Learn How Sleep Enhances Detoxification, Fitness, Mood and Overall Health
A good night’s sleep is as important to your healthy lifestyle as exercise, diet and smart detoxification routines. You can eat all the high-octane, power-packed superfoods available, and artfully blend high-intensity workouts with yoga and stretching, but if you don’t get a good night’s sleep, your most cherished health goals won’t be met.
All creatures need sleep. It’s a time of rest and repose when the brain and body flush toxins and waste out of the cells.
Poor sleep impairs your memory and mood, raises your risk of cardiovascular disease, and triggers changes in your metabolism that promote weight gain. Poor sleep also leads to lower levels of cortisol in the morning. Cortisol is the stress hormone that is meant to rise about 20 minutes after we awaken in the morning, helping prepare us for the day’s activities. Poor sleep may also affect the immune and nervous systems in ways we don’t completely understand—poor sleep, for instance, seems associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Are We Sleepless in America?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society both recommend that adults aged 18–60 years get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Yet in spite of the importance of sleep, we are all too often “Sleepless in America”—the title of a documentary produced by National Geographic in partnership with the National Institutes of Health and the Public Goods project, in 2014. The scientists in the documentary note that sleep problems take a great toll on all ages, including young Americans. Thirty-three percent of Americans are sleep deprived, according to the CDC.
According to a recent survey by the National Sleep Foundation, forty-five percent of Americans say that poor or insufficient sleep affected their daily activities at least once in the past seven days, and sixty-seven percent of those with less than good sleep quality also report “poor” or “only fair” health. A surprising 24 percent of women say they have woken up feeling well-rested zero of the past seven days. More than half of Americans surveyed had taken a nap within the past week, suggesting that many of us need more sleep than we are getting at night.
The National Center on Sleep Disorders Research estimates that as many as 70 million Americans may suffer from interrupted or fragmented sleep, from conditions such as insomnia, frequent nighttime awakenings, sleep apnea, or restless legs syndrome.
When we are sleep deprived, we are often also dream deprived. Dreaming occurs during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, and many of the health concerns attributed to sleep deprivation are thought to result in REM sleep deprivation. REM sleep occurs several times nightly, and is thought to help us consolidate memories, and to benefit mood.
The Many Ways Poor Sleep Harms Our Health
Studies show that sleep deprivation, even for a night or two, increases many pro-inflammatory signaling molecules in the body, which can adversely impact both immune and nervous system function., This can persist beyond the actual days of lost sleep, despite normal recovery sleep in subsequent nights. That means that, despite seeming recovery when you catch up on your sleep, residual performance impairment remains, and if challenged again with a bad night’s sleep, impairment sets in even more quickly.
Poor sleep is correlated with inflammatory bowel diseases. Poor sleep also affects the hormones that regulate your appetite—and when sleep deprived the levels of the hormone that makes you feel hungry go up, while the levels that help you feel full go down. Thus you may eat more when your sleep cycle has been disturbed. Sleep also impacts the way your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood glucose (sugar) level. Sleep deficiency results in a higher than normal blood sugar level, which may increase your risk for diabetes.
The Many Ways That Good Sleep Helps Our Health
Deep sleep is good for us: it stimulates the body to release growth hormone. In adults the pulse of growth hormone secretion occurs just after the onset of sleep, as slow wave sleep (stages 3 and 4) occurs. The normal nocturnal growth hormone surge disappears with sleep deprivation. Growth hormone has many powerful impacts on the body, including stimulating protein metabolism and synthesis, enhancing the utilization of fat, stimulating the breakdown of triglycerides, and helping to maintain blood glucose levels in a normal range.
Your immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy. In fact, sleep may be the best prevention around for colds and flu. And while you are asleep, your brain detoxifies itself up to ten times more quickly than when you are awake.
A Good Night’s Sleep Detoxifies Your Brain
You may have heard of the lymphatic system, but did you know you have a “glymphatic” system as well? Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) discovered that part of sleep’s restorative power is the flushing out and clearance of the wastes that accumulate during wakefulness. Dubbed the glymphatic system—the lymph system of the brain—it is regulated by brain cells called glial cells. The glymphatic system drains toxins or waste products that could contribute to neurological disorders and to Alzheimer’s disease.
This is a healthy “brain drain” and is facilitated through the circulation of cerebral spinal fluid. The movement of cerebral spinal fluid is known as the third circulation in our bodies—the first being cardiovascular, and the second lymphatic. The third circulation has been referred to as the body’s “liquid light”, one that not only flushes out toxins, but flushes in nutrients to neuronal and glial cells. It transports hormones, neurotransmitters, and neuropeptides throughout the central nervous system and brain. And it is all dependent on a good night’s sleep.
Healthy sleep has been shown to improve problem solving ability and enhance memory. It improves athletic performance. A study on eleven basketball players found that periods of longer sleep enhanced speed, accuracy, reaction times and mood.
Healthy sleep isn’t just about hours spent sleeping. It’s also about sleeping “well”—without frequent awakenings, without pain, and without the long-term assistance of medications with side effects.
How to Become A Good Sleeper
Sleep hygiene is a way of improving the quality and length of sleeping time. Recommendations include: avoiding caffeine, especially in the evenings; avoiding nicotine, another stimulant; cutting down on alcohol, which may help you fall asleep but will cause a rebound awakening in the middle of the night; exercising regularly; going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time in the morning; eliminating noise and distraction from the room you sleep in.
It’s well known that exposure to light at night—whether indoor lighting, city lights at night, or the blue light of the many electronic screens in our lives, is a proven impediment to quality sleep. In fact, research suggests that both the quality and “architecture” of sleep (how well we go through the stages of sleep) is associated with light exposure. Both the timing and intensity of the exposure matter, and they modulate “sleep pressure”, or the feeling that we need to sleep, as well as how well and long we sleep. Limiting light at night. Thus, minimizing light exposure in the evenings, turning down the brightness of screens or adding blue light filters can help support a good night’s sleep. Himalayan salt lamps (large pieces of pure Himalayan Salt with a small bulb inside) have a soothing orangey-red glow that can be relaxing. Essential oil diffusers offer aromatherapy and light therapy. Many use LED lighting in different soothing colors, and they can aid relaxation by aerosolizing soothing essential oils such as lavender and chamomile.
Mindfulness meditation is well-known to relax the body and the restless “monkey mind.” One excellent source for exercises and the philosophical insights behind mindfulness is the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn. For three decades he has been offering teachings, as well as CDS and online programs to aid in stress-reduction, relaxation, and peace. “The most important thing,” he writes on his website, “is that each of us meet ourselves in the deepest of ways. These mindfulness practices are a direct path to that intimate, healing, and on-going encounter.”
Phytonutrients For a Deep, Restorative Sleep
Finally, nourishing phytonutrients can help support a good night’s sleep. Adding low doses of natural melatonin an hour before bedtime can benefit sleep. Doses as low as 1/10th of a milligram have been proven helpful. A meta-analysis of nineteen different studies on 1,683 individuals concluded that melatonin significantly decreases the time it takes to fall asleep, and improves total sleep time. Melatonin can also reduce jet lag, even when travelling through five or more time zones.
When standard supplements containing melatonin are taken, around 15% of the melatonin is actually absorbed. A liquid liposomal formulation can provide rapid distribution and uptake. A liquid format also can be easily titrated to a very low dose for the most sensitive individuals.
Hemp oil calms the body and brain, helping quiet inflammation. Hemp oil is non-psychoactive and is extracted from hemp—which belongs to the cannabis family. At least seventy non-psychogenic but potent bioactive cannabinoids have been identified. Cannabinoids help modulate inflammation, appetite, sleep, pain, mood, many aspects of metabolism, and our neurologic and immune function. The cellular receptors to which cannabinoids bind are found at high levels in the nervous and immune systems. By decreasing inflammation and pain, hemp oil can improve sleep for many individuals.
To assist in relaxation and peaceful calm, the calming amino acid gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) is effective. GABA is the “calm and connect” molecule. Our brain naturally produces GABA, and it is capable of slowing down nerve impulses and balancing out our response to stress. GABA supplementation has been found to significantly increase calming alpha-wave patterns and to reduce anxiety levels.
Though GABA works well on its own, its impact is enhanced by another calming amino acid, L-theanine. This molecule is found naturally in tea. After supplementing with L-theanine, brain wave patterns smooth out. L-theanine levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in saliva, and lowers blood pressure. It also seems to block the binding of L-glutamic acid to excitatory glutamate receptors in the central nervous system.
With the aid of these soothing and supportive phytonutrients, and a conscious lifestyle that enhances peace, calm and a good night’s sleep, your health and well-being will be truly supported.
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