Health—Why in the World is it so Complicated?Fundamentals of Health Part 1: Sleep
By Dr. Amanda
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by how much information there is on how to be well? Lost on who you should listen to, what diet you should prescribe to, what supplements you should take, what exercises you should do?
While we each have a unique thumb print, the truth of the matter is that as human beings, we are all quite similar in biological demand. With that said, I think we can all agree that there are few things we need to survive but how is it exactly that each of us can thrive?
If you are in our office, you have heard us say that your nervous system cannot be in growth mode and protection mode at the same time, or in other words, if you are surviving you are not thriving and vice versa. If you’re reading this, you’re obviously surviving so how do we ensure that we thrive? Let’s begin with the fundamentals. First and foremost is sleep. Although, for optimal hormone health, women do need 1-2 more hours of sleep on average than men, everybody on the planet needs sleep. So many recovery and growth processes occur during sleep that without it, our entire system is excessively overtaxed.
We have all experienced extended periods with little to no sleep, and every time, like clockwork, you noticed neurological slowdowns. Recall is more difficult, focusing for long periods is nearly impossible, and everything is slightly irritating. So how much sleep do we need? While there is some variety as sleep requirements vary depending on gender, age, and other factors, research has found that despite the variables, humans need between 6-9 hours of sleep. How do you find out what works best for you? Begin studying your sleep. A very important thing here is to set a specific bedtime. To really optimize your sleep, your nervous system, circadian rhythm, and hormones, sticking to a bedtime is HUGE. By simply establishing a bedtime, you can then begin to figure out how much sleep you need to function optimally. Nowadays there are also some interesting technologies, like the Oura ring, that help you discover this.
Now some of you may be thinking, I’ve done this, my issue isn’t not having a bedtime or sleep schedule, my issue is falling asleep or staying asleep. So, without going into the deep end of sleep talk, if you are having trouble falling asleep, that is a tell-tale sign that your body is indeed stuck in survival mode or protection mode. If you have trouble staying asleep, is it very likely that there is significant discord amongst and between your bodily systems—all of which originate from a dysregulated nervous system.
Now you may be wondering, if my body is so incredible, why is my nervous system dysregulated and how do I regulate it? Let’s start with the first question. What dysregulates my nervous system? In today’s world, there are so many factors. One is technology. Have you noticed that every app that you can “accidentally” spend a ton of time on has you scrolling through the content vertically? This is to stimulate your sympathetic nervous system, that’s right, the portion of the nervous system that is primarily dedicated to surviving. This overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system down regulates your parasympathetic nervous system which is primarily dedicated to growth and repair which allows us to thrive. Two, too much screen time and blue light upon waking and before bed. I will save the brain wave conversation for another Daily Sprout but know that there is very different brain activity happening here and what we do during this time is important.
To regulate our circadian rhythms and influence our sleep positively, it is a great idea to get 2-3 minutes or more of sunlight upon awakening. It doesn’t matter if it’s cloudy, just step outside and breath in the fresh air. It is also good to step outside for a few minutes at sunset. Now if you’re like me you’re thinking, well the sun sets at 5 o’clock now what do I do for the rest of the hours? Continue your evening as usual, just try to make it outside during sunset and commit to cutting artificial light an hour before bed. This is TOUGH. Start slow. This means no cell phones or TV and hour before bed, and perhaps even stop using overhead lights and move to lamps and nightlights. Maybe upon beginning you make it 30 minutes before bed until you find a routine that supports you to make it an hour without screen time before bed. This will work wonders on your mental health and your sleep performance as you are now giving your nervous system time and space to upregulate the parasympathetic nervous system allowing your body to continue to grow and repair so that you can thrive.
Lastly, it is important to note that you could be perfect with morning and bedtime routine and still have difficulties falling or staying asleep. If this is you, then it is very likely that you endured an experience that your body perceived as very traumatic and a threat to your safety and/or existence. These experiences can literally shock the system into “getting stuck” in fight or flight and survival mode. It is okay, you don’t have to be “stuck” forever. At HealthSprout, we deliver neurologically focused adjustments to break these patterns so that your nervous system literally becomes unstuck or free. This takes time and can be supported in more ways than one. I often recommend breathwork and meditation to my patients. And while those are extremely potent practices, there is nothing more efficient at regulating and harmonizing the nervous system than a free nervous system—which is granted by the chiropractic adjustment. It is for this reason that the great majority of our patients under chiropractic care report better sleep and increased energy without practicing breathwork or meditation. We are designed naturally to be vibrant, energetic beings, we must simply come back to the basics and set our nervous system free. Many more parts coming soon.