Disease Proof Your Body With the Power of Sleep

I just finished reading an eye opening book by Neuroscientist Matthew Walker, “Why We Sleep” where he breaks down the vital importance of this fundamental aspect of wellness. An explosion of research in the last ten years has illuminated just how non-negotiable quality sleep is if we are genuinely interested in reducing our risk for chronic diseases such as:

Type 2 Diabetes
Cardiovascular Disease

Not surprisingly, studies have already shown that people who do not get enough sleep are more likely to overeat, follow an erratic diet, exercise less, and put on excess weight.

Compelling discoveries show that poor quality/insufficient sleep (6 hours or less a night) is a significant risk factor for problems with mood, emotional management, memory, cognition, immunity, appetite regulation and insulin sensitivity.

Bottomline, the underlying processes that happen during sleep are critical biological mechanisms that can’t be shortchanged without dire consequences. Think of sleep as a vital restoration program that discharges harmful proteins, toxicants from your brain and body that naturally accumulate in the waking state. When you don’t give yourself the full 7-8 hours of nightly sleep, you miss out on this built in disease prevention system.

For instance, one research study led by the WHO, found that inadequate sleep was associated with double the risk of a fatal heart attack and up to four times the risk of stroke. IAs a result, they recommended that guidelines add sleep as a risk factor for preventing cardiovascular disease.
Research also shows that sleep restriction affects blood sugar levels due to its effects on insulin, cortisol, and oxidative stress. In addition to raising blood sugar levels in people who already have diabetes, sleep deprivation also raises the risk of developing insulin resistance in the first place.

Moreover, studies found that poor sleep’s toll on our immune system may double the risk for certain cancers. And finally, researchers learned that individuals who slept fewer than five hours per night were twice as likely to develop dementia.

But ultimately this new understanding of the health risks of sleep deprivation is good news because we can truly embrace sleep as our superpower. By simply committing to getting our daily 7-8 hours of natural sleep (without sleeping pills), we can readily improve our memory, regulate hormones, fortify our immune systems and prevent disease.

Of course creating the healthy habits that make this a reality for some can be super challenging. We live in a society that’s addicted to 24-7 non stop doing and let’s face it next to nutrition and exercise, sleep has been the stepchild of wellness.

And yes, there are A LOT of factors that can interfere with a good night’s sleep from work stressors and family responsibilities to physical challenges. But you can take some simple steps to begin to get in sync with your body’s internal clock, the key to controlling your sleep cycle.

Here are my Top 4 Tips:

Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule – Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends. Being consistent reinforces your body’s natural circadian rhythm which is the key to balancing the hormones that support a healthy brain and body. If you can’t fall asleep right within about 20 minutes of going to bed, it’s recommended to leave your bed and do something relaxing like reading a book or listening to music (no screen time). Go back to bed when you feel sleepy. Keep this process going to train your body to stick to a consistent sleep-wake cycle.

Eat To Balance Your Blood Sugar – What and how you eat throughout your entire day has a huge impact on your sleep-wake cycle. Strive for a regular eating schedule, whole nutrient dense meals with healthy fat, fiber and protein. Stop eating 3 hours before bedtime since insulin resistance naturally kicks up at night and avoid the two biggest disruptors: caffeine and alcohol at least 5 hours before.

Activate the Body’s “Relaxation Response” With Meditation – Since sleep problems often stem from stress and worry, meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Find a technique that works for you. There are some wonderful apps that can assist you with step by step instructions. But a simple and very effective practice is mindfulness meditation. Lie down comfortably, focus on your breathing. Inhale slowly for 10 counts, then gently suspend your breath for 10 counts. Exhale slowly through your nose for 10 counts. Repeat five times.

Set Up A Sleep Sanctuary – Keep your room dark and cool. Heat is the enemy of good sleep. Your circadian rhythm lowers your core body temperature by as much as 2 degrees during the night. It’s recommended that you keep your room temperature no higher than 65 degrees. As your body cools, your pineal gland, located in your brain, releases rising amounts of the hormone melatonin, which prepares your body for sleep.

For more like this, listen to this week’s podcast guest, Morgan Adams, Women’s Sleep Coach, “Why Sleep Is Your Superpower”.

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