Sleep - The Elixer of Life

Written By Chiropractic Health and Wellness on February 17, 2014

Sleep is, for some, as elusive as wisps of smoke.  We crave it and yet, the more we need it, the more difficult it becomes to get it.  Many of us lack both the quantity and quality of sleep that we need for good health, productivity and disease prevention.   Insomnia (difficulty sleeping) is the second most common complaint (after pain) in doctors’ offices.  It affects an estimated 35% of the general population and costs the American public about $100 billion annually in medical expenses, accident related costs, and reduced productivity due to absenteeism and decreased work efficiency.

Major industrial disasters such as those at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Bhopal, as well as serious accidents, such as those involving the Exxon Valdez and Challenger have been officially attributed to errors in judgment caused by sleepiness in the workplace.  Each year in the U.S. there are over 100,000 car crashes resulting in at least 1,500 deaths resulting from drivers falling asleep at the wheel.

On the personal health side, chronic sleep deprivation results in decreased immune function and increased susceptibility to infection and cancer.  Changes in blood sugar handling also occur which contribute to obesity and adult-onset diabetes. Sleepiness also reduces mental acuity and speeds the aging process.  Parkinson disease, Alzheimer disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Kidney disease, and behavioral problems in children are all complicated by reduced sleep.

The fact is that we sleep 25% less than our forebears did a century ago and yet there is no evidence that we need less sleep.  The result is that we are going deeply into “sleep debt” with dire social and personal consequences.

Sleep is poorly understood and much remains to be discovered about its function, but it is clear that your brain and body use it as a means of recharging vital systems.  Most, but not all, of our sleep difficulties derive from social and economic factors.  Some of our difficulties stem from bona fide medical conditions that require identification.  For the majority though, some simple measures might make a big difference. 

Tips for a better night’s sleep

1. Go to bed earlier and get up earlier.  The body, like all organisms that have evolved on this planet, is timed with the light and dark cycles. The most powerful restoration occurs between 11 P.M. and 1 A.M.
2. Avoid sugary snacks before bed as these can elevate blood sugar initially only to see it drop later in the night.
3. Wear socks to bed and keep your feet warm.
4. Read something that warms you spiritually and settles your mind- our earthly cares are what generally keep us awake and reading something that validates your essential nature moves these cares to the sidelines.
5. If your thoughts are racing with all of the things that you need to do the next day, take a moment and write these things down and, literally, lay them aside.
6. Keep a regular routine, going to bed at the same time and having the same “bedtime ritual” each day.  This is one way that you let your body know it is time for sleep.
7. Sleep in complete darkness, or as close to it as possible.  Use low lights in the half hour before you go to bed and then keep the lights off if you have to get up in the middle of the night.  Doing these things keeps your sleep hormones elevated.
8. Don’t watch TV before bed or use the bed for anything other than sleeping and sex.  Once again it is important to create a “setting” conducive to sleep- bodies like a routine.
9.  If other methods fail try taking the hormone Melatonin or other precursors such as 5-hydroxytryptophan, which is a simple amino acid that can assist in initiating and maintaining the sleep cycle. Use these in moderation, and as a last resort.  Consult with your chiropractor on proper usage.
10. Take herbs such as valerian root, hops, passionflower; minerals such as calcium and magnesium; and vitamins such as B6, which, for many, can help, calm the system and allow better sleep.  Talk with one of our doctors about how to use these products.
11. Avoid caffeine (duh!).
12. Eat a high protein snack a couple hours before bed, as this will increase the production of sleep hormones.
13. Reduce or avoid as many drugs as possible.  Many prescription drugs interfere with sleep.  Check with your medical doctor about the possible side effects and discuss alternatives and reducing/eliminating medications.
14. Turn your alarm clock away from you so that you are not paying attention to the time if you have difficulty sleeping- this only adds to the frustration.
15. Avoid alcohol before bed as it interrupts the deeper sleep states.
16. Lose weight.  Doing so reduces the incidence of sleep apnea, which has a significant impact on sleep quality.
17. Avoid foods that you might be sensitive to as these can have a major impact on your sleep.
18. Don’t drink any liquids within 2 hours of going to sleep to avoid having to get up in the middle of the night.
19. Take a hot bath, shower, or sauna before bed, as this can be quite relaxing.
20. Have your adrenal glands checked by your chiropractor or natural medicine clinic as they have a huge impact on sleep.
21. Exercise regularly and enjoy some time in full sunlight each and every day.  Doing so puts your body in touch with natural rhythms that will help it sleep.

Finally, get adjusted regularly as doing so has been shown to reduce the stress level in the body.  Many people report that they sleep more soundly when they get adjusted.  If these common-sense measures fail then, of course, you should be medically evaluated.  However most people respond beautifully to the above measures.  Please let us know if you or someone you know has difficulty sleeping.  We will do what we can to help.

Good night,
Dr. Tim Fargo

Posted In: Nutrition Health Education Exercise