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How Important is Your Sleep?

Insomnia has reached epidemic proportions. It’s estimated to be the #1 health-related problem in America. More than 1/3 of Americans have trouble sleeping every night, and 43% of respondents report that daytime sleepiness interferes with their normal daytime activities.

These problems are getting worse, not better. The number of adults aged 20 to 44 using over-the-counter sleeping pills doubled from 2000 to 2004, and youth ages 1-19 who take prescription sleep remedies jumped 85% during the same period. Prescriptions for sleeping pills topped 56 million in 2008 – up 54% from 2004.

We have not only forgotten the value of rest, we have forgotten how to do it.

You cannot be healthy without adequate sleep. Period.

Unfortunately for us, the body hasn’t forgotten the importance of sleep. It’s absolutely essential for basic maintenance and repair of the neurological, endocrine, immune, musculoskeletal and digestive systems. The hormone melatonin naturally increases after sundown and during the night, which helps protect us against infection.

Among other things, a full night’s sleep:

  • enhances memory and mental clarity
  • improves athletic performance
  • boosts mood and overall energy
  • improves immune function
  • increases stress tolerance

When things fall apart: how sleep deprivation impacts your health

Fewer than 6 hours of sleep per day is associated with low-grade chronic inflammation and worsening insulin resistance, as well as increased risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Inadequate rest impairs our ability to think, to handle stress, to maintain a healthy immune system and to moderate our emotions. It’s associated with heart disease, hypertension, weight gain, diabetes and a wide range of psychiatric disorders including depression and anxiety.

The following is an abbreviated list of some of the more damaging effects of sleep deprivation:

  • Impaired immune system: a study from the University of California found that even modest sleep loss weakens the immune systems response to disease and injury.
  • Overweight and obesity: Recent studies have shown that even one night of poor sleep can result in dramatic changes in appetite and food intake. Others have shown that restricting sleep to 5 hours a night for just one week impairs carbohydrate tolerance and insulin sensitivity. Researchers now believe that sleep deprivation is the single best predictor of overweight and obesity in children – which has become an alarming problem. Finally, a brand-new study shows that not getting enough sleep causes liver disease.
  • Cognitive decline: sleep deprivation negatively impacts short-term memory, long-term memory and the degeneration of nerve cells – all of which effects our ability to think clearly and function well.
  • Mood and mental health: anyone who has had a few nights of poor sleep can tell you that insomnia is associated with depression. Insufficient sleep shuts down the pre-frontal cortex and can cause or exacerbate a number of psychological conditions, ranging from anxiety to PTSD to depression.
  • Systemic inflammation: as I already mentioned above, sleep deprivation causes chronic, moderate inflammation.

How to get a good night’s sleep?  Read on…

The most important factor in getting a good night’s sleep is managing stress during the day. Most of us run around like chickens with their heads cut off all day, and then wonder why we can’t fall right asleep as soon as our head hits the pillow. If our nervous system has been in overdrive for 16 hours, it’s unrealistic to assume that it can switch into low gear in a matter of minutes simply because we want it to.

Before we get into natural tips on improving sleep, I want to say a few words about sleep medications. In spite of their popularity, they are not without risk – including dependence, rebound insomnia, drowsiness, memory loss, bizarre sleep walking behavior, changes in brain chemistry, constipation and much more.

On the other hand, there is a point at which the harmful effects of sleep deprivation start to outweigh the potential adverse effects caused by sleeping pills. This is when I believe sleep meds should be used as a last resort, presuming all non-drug approaches have failed. One of the common responses after beginning chiropractic care is drastically improved nightly sleep.

Reduce your exposure to artificial light

Artificial light disrupts our sleep/wake cycle. Just a single ‘pulse’ of artificial light at night disrupts this cycle, which can not only impact our sleep, but also increase our risk of cancer. Another study showed that the blue light emitted from alarm clocks and other digital devices can affect the sleep cycle by increasing melatonin levels.

Follow these tips to avoid light exposure:

  • Don’t use a computer for 2 hours before going to bed. No staying up late on Facebook and Twitter!
  • Use blackout shades to make your bedroom pitch black.
  • Cover your digital alarm clock or get an analog clock.
  • Turn off all digital devices that glow or give off any type of light.
  • Use a sleep mask.

Don’t be too full – or too hungry

Some people sleep better after eating a light dinner. This is especially true for those with digestive issues. Others – like those with a tendency toward low blood-sugar levels – do better with a snack before bed (and possibly even during the night).

Go to bed earlier

You’ve all heard the saying “an hour before midnight is worth two hours after”. It turns out there is some truth to that. When you fall asleep, you go through a 90-minute cycle of non-REM sleep followed by REM sleep. But the ratio of non-REM to REM sleep within those 30 minute cycles changes across the night. In the early part of the night (11pm – 3am), the majority of those cycles are composed of deep non-REM sleep and very little REM sleep. In the second half of the night (i.e. 3am – 7am) this balance changes, such that the 90-minute cycles are comprised of more REM sleep (the stage associated with dreaming) as well as a lighter form of non-REM sleep.

What’s important about this is that the cycles with more REM sleep is where our body regenerates and repairs tissue and engages in other restorative processes. If we don’t get enough deep sleep, we can’t rejuvenate and heal.

So you say you’re a night owl?

Patients often tell me they’re “naturally” night owls, and they’ve always preferred to stay up late and sleep in. But in truth there’s nothing natural about this. For millions of years of human evolution sleep patterns remained in synch with the daily variation in light exposure. We rose with the sun, and went to be soon after sundown. This is what our bodies are adapted for.

In almost all cases, having a lot of energy late into the night is a sign of a disrupted sleep rhythm. Normally, the hormone cortisol should be high in the morning and decrease throughout the day and into the evening. This gives us the energy we need to wake up in the morning, and allows us to start winding down after dark so we’re ready to sleep. In people who’ve been exposed to significant chronic stress, this rhythm goes haywire. They have low cortisol in the morning (which makes it very hard for them to get going) and high cortisol at night, which gives them that late second wind. While drinking several cups of coffee in the morning alleviates the morning fatigue to some degree, it also perpetuates the pattern by revving them up in the afternoon and evening.

Is Cardio Helping You to Lose Weight?

Many people are very curious to know how I lost 40lbs in a relatively short amount of time with very little sweating involved!  Mostly it was the impact of changing my eating habits, but that is not to discount how I changed my exercise too.  I’ve never been a fan of consistent “cardio” workouts.   So when I was introduced to the latest research and understandings related to the actual results cardiovascular exercise has on the body,  I saw that I did not have to spend an hour running in the gym to produce the physical health I wanted.

There’s no question that regular exercise is essential to health. For the majority of human evolution, we had to exert ourselves – often quite strenuously – just to get food. We naturally spent a lot of time outdoors in the sun, walking, hunting, and gathering. We had no concept of this as “exercise” or “working out”…It was just life.

Things are different today. 60% of American adults are not regularly active, and 25% get no exercise at all, other than walking back and forth between the car, the cubicle and the refrigerator. We all know the rate of childhood and adult obesity is on a dramatic rise. This lack of physical activity has profound consequences.

Many Americans have been caught up in the fitness craze over the last 40 years, devoting countless hours to jogging outside of on the treadmill in the hopes of slimming down, getting healthy and preventing disease. But while this type of activity may help with stress management, research suggests that it’s useless for weight loss and may in fact be detrimental to health. .

Why “cardio” doesn’t work for weight loss

When I say “cardio”, I’m referring to steady-state, repetitive activity done at a moderate intensity like jogging outdoors, running on a treadmill or climbing the Stairmaster

Most people are surprised to learn that cardio doesn’t work for weight loss. How could this be? There are three main reasons:

  • caloric burn during exercise is generally small;
  • people who exercise more also tend to eat more (which negates the weight regulating effect of exercise); and,
  • increasing specific periods of exercise may cause people to become even more sedentary otherwise.

Why cardio may be harmful;

Too much cardio exercise has a number of harmful effects on the body:

  • increases oxidative damage
  • increases inflammation (the root of all disease)
  • depresses the immune system
  • decreases fat metabolism
  • disrupts cortisol levels
  • causes neurodegeneration

Overtraining is especially damaging because of its effects on cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone which promotes abdominal fat gain and muscle loss, causing further weight gain.

No cardio? Then what should we do instead?

In short, we should move like our ancestors. They didn’t take off for a 45-minute jog, nor did they go down and swim laps for an hour. Yet they were extremely fit and almost entirely free of the modern diseases that plague us today.

They performed low-intensity movements like walking, gathering foods or working in other capacities on a regular basis. These periods of low-intensity activity were punctuated by brief periods of much higher-intensity activity – such as going on a hunt, running from a predator, or fighting for survival.

This is the type of movement our bodies are adapted for, and thus this is what we should aim for in our daily lives. But how do we do that?  We should:

  1. Move frequently at a slow pace
  2. Lift heavy things and sprint occasionally

Move frequently at a slow pace

Moving frequently at a slow pace means approximately 3-5 hours a week of low level activity like walking, cycling, gardening, hiking, performing manual labor, etc. This mimics our ancestral movement, helps maintain a healthy weight, promotes proper metabolic function and provides a foundation for more strenuous activity. Another benefit of this type of activity is that it’s often performed outdoors. Spending time outdoors reduces stress, increases vitamin D levels, and brings us pleasure, joy and a sense of connection to the world around us.

I think one of the best ways to do this type of movement is to integrate it into your daily life. This could include commuting to work and doing errands on foot or by bicycle, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, doing your own gardening and yard work, etc.

Lift heavy things and sprint occasionally

In contrast to cardio, this type of exercise involves performing movements at very high intensity for short periods of time – usually between 30 seconds and 2 minutes exercise.
How do you see best fit to incorporate these strategies into YOUR life?

Top 13 Food Sources for Long Term Health and Longevity

Notice the diversity and distinction of the foods listed below for their nutrient dense content and overall health benefits.  How many of them would you estimate you consume on a weekly basis?

Remember, this isn’t to say that food sources not listed here are not healthy, but I’ve taken this list from colleagues whose immense knowledge and research has led them to this list for the maximum beneficial nutrient density and diversity.

1.    Butter from grass-fed cows (raw)

2.    Oysters

3.    Liver from grass-fed animals

4.    Eggs from grass-fed hens

5.    Cod liver oil

6.    Fish eggs

7.    Whole raw milk from grass-fed cows

8.    Bone broth

9.    Wild salmon

10.  Whole yoghurt or kefir

11.  Beef from grass-fed steers

12.  Sauerkraut

13.  Organic Beets

Winter Sickness

Question: Winter is a tough time for me. It seems like whenever anyone around me is sick, I get it. What can I do?

When you’re exposed to colds and flus, your immune system requires a certain amount of energy to fight off the illness. If you don’t let yourself slow down and properly rest during these winter months, you could be depleting your necessary reserve of that energy and therefore weakening your resistance to illness. The fact is there is less energy to go around during the colder winter months and some people hover closer to their threshold than others. Thus, it might be necessary for you to consider how you spend your energy and conserve more of it.

Doing Nothing

People often think that being still in meditation means “doing nothing.”  This could not be further from the truth!  Ask someone who devotes time in the day to meditate and “do nothing” how much more productive and focused they are for having been still in meditation earlier.  It is the stillness that gives to us the extreme focus to concentrate on those aspects of our lives which we choose to be priorities, rather than “to-do’s”.  When we focus on priorities, we may not get more things done, but we accomplish far more to what matters in our life.

So, “doing nothing” is actually doing something very important and critical to living a very healthy, peaceful, and fulfilled life.

Try the practice of sitting quietly and continuously without getting sidetracked by thoughts and stories that arise-instead, just let them go and return back to nothing.  Focus on your breathing.  During these short days and long nights, it is the perfect opportunity to begin a practice of meditation, even if for only 5 minutes in the morning or before going to bed, which are the most powerful times to practice.

By being still and in a state of conscious awareness, we can return to a more fulfilling way of being.  Sitting still with your mind at rest means intentionally letting go of any preoccupation with the future, or concern of the past. As you return to the present moment you can live far more powerfully and effectively, no matter what you are up to in life!

Winter Season

Though many of us complain about the shorter days upon us, the onset of winter offers us an opportunity to rest, something we must do if we are to be as healthy as we want.

It makes sense that at this time of year we take time to settle in for the night, enjoying the peace and quiet, and seeking stillness amidst the chaos around us. Clearly, with so few hours of daylight it doesn’t make sense to plan outdoor activities and start new projects.  Therefore, it is wisest and completely natural to “come inside” and focus on resting.

Despite the fact that we live in a culture where we have to be constantly producing and moving forward or else people call us lazy, we must pay attention to this season and what it requires.   During this “long night,” try to let go of the misconception that resting is a waste of time.  Rather, come inside, settle in and be still, understanding that our growth requires it.

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