By Dr. Mercola
If you’re like most Americans, you’re likely not getting enough sleep. Nearly 41 million US adults are sleeping just six hours or less each night, which recent research has linked to an increased risk of chronic inflammation and heart disease in women.1
Over the course of the five-year long study,2 women who slept poorly—quantified as sleeping less than six hours per night—had 2.5 times higher increases in inflammation levels compared to men who slept poorly. As reported by the featured article:3
“Researchers speculated that the gender difference may be due to lower estrogen levels in the study’s post-menopausal female subjects, whereas men were protected by higher levels of testosterone.”
But regardless of gender-based hormonal differences, summertime can be a time of year when sleep becomes harder to come by, courtesy of rising temperatures. This is just one of a whole host of factors that can have an adverse effect on your sleep. Restless legs syndrome is another ailment that can prevent you from getting sufficient amounts of shut-eye.
Interestingly, a recent observational study4 found that men with restless legs syndrome have a whopping 40 percent higher risk of total mortality. This finding was independent of other known risk factors, including a variety of chronic diseases. As reported by MedPage Today:5
“The relationship between restless legs syndrome and all-cause mortality was stronger for men who had symptoms 15 or more times per month compared with those who had symptoms five to 14 times per month.”
According to the researchers, one (of several) potential mechanisms that might account for this increased mortality risk is disturbed sleep. Previous research has also found that people with chronic insomnia have a three times greater risk of dying from any cause.
Sleep Deprivation Takes a Serious Toll on Your Health…
You can have the healthiest diet on the planet, doing vegetable juicing and using fermented veggies, be as fit as an Olympic athlete, be emotionally balanced, but if you aren’t sleeping well it is just a matter of time before it will adversely, potentially seriously affect your health.
Sleep deprivation is such a chronic condition these days that you might not even realize you suffer from it. Science has now established that a sleep deficit can have serious, far reaching effects on your health. For example, interrupted or impaired sleep can:
- Dramatically weaken your immune system
- Accelerate tumor growth—tumors grow two to three times faster in laboratory animals with severe sleep dysfunctions, primarily due to disrupted melatonin production. Melatonin inhibits the proliferation of a wide range of cancer cell types, as well as triggering cancer cell apoptosis (self destruction). The hormone also interferes with the new blood supply tumors require for their rapid growth (angiogenesis)
- Cause a pre-diabetic state, making you feel hungry even if you’ve already eaten, which can wreak havoc on your weight
- Seriously impair your memory; even a single night of poor sleep—meaning sleeping only 4 to 6 hours—can impact your ability to think clearly the next day. It’s also known to decrease your problem solving ability
What You Need to Know About Sleeping Pills
While it may be tempting to look for a pill to quickly help you sleep, these will not address any of the underlying causes of insomnia. In fact, researchers have repeatedly shown that sleeping pills don’t work, but your brain is being tricked into thinking they do…
In one meta-analytic study, they found that, on average, sleeping pills help people fall asleep approximately 10 minutes sooner. From a biomedical perspective, this is an insignificant improvement. On average, sleeping pills increase total sleep time by about 15-20 minutes. But here is the catch: This study also discovered that while most sleeping pills created poor, fragmented sleep, they also created amnesia, so upon waking, the participants could not recall how poorly they’d actually slept!
Worse yet, sleeping pills have also been linked to a wide variety of health hazards, including a nearly four-fold increase in the risk of death, along with a 35 percent increased risk of cancer.
Additionally, most people do not realize that over-the-counter (OTC) sleeping pills — those containing Benadryl — can have a half life of about 18 hours. So, if you take them every night, you’re basically sedated much of the time. Not surprisingly, they’re associated with cognitive deficits in the morning. Trust me, there are far better, safer and more effective ways to get a good night’s sleep…
Tips for High-Quality Shut-Eye from a Sleep Wellness Consultant
As previously discussed by Dr. Rubin Naiman, a leader in integrative medicine approaches to sleep and dreams, sleep is the outcome of an interaction between two variables, namely sleepiness and what he refers to as “noise.” This is any kind of stimulation that inhibits or disrupts sleep. In order to get a good night’s sleep, you want your sleepiness level to be high, and the “noise” level to be low. Under normal conditions, your sleepiness should gradually increase throughout the day and evening, peaking just before you go to bed at night. However, if noise is conceptually greater than your level of sleepiness, you will not be able to fall asleep.
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In a recent CNN article, 6 sleep wellness consultant Nancy Rothstein offered up six tips to improve your sleep, wisely starting off by addressing environmental “noise” in your bedroom (for the rest of her suggestions, please see the original article):7
Create a sleep sanctuary. This means removing items associated with entertainment, recreation, work and hobbies, and turning your bedroom into a single-purpose space—one for sleeping. Of utmost importance: Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and quiet. These three factors can have a major impact on your sleep.
With regards to temperature, studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is quite cool, between 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, so keep the temperature in your bedroom no higher than 70 degrees.
As for light, even the tiniest bit of light in the room can disrupt your internal clock and your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin, hormones involved in your body’s circadian rhythm of sleep and wakefulness. So close your bedroom door, get rid of night-lights, and most importantly, cover your windows. I recommend using blackout shades or heavy, opaque drapes. Also cover up your clock if it has a lit display. Alternatively, you could wear an eye mask to block out any stray light.
Turn off your gadgets well before bedtime. Again, the artificial glow from your TV, iPad, computer or smartphone can serve as a stimulus for keeping you awake well past your bedtime by disrupting melatonin production. I recommend turning off all electronic gadgets at least one hour before bed. As Rothstein suggests, that time is far better spent reading a good old fashioned book, practicing relaxation techniques or meditating.
Some people find the sound of white noise or nature sounds, such as the ocean or forest, to be soothing and sleep-promoting. An excellent relaxation/meditation option to listen to before bed is the Insight audio CD. Another favorite is the Sleep Harmony CD, which uses a combination of advanced vibrational technology and guided meditation to help you effortlessly fall into deep delta sleep within minutes. The CD works on the principle of “sleep wave entrainment” to assist your brain in gearing down for sleep.
Exercise to sleep better, but do it early! Exercising for at least 30 minutes per day can improve your sleep, but if you exercise too close to bedtime (generally within the three hours before), it may keep you awake instead.
Party-goers beware: alcohol tends to prevent good sleep… Summertime tends to spark party invitations, but as Rothstein warns, it would be wise to consider how a few drinks will affect your sleep pattern. Although alcohol will make you drowsy, the effect is short lived and you will often wake up several hours later, unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol can also keep you from entering the deeper stages of sleep, where your body does most of its healing.
The same applies to eating. Ideally, you’ll want to avoid eating or snacking at least three hours before bed. Especially troublesome are grains and sugars, as these will raise your blood sugar and delay sleep. Later, when your blood sugar drops, you may wake up and be unable to fall back asleep.
Two More Aces Up Your Sleeve When Sleep Becomes Elusive…
My personal favorite fix for insomnia is the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). Most people can learn the basics of this gentle tapping technique in a few minutes. EFT can help balance your body’s bioenergy system and resolve some of the emotional stresses that are contributing to your insomnia at a very deep level. The results are typically long lasting and improvement is remarkably rapid.
Another strategy that can help is to increase your melatonin. Ideally it is best to increase your levels naturally, by exposing yourself to bright sunlight during daytime hours (along with full spectrum fluorescent bulbs in the winter) followed by absolute complete darkness at night. If that isn’t possible, you may want to consider a melatonin supplement. In scientific studies, melatonin has been shown to increase sleepiness, help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep, decrease restlessness, and reverse daytime fatigue. Melatonin is a completely natural substance, made by your body, and has many health benefits in addition to sleep.
If you decide to give melatonin supplements a try, start with a very small dose, about an hour before bed—as little as 0.25 mg can be sufficient for some.8 Many end up taking too much right off the bat, which could end up having the reverse effect you’re looking for. Taking too much could also result in side effects9 such as drowsiness, confusion, headache, nightmares, and more. So, start with a tiny dose, and if after three nights you notice no improvement, take a little more. The tips discussed so far are among the most important for a restful night’s sleep, but they are only the beginning. For more, please read my comprehensive sleep guide: 33 Secret’s to a Good Night’s Sleep.
Improving Your Sleep Hygiene Pays Off in Health Dividends
There’s convincing evidence showing that if you do not sleep enough, you’re really jeopardizing your health. Everybody loses sleep here and there, and your body can adjust for temporary shortcomings. But if you develop a chronic pattern of sleeping less than five or six hours a night, then you’re increasing your risk of a number of health conditions, including heart disease.
To make your bedroom into a suitable sleep sanctuary, begin by making sure it’s pitch-black, cool, and quiet. Remember, even the tiniest bit of light can disrupt your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin. For this reason, I highly recommend adding room-darkening blinds or drapes to your bedroom, or if this is not possible wearing an eye mask to block out any stray light.
For even more helpful guidance on how to improve your sleep, please review my 33 Secrets to a Good Night’s Sleep. If you’re even slightly sleep deprived, I encourage you to implement some of these tips tonight, as high-quality sleep is one of the most important factors in your health and quality of life.
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