Many of the Living Intentionally articles focus on what we do during our waking hours, but it’s equally as important to give our sleeping hours a tune-up as well. We have evolved to spend approximately one third of our life asleep, yet many of us in this day and age go through life perpetually sleep-deprived. The consequences of this lifestyle choice are devastating.

The research pointing to the necessity of a good night’s sleep is not all that new. As early as 1999, reports indicated that getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night had detrimental health effects. Here are just a few of the issues involved. Sleep deprivation has been implicated in:

  • Reduced function of the immune system
  • Accelerated tumour growth
  • Induced pre-diabetic state, causing a feeling of hunger even after eating
  • Impaired memory function and problem-solving capacity

Melatonin has been touted as a great sleep aid, but few perhaps realize that melatonin is naturally produced in the body. Melatonin is optimally produced when the body’s natural circadian rhythm is uninterrupted. When we get a correct day/night cycle, replete with an appropriate skin exposure to natural light, our melatonin levels are optimal. Melatonin plays a huge role in sleeping well, but it also acts as a powerful anti-oxidant that plays a major role in the body’s nocturnal deep-healing processes. Poor sleep is, therefore, a principle cause of rapid tumour growth.

Poor sleep is also shown to cause high blood pressure. A paper released in 1999 indicated a 3-fold increase in the risk of heart attack in individuals who get 5 or less hours of sleep/night. High sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-cRP), a strong predictor of heart attacks, was found to be increased in these individuals. Getting adequate sleep did not, in the short term, return hs-cRP levels to normal, so you can see that there’s no quick fix here to set things right.

Poor sleep causes increased levels of such toxins as Interleukin-6 (IL-6), Tumour Necrosis Factor-Alpha (TNF-a) and C-reactive protein (cRP). These substances have been implicated in increased risk of cancer, heart attack and arthritis.

Other health impacts from poor sleep have been noted, including stomach ulcers, constipation, mood disorders, weight gain and more. As such, it behooves me to tell each of you of how vital it is for you to get adequate sleep at the appropriate time.

During 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, the body will go through 4-5 cycles of non-Rapid Eye Movement (non-REM) and REM sleep phases. Getting enough of both non-REM and REM sleep are crucial to our physical and mental well-being. In the beginning hours of sleep, most of our time is spent in non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep is the sleep where most of our body’s deep healing takes place. As sleep progresses, non-REM stages shorten and REM stages lengthen. REM stages are vital to mental well-being in that this is our dream phase. REM sleep is responsible for our brain being able to process and assimilate short-term memory. For us to be mentally alert and capable, we need to get adequate cycles and duration of REM sleep.

When you get only 5-6 hours of sleep, it’s common to be mentally irritable throughout the day. This is caused by a shortage of REM sleep. When we get less than 5 hours, it’s typical for us to wander through the day in a somewhat zombie-like state. This is a by-product of us getting insufficient non-REM sleep.

I hope you’re beginning to understand why an undisturbed circadian rhythm is so vitally important to your well-being. We need to enjoy 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each and every day for us to be at our best, both physically and mentally. Incidental light bleeding into our sleeping space may not seem to be a problem, but it is, literally, a killer and a topic for another day.

A few, simple tips for a good night’s sleep:

  • Sleep in complete darkness to avoid stimulating the hypothalamus
  • Sleep in a cool room
  • Go to sleep early, as melatonin release peaks at 11 p.m.-1 a.m. and the gall bladder releases toxins at this time
  • Reduce fluid intake 2-4 hours prior to bedtime to avoid nighttime bathroom visits
  • Ensure your dinner meal or last snack is high-protein to provide L-tryptophan required for melatonin and serotonin production
  • Have fruit for dessert to help the L-tryptophan cross the blood-brain barrier

That’s enough for now. Sleep well!

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