“It’s critical that adults aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night to receive the health benefits of sleep, but this is especially true for those battling a chronic condition.”
– M. Safwan Badr, MD, MBA, former president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM)
Poor sleep is a hallmark of autoimmune disorders and a big risk factor for poor immune function, which none of us can afford right now. Add peri- or menopause to the equation and good sleep can become even more rare. Mark Menolascino, MD defines “sleep deprivation as anything less than 8 hours a night.” Well, that makes for a huge number of sleep-deprived people!
Mark Hyman, MD put it in perspective:
Army sharp shooters’ accuracy is almost 99% when they get eight hours of sleep. It drops to 79% when they get six hours of sleep. It drops to 35% when they get five hours of sleep, which is the equivalent of drinking two to three alcoholic beverages. Lack of sleep — sleep deprivation — is like driving drunk.
Why is Sleep So Important?
There are many reasons, and two of the biggies include:
- We take out our cellular trash via the glymphatic system — the brain’s lymphatic system. Gotta get rid of the debris to make room for new neural networks.1Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain, Xie, L., et. al., Science. 2013 Oct 18; 342(6156): 10.1126/science.1241224. doi: 10.1126/science.1241224, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3880190/
- Our bodies and brains repair, reorganize, reset, restore and regenerate during sleep.2Sleep: A Health Imperative, Luyster, F., et. al., Sleep. 2012 Jun 1; 35(6): 727–734. Published online 2012 Jun 1. doi: 10.5665/sleep.1846, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3353049/ Get fewer than eight hours and your body and brain miss out on needed repair and regeneration functions.
Health Implications of Lost Sleep are Huge
Studies have demonstrated detrimental effects of prolonged sleep deprivation on a variety of systems with noticeable changes in hormonal, metabolic, and immune function. Sleep deprivation can lead to negative health outcomes including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity, all of which are associated with increased mortality risk.3Sleep: A Health Imperative, Luyster, F., et. al., Sleep. 2012 Jun 1; 35(6): 727–734. Published online 2012 Jun 1. doi: 10.5665/sleep.1846, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3353049/
Getting to the Roots of a Good Night’s Sleep
There are many reasons why you may have trouble getting good sleep. Stress, hormonal imbalance, room temperature, blue light, EMF exposure, pain, inflammation, depression, too much caffeine or alcohol, snoring partners, undiagnosed sleep apnea, cuddly pets, and modern life itself seem to conspire against us to getting the restorative sleep we need. Before you reach for a sleeping pill, which studies show may be linked to higher mortality rates compared with people who don’t use them,4 Sivertsen B, Madsen IE, Salo P, Tell GS, Øverland S. Use of Sleep Medications and Mortality: The Hordaland Health Study. Drugs Real World Outcomes. 2015;2(2):123-128. doi:10.1007/s40801-015-0023-8, get curious about why you are not sleeping well.
From a Functional Medicine perspective, we always ask why things are the way they are, to get to the root cause(s) level, which is where healing happens. I know it’s tempting to reach for a pill or a supplement; but when we don’t dig deeper, we stay stuck at the symptom level, drifting sideways, and never curing the actual problem(s). I encourage you to get curious and reflect on why you are not getting optimal sleep. Is it that you can’t shut off your mind? Is it that you can’t fall asleep, or is it that you can’t stay asleep? Then explore answers to those questions.
Here are 12 strategies to help you get better sleep:
One of the best things you can do for your health and wellbeing is to get better sleep. Remember that time in bed does not equal time asleep. Can you get in bed a little earlier tonight? Which sleep strategies work for you? Share your successful sleep strategies in the comments below.
photo by Tuva Mathilde