Sleep – The Secret Ingredient to Good Health
By Dr. Tim Fargo, Chiropractor
As the calendar turns over a new leaf, many of us are prompted to look at all the various ways in which we may have let ourselves go over the past year, and make resolutions for how we might do better in the coming year. Of course, we tend to focus on things that we can easily see in the mirror, like our expanding bellies and hips, or our fitness and financial wellbeing, but we tend to overlook one of the most important facets of staying healthy- sleep. Sleep is one of the most underrated factors in efforts to get and stay healthy.
Americans, as a general rule, are chronically underslept. The reason for this is that we work a lot, stay up too late, eat poorly, exercise only irregularly, are wracked by stress, and generally do not place sufficient focus on it. Chronic lack of sleep causes us to be moody, irritable, depressed, anxious, unfocused, prone to injury and illness. Sleep deficiency causes a decline in immune competency and makes us more susceptible to infection. In addition, serotonin production drops and, paradoxically, so does melatonin production (melatonin is the primary sleep hormone). What this means is that we get driven into a dwindling spiral of not only decreased sleep quantity, but also decreased sleep and life quality.
I personally have had a history of challenges with sleep, and thought to take this opportunity to share some of the things that have made the most difference for me, and can make the most difference for you.
First of all, let’s talk about “sleep hygiene”. You know how brushing your teeth and flossing are critical components in dental hygiene. Well, there are basics related to sleep that are akin to brushing your teeth in terms of the impact they can have on your overall sleep quality. Here is a list of things that you can do to improve your sleep hygiene.
- Make your sleep time and wake time more than regular. Humans, like all animals, do best when they are working with their natural body rhythms and the rhythms of nature. We tend to stay up way too late doing business, watching screens of various sorts, and generally worrying. You know what time you need to get up in the morning for work or other activities. You know generally how many hours of sleep you need to feel rested. Therefore, it’s easy to work it backwards and figure out an optimal time to go to bed, at least from the perspective of number of hours.
- As part of your preparation for going to sleep do some of the following:
- Turn off all of your screens (computer, television, smart phone) a half-hour to an hour before you intend to go to sleep. The blue light tends to interfere with your melatonin production, the main sleep hormone.
- Keep your room dark so that it is easier for you to sleep. I have found that sometimes an eye shade can be helpful, especially if you are sleeping someplace that is unfamiliar or is generally brighter than you are used to, like an airplane.
- Avoid caffeine and reduce sugar intake in the hours before you go to bed. There are some people who can tolerate caffeine before bed and are unaffected by blood sugar issues, but they are the minority. If you find that you wake up 2 to 3 hours after going to sleep, then you may be dealing with blood sugar issues.
- Take a short walk or do some gentle stretching before you go to bed.
- Keep electronic devices such as phones, computers, and even digital clocks further away from your bed. Some people are disturbed by electromagnetic fields (EMF)emitted by such devices.
- Take the time to wind down. Listen to soothing music. Spend a few moments writing down the things that might keep you up in the middle of the night, things that you need to remember for the next day. Write down three things for which you are grateful. Gratitude is a very potent tonic.
Some nutritional supplements can also be beneficial for achieving the relaxed state that is necessary for efficient sleep. I am particularly partial to magnesium glycinate or magnesium threonate, approximately 400 mg half an hour before you go to bed. There are herbs such as passionflower, valerian root, and hormonal supplements like melatonin that can be very helpful.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that chiropractic care, because it reduces the stress response in your brain, can have a beneficial impact on sleep.
Another thing that I have found very helpful of late is a wearable device called a “Whoop Band”. This device, and there are others like it, monitors things like your respiratory rate, heart rate, heart rate variability, body temperature, oxygen saturation, activity levels and a host of other factors. Such a device connects to an app on your phone and can provide you with information about how long you sleep, and what proportion of your sleep time is spent in REM sleep, slow wave sleep, light sleep and wakefulness. I have found that by having this information I am better able to make decisions about how to improve my sleep quality. The device is not particularly expensive and I think it’s a great way of gaining control over something which, for most people, seems rather random. For more information check out their website at www.whoop.com.
I think it a wise and noble goal for this coming year to improve both the quantity and quality of sleep. Join me in making this one of your health goals and resolutions.
To learn more or to schedule an appointment give us a call at (952) 209-7447 or fill out our online form for a FREE new patient consultation.