by Dr. Shelese Pratt ND @ Flatirons Naturopathic Clinic
Now that I have touched on the importance of daily rhythm and nutrition as two critical components of healthy endocrine functioning, I will focus on the third piece; sleep. So often we hear how important it is to get plenty of sleep, yet as a society, our priorities tend to shift away from this. Millions of Americans have difficulty sleeping. Earlier this year the CDC declared sleeplessness a “public health epidemic” affecting both children and adults.
Our physical health, longevity and well-being are directly affected by the amount and quality of sleep we get. Sleeplessness has been linked to chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, depression, and heart disease. Additionally, our judgement, mood, immune system, and ability to learn and retain information are all areas that are compromised without adequate, quality sleep. Sleep plays a vital role in repairing our bodies, consolidating memory, detoxification and numerous other rejuvenating functions.
Our body manages and requires sleep very much in the same way that it regulates our needs for food, water, and respiration. Establishing healthy sleep habits and a rhythm is key. We need to place the same importance on a good night’s sleep that we place on our nutrition, water and exercise habits.
If we don’t have a set bedtime and are constantly pushing through feeling tired (or don’t even know when we’re tired), the quality of sleep is poor. Keeping lights on and staying awake even when we are tired changes our cortisol curve. Blood sugar regulation is off, hormones become “off” and melatonin production is strained. Hormones are released that keep us awake and interfere with sleep the entire night.
Once in a while this is ok, but if we are always going to bed at different times, then we will lay down and not be able to fall asleep or we lay down and fall asleep right away because our body is exhausted. If we don’t establish a smooth, consistent routine, the body has no idea when it is going to get rest. This cycle burns the adrenals and affects the thyroid, blood sugar levels, hormones, etc., eventually putting a lot of stress on the body. Conversely, it is calming for our body to know when it is going to get rest.
A healthy amount of continuous sleep depending on one’s age is as follows:
1-3 years, 14 hours/day
3-6 years, 10-12 hours/day
7-12 years, 10-11 hours/day
12-18 years, 8-9 hours/day
18 and up, 7-8 hours
Some useful tips for getting a good night sleep:
- If transitioning to an earlier bedtime is difficult, try taking small steps and move your bedtime back by 10 minutes each night to help your body adjust.
- Turn off lights, cell phones, alarm clock radios, computers, television and electronic reading devices. Lights and electronics overstimulate the adrenals and interfere with quality sleep.
- Exercise early in the day - exercise releases cortisol and will keep you awake before bed.
- Avoid stimulating activities or conversations close to bedtime.
- Do not drink caffeine after 2 p.m.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, nicotine - alcohol disrupts sleep in the second half of the night as your body starts to break it down.
- Cut out sugar and simple carbohydrates to balance blood sugar - unbalanced blood sugar levels can create sleep disturbances.
- Don’t eat a heavy (protein-dense or fried) meal before bed - your body won’t be able to rest and digest at same time.
- Do not drink too much water before bed - it can cause you to wake up to go to the bathroom.
- Keep the bedroom as a sanctuary for sleep and sex only - no desk or work.
- Keep your internal clock schedule, maintain the same bedtime and wake time every day and try to stay close to your clock on weekends.
- Get plenty of exposure to natural light during the day - getting light into the retina helps the pineal gland secret melatonin, helping you sleep better at night.
- Establish a relaxing routine or rituals - soothing music or reading, epsom salt bath/shower, lavender essential oil on your pillow, meditation or breath work.
- Taking calcium or oral magnesium supplements in the evening can also promote a more restful sleep.