Last month I told you about the four pillars of health…nutrition, exercise, life quality, and sleep. This month I thought I’d share some deeper insights with you about sleep.
Importance of Sleep
Unfortunately, sleep is often overlooked as a pillar of health. So much of our attention goes into nutrition and exercise that sleep sometimes doesn’t even come into our health consciousness. In part, this is due to the lack of commercialization companies and individuals can create around sleep compared to nutrition and exercise. Short of selling you a bed and some bedding what more could people offer? A personal sleep trainer? A 10 day sleep detox? But despite this, sleep is as essential to your health as exercise or nutrition.
Sleep does a lot for our health but I’ll keep it short and tell you in one word why it has such a powerful influence over our health….inflammation.
Low-level chronic inflammation (LLCI) is a silent killer. It increases our risk of developing cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes, dementias, and many, many other diseases. And sleep is directly linked to LLCI.
Our bodies follow a day/night clock, called our Circadian rhythm. We are programmed to sleep when it’s dark and to be awake during light hours. This light/dark cycle drives biological functions in our bodies. The body systems are very sensitive to disruptions in the cycle. Chronic disruptions cause…you guessed it…chronic inflammation.
When you go to bed at night, your immune system goes to work. It’s active during the day but at night, it really kicks into high gear. A primary function of this increased activity is to help the body repair itself. This could be the result of damage done from an illness or injury but most of the time it’s just standard housekeeping.
The body can’t repair itself without the help of the immune system. Besides clearing out microbes, the immune system stimulates stem cells, clears away dead cells, eliminates precancerous cells, and helps rid the body of toxic waste.
The immune system’s repair process and restoration work is left incomplete when our sleep is disrupted. This leaves the immune system struggling to complete the job during our waking hours. Chronic disruptions prevents the immune system from completing repairs and this leads to low-level chronic inflammation and over time, an accumulation of damage.
Both the chronic inflammation and unrepaired damage can lead to diseases. If tissues can’t get repaired, over time it will cause some kind of failure in function; brain tissue = dementia, heart muscle = heart attack, etc. In addition, the chronic nature of the inflammation increases the damage done instead of helping to repair the tissues.
Apnea, insomnia and shift work are common sleep disruptions associated with increased disease risks. Recent studies even implicated smaller changes in sleep times (ie. changes in bedtime during the week vs the weekend) with increased disease risks.
Maximize Your Sleep Routine for Better Health
To get the most our of your sleep, prevent disease risks, and just feel better, try these tips:
- Go to bed and rise at the same time every day of the week
- Are you always tired during the day? Talk to your doctor about getting tested for sleep apnea
- Does insomnia keep you up? Time to get it under control. Studies suggest cognitive-based therapy is as good as medications
- Make you bedroom dark, light during the dark cycle can confuse the body, preventing needed repairs
- Get a good bed that let’s you sleep through the night
- Adjust your bedroom temperature. Ideal temp: 60-67 degrees fahrenheit
- Avoid shift work but if you must, according to studies, the effects are reversible once you go back to a normal sleep pattern
Until next time, stay well!
Dr. Tobi Schmidt