On the Importance of Sleep

by Dr. Christopher on September 21, 2010


Don't fight it. Yawning happens for a reason. Go to bed.

  Don’t you love the weekends when you’re able to sleep in?  You wake up at your own leisure without the horridness of an alarm clock, perhaps to the feeling of the sun on your face and the whistling of the birds?    

Your stressed out mind is not the only thing that benefits from that sleep.  Your body benefits enormously!    

Sleep Decreases Pain

As a chronic pain doctor, I receive the joy of treating people and make their lives pain-free.    

The more I work with people, the greater number of variables I observe in assessing what can affect an individual’s progress.     

With no structural problems such as damaged discs or irregular joint shapes, most of an individual’s mechanical problems falls onto scar tissue and relative weakness (not necessarily whole body weakness, just a specific area of the body).  With Active Release Technique and specific strength work being the sweet spot solutions for those problems respectively, certain results are expected.     

Sometimes, results don’t come quickly when the body is hindered from healing.  While the body is mechanical like a vehicle, it also has the miraculous ability to heal itself.  It just needs the time and the resources to do so.    

The healing environment you expose your body to plays a large role in how healthy you are, how well you respond to injury and stressors, and how well you heal.    

The healing environment is determined by a few variables:    

  1. Food: the parts to do the repairs.
  2. Variation in movements: includes what exercises you do, the duration, the range of motion, the intensity, the speed, and the postures you hold.  You rotate your tires to make sure each tire wears evenly just as you need to run AND lift weights to balance the work done by the body.  A damaged muscle, ligament, or tendon that heals without movement will heal in a shortened fashion, gradually restricting flexibility over time.
  3. Rest: Sleep is a form of rest; but we can also rest when we aren’t sleeping.  You need time everyday to shut your mind and body off.  Close your eyes and be calm without using any brain power to stress over the day.
  4. Sleep

When each of these variables are optimized, your body can heal quickly and efficiently from any stress.  The inflammatory period that is defined by redness, swelling, heat, and pain (the hallmarks of healing), becomes minimized.    

Sleep Increases Health & Lifespan

Without sleep, you don’t allow your body to fully heal.  It needs time to repair and has a specific pace in which it works.  If you don’t allow the repairman to fix a hole in the roof of your house, you may be left with half a hole in your roof.  

Without sleep, your nervous system becomes compromised.  Bodily processes such as controlling metabolism, repair, digestion, cognitive processes, as well as awareness are all affected.    

Without sleep, your immune system becomes compromised.  Our bodies are exposed to many pathogens in the environment.  If we are all exposed, why don’t we all get colds in the fall and winter?  The answer is that some of us are able to fight the infectious agents in order to stay healthy, where as others aren’t.    

Without sleep, your digestion and metabolism become compromised.  “One of the first consequences of lack of sleep is appetite dysregulation” says Dr. Van Cauter, a professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.  The hormone that says “I’m full,” leptin, has decreased levels, while the hormone that says, “I’m starving,” ghrelin, has increased levels.  Glucose (the body’s main energy form of sugar) tolerance, or the body’s ability to utilize glucose, is also negatively affected.    

Every body system is affected by a lack of sleep.  Studies have found that it decreases lifespan when we don’t get enough of it.  How do we get better sleep when confronted with our busy days?    

5 Tips Towards Better Sleep

  1. Go to bed and wake up at the same time, even on the weekends.  Your body likes routine.  Don’t confuse it.
  2. An hour of bed before midnight is equal to two hours of bed after midnight. Your body has a circadian rhythm.  That means that it operates at a level that you are unaware of that corresponds with the sun.  Hormones, enzymes, and other bodily processes are most efficient at specific times.  Anabolic (“body building”, as opposed to catabolic, “body breaking down”) processes are most efficient at night as hormones like growth hormone are released at night. We are able to spend more time in a deeper sleep (Stages 3 and 4 REM) and parallel the sun’s timing if we go to bed before midnight.
  3. Write in a journal before bed.  If you’re a Type-A stress ball, you may have a hard time letting go of your day’s work or thoughts before bed.  So you lie there, pondering all that you did today and all that you need to do tomorrow.  Write it all down in a journal and LET IT GO.  Start counting your sheep.
  4. Shut off the lights, television, and computer an hour before bed. Referring again to circadian rhythms, the human body has spent most of its history being awake when the sun was up and sleeping when the sun was down.  Artificial lights cue our body to stay awake.  It says, “Sun’s still up.  I better continue working.”  Best to stay away from technology.
  5. Relax an hour before bed. With the electricity off, do something you enjoy that calms you down.  These activities include: time with family, reading a book (preferably by lamp or candlelight), taking a warm bath, or meditation.  Any of these activities will take our bodies out of the sympathetic (fight or flight) mode that dominates our working days.  And if you’re like me and need to take notes on any educational book you read, again keep a journal by your bed or pick an entertaining book that you don’t want to remember.

Get Your Rest!

Your body absolutely needs rest and sleep in order to express ideal health.  As exciting as it might be to “Go!  Go!  Go!” all day every day, you’ll be able to do it for longer if you take the time to take care of yourself.  Find a way get better sleep, befriend the sun and your body will take care of you.    

Do you have any tips that allow you to get better sleep?

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Eileen September 21, 2010 at 3:00 pm

I have had no television in my house for almost three years.
For the past 3 months, I have had no internet.
I have noticed that I am usually asleep by 9:30 pm., after a
half hour of relaxed reading. I usually wake up with the sunrise.

As far as internet is concerned… it has been more difficult, but
now I only use internet at work, or at Starbuck’s, along with a cup of
Passion Tea (unsweetened, no caffeine). When the tea is gone, it’s time to log off.

The results of kicking TV and internet to the curb?…. I am more relaxed,
both mentally and physically. I am alert as soon as I wake up, and I am sleeping
more productively, with detailed dreams, which tells me I am getting
down into the deepest levels of productive sleep, very beneficial.

In the evening, I unwind with a relaxing stretch routine for about 15 minutes,
followed by a hot shower…. ZZZZZZzzzzz.

Christopher September 21, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Well, you’re a leader in my eyes! I’m not quite at the no television stage yet. And with so much educational material on the internet, I have a hard time letting that go as well. That’s great you’re having dreams and remembering them! I’ve been focusing on trying to remember mine as well. Sounds like you’re living the good life Dr. Santipadri!

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