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Sleep Optimization

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Sleep Optimization

Crossfit 2232 is ramping up this year’s Weight Loss Challenge.  As part of the challenge we are digging into the nuts and bolts of a healthy lifestyle like diet and exercise, but there is one other aspect of a healthy lifestyle that gets over looked.  . . . . Sleep

The average American only gets 6.8 hours of sleep a night.  According to Gallup Poling only 59% of U.S. citizens gets 7+ hours of sleep.  This percent has dropped drastically since 1942 when the average was 84%.  This statistic is very alarming if you also look at the increase in health problems in America.

Scientists and health professionals are linking many of our chronic health problems to lack of sleep.  According to the National Institute of Health, “50 to 70 million Americans are affected by chronic sleep disorders and intermittent sleep problems that can significantly diminish health, alertness and safety. Untreated sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, heart disease, stroke, depression, diabetes and other chronic diseases”

Here is an example of why sleep is important:

Do you know how long the human body can go without food?    About 21 days

Do you know how long the human body can go without sleep?    About 18 days

According to the National Sleep Foundation, Maureen Weston of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire entered a rocking chair marathon in April of 1977. She rocked her chair for 18 days, 17 hours without sleep.  She reported paranoia, blurred vision, slurred speech, and memory and concentration lapses.

This tells me that sleep is inherently more important than food is.  To understand why this is it is important to understand what happens to the human body and brain while you sleep.

According to the National Sleep Foundation there are 5 stages of sleep each lasting up to or around 90 minutes.   I have listed the five stages of sleep below.

Stage 1

* Between being awake and falling asleep

* Light sleep

Stage 2

* Onset of sleep

* Becoming disengaged from surroundings

* Breathing and heart rate are regular

* Body temperature drops (so sleeping in a cool room is helpful)

Stages 3 and 4

* Deepest and most restorative sleep

* Blood pressure drops

* Breathing becomes slower

* Muscles are relaxed

* Blood supply to muscles increases

* Tissue growth and repair occurs

* Energy is restored

* Hormones are released, such as: Growth hormone, essential for growth and development, including muscle development

REM (25% of night): First occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and recurs about every 90 minutes, getting longer later in the night

* Provides energy to brain and body

* Supports daytime performance

* Brain is active and dreams occur

* Eyes dart back and forth

* Body becomes immobile and relaxed, as muscles are turned off

During these stages of sleep the body is doing multiple things to recover from the day before.  Body temperature cools down several degrees to allow the cells of the body (mitochondria) to speed up cell growth and fight inflammation.  The brain cools down and is literally washed and cleansed. During the R.E.M. cycle your brain is actually retaining memory.  The loss of R.E.M. cycle is now a focus of research correlating that lost cycle with Alzheimer’s and dementia (National Sleep Foundation).  Optimally, people must achieve 5-7 cycles of the above stages each night.  If this is not achieved then the body is unable to properly recover from the day before thus promoting very dangerous health problems.

How do we achieve optimal sleep?

I have studied this question immensely over the past eight months and I have come to the simple conclusion that optimal sleep can be accomplished even in our very fast pace world.   Here are some steps that you can put in place to optimize your health.  I am only listing three because from what I have read and seen these three are the most important.

1. Go to bed and get up at the same time everyday
Every person, animal, and plant on this earth has a circadian rhythm. This rhythm is like a finely conducted orchestra.  When a musical orchestra is working as one they can make beautiful music, but, when that orchestra is off it sounds horrible!  Sleep is the same way.  That is why you must go to bed and get up the same time every day, EVEN on weekends!  For example:

Bed time between 9-9:30PM

Wake time between 5:30-6AM

Times of course will depend on optimal sleep of 7 ½ to 8 hours so you decide what your times are, but make this a routine and stick with it.

2. The bedroom is for Sleep and Sex* Only! (*within the scope of marriage)
This rule is equally as important as the first.  There should be no distraction in the bedroom such as TV, electronics, or books.  The no TV rule is usually the hardest for people but the most important.  TV should be watched in the family or living room not the bedroom. This also applies to electronics, not in the bedroom!  All these things cause the brain to be stimulated and that is the opposite of what you want when you lay down to sleep.  So, the bedroom is for Sleep and Sex Only!

3. No Smartphones, Laptops, or Bright (Blue)light before bed
If you haven’t taken advice from this blog so far then please consider this one.  I know for a fact that just by removing electronics from use at least 1-2 hours before sleep will dramatically help sleep function.  Let me explain why.

Everybody has hormones in the body that control many aspects of our lives.  Everybody has heard of the two obvious ones, testosterone and estrogen, but did you know that you have one that affects your sleep?  It’s called Melatonin.  Melatonin is centralized in the brain.  During the day when you are exposed to direct light, melatonin is suppressed and the body is awake.  At night when light is gone and we are in a darkened state, melatonin is released and that’s when sleepiness sets in.  So, as you can obviously tell if you stay up all night playing games or watching TV, the blue light rays from electronics reduce the amount of melatonin that is released from the brain thus causing you to be less sleepy.

There are several ways to remedy this.  One, you should not use electronics 2 hours before bed time!  That is the simplest answer; however, if you are like me and have to use your smartphone for everything, you can download an app for your smart devices like Twilight that will slowly during the day remove the blue light from the screen turning the screen red.

Lastly, your bedroom should be completely dark and comfortable.  Black out the windows, turn up the A/C, and enjoy some well-deserved R & R.

Sleep is very important as you can see from above and in my opinion is no.1 in the hierarchy of health.  Try some of these suggestions that I have made and see for yourself if you are actually optimizing YOUR sleep.