It was a few weeks ago that a patient of mine asked me if I had written any Daily Sprouts about sleep. I said, sure, I am positive I have. And as we looked to find the information, it occurred to us that we had never written an article about sleep. We may have mentioned it within articles, but never actually wrote one about sleep.
So I am going to correct that problem! Indeed, sleep is one of the absolute most important components of health. If we consider the Five Essentials to Health: Good Nutrition, Exercise, Detox (Clean Living), Peace, and Nervous System function; we can come to the conclusion that SLEEP effects the last two. And I don’t need to prove that, it is an obvious fact to us that we are more relaxed and calm when we achieve greater sleep (just watch my three year old at 6pm if she skipped her nap that day). Also, your nervous system is partially a result of your peace (low stress=better nervous system function), and partially a function of your spine. So your rest has a significant impact on your nervous system.
You may have heard me comment about the health of my children. In our practice we have about 1200 active children patients, and as I consider all of them, I really believe that my two kids have the greatest health. Not because they were born healthier, but rather because the path for health has been a strict one for them. That being said, we had ice cream cones yesterday! But we are smart about what else happens on the same day, and when the next ice cream day will be. And even though we enjoy some treats, my kids have never eaten at McDonald’s, and never will. They eat vegetables at almost EVERY meal, and if not veges, then fruits. And yes, they were adjusted the day they were born, and have been ever since.
But the thing that separates them from my other child patients (I have about two dozen who have the same lifestyle as what I posted above), is that their sleep has been protected as an absolute necessity. And MAN does it show up in the immune system function. My Five and a half year old who is in kindergarten, comes home (she is in a private school, so she only does a half day) and takes a nap. She naps about 4 days a week, and we know it is PARAMOUNT in her health. My selfish desire is to keep her awake on the days that I can be around her, in order to spend more time with her. But I know our quality time together will go up significantly if I let her sleep and be healthier because of it.
So what research is out there to support sleep? There have been longevity studies that show that individuals who sleep better, and get more sleep will live longer. There have been specific illness studies comparing those who are battling cancer, HIV, and other diseases that might specifically prey on those with weaker immune systems, that show increased longevity and quality of life with increased sleep.
I am more interested in the studies that relate ongoing well defined sleep patterns with better overall lifestyle and mental health. It has been shown that the circadian rhythm that comes from having a specific sleep pattern, improves well being, and reduces risk of depression, ADD, and other behavioral diagnoses. Furthermore, it was found that by having this sleep rhythm follow the “normal” night and day cycles, that the reduction of those conditions was even greater.
So let me explain that in lay terms. Your rhythm of melatonin (sleep inducer) to seratonin (mood elevator) is more stable if you go to bed, and wake at close to the same times everyday. And that this rhythm goes a long way to insure your mental health is good. And if those times also follow a path, where you are sleeping as the sun is setting, and waking as the sun is rising, you are even more immune to those behavioral conditions.
This is really good news for those who get to bed at the same time every night, and it is as the night is upon us… and really bad news for those who work at night and sleep in the day, and then a week later they have a swing shift that has them doing just the opposite. You will see that the evidence of this has been increasing, so most companies who “swing shift” are keeping people locked in for longer periods of time, hoping to decrease their claims experience, and ultimately their cost of insurance, and total sick day exposure.
You may have seen the commercials for “Shift Work Disorder”, which are the name that the pharmaceutical companies have established for this condition, which then allows them to market a drug specifically for this condition. Before the label, doctors needed to have off label prescriptions for these conditions, because they didn’t always add up to clinical depression. But if you look at NUVIGIL you see that the disorder has many of the symptoms that occur in early depression. So you end up with a drug that is really a Stimulant, that has been on the market for narcolepsy, but now has a whole new use! The point is, it is a serious problem, but drugs aren’t an answer. Why kill yourself with these side effects, if you could hunt hard for a new job (even if it took three to five years to switch, it would be worth it) and figure out how to get normal sleep!
So take your sleep seriously, it has the ability to make or break your life. Oh yeah, it might take up to nine years for the damage that you are doing to yourself to catch up and become a symptom. I know, I have tried to shortcut sleep on and off for my entire life, and I still do, but I am always brought back to the reality that there is no substitute!