the time of the day. As the sun sets and the air cools down, biologically, our body is designed to turn up the production of melatonin (sleep hormone) and prepare for rest. Plus, our body tends to lose heat at night, dropping one to two degrees, which helps you fall and stay asleep.
Many modern habits and living conditions, however, can wreak havoc on those bodily functions, such as watching TV or being on a smart device before falling asleep, eating too close to bedtime, or being in a room that’s too warm.
“The bedroom should be your sanctuary,” says Claus Pummer, certified holistic sleep coach and North American importer of Samina Sleep System. He believes that the bed is key for optimal rest and recovery.
“There’s a missing link, as most consumers are not aware of the contents of their mattress and disregard the importance of certain elements,” he says.
“A healthy bed should be metal-free,” Pummer says explaining that metal springs can act like little antennas driving the radio frequencies and electro-magnetic exposure into the body, which is highly irritating for the mitochondria, can lower melatonin release, increase cortisol (stress hormone) and decrease oxygen levels in the blood.
Another important aspect both Dr. Khorsandi and Pummer talk about is sleeping at an incline. “Having a bed at 5.5% incline helps detox the body twice as good and lower the pressure in the brain,” Pummer says.
Remember the study I mentioned above with “brainwashing”? Being on an incline makes it more effective.
Eating too much and too close to bed makes your body digest instead of detox and recover at night. It’s ideal to have your last meal at least three hours before sleep and stay away from highly processed and sugar-dense foods because the inflammation and insulin spike they trigger will also keep your body from optimal rest.
Many wouldn’t think how much of their conscious performance depends on their time spent unconscious at night. There’s a lot at stake.
“Your best night of sleep is going to start with your morning before,” Dr. Khorsandi says. “And your best day is going to start the night before.”
10 Tips to Optimize your Sleep
- Reduce screen time a couple of hours before bed, and use blue light blocking glasses
- Have a chilled room: 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit
- Eat your last meal at least three hours before bed
- Metal-free bed frame
- Keep your bedroom noise-free and pitch dark
- Go for a walk outside in the afternoon
- Watch the sunset
- Practice meditation
- Eliminate highly processed and sugar-dense foods and beverages