The Nine Essentials of Health, # 1: Rest and Sleep
Ahhhh…sleep is the best. I love settling in after a good day, shutting off the lights, cracking the window for fresh air, putting one pillow under my thighs and one under my head, tucking in nice and snug in comfy sheets and blankets, and dropping off into perfect slumber. To sleep, perchance to dream…
As adults, how long do we need to sleep? Researchers go back and forth with this, but the repeated results remain that sleep needs differ among populations. Some people (like me) do best with 9 hours, some can sleep 5 and be perfectly fine – but that last is rare. The safe bet is that most adults have a basal sleep need (the amount of sleep our bodies require regularly in order to perform at an optimal level) of 7-9 hours of solid sleep a night.
What a lot of people don’t count on is the fact that many (most) of us need to crash for a little while during the day. Our circadian sleep rhythms (daily cycles of sleepiness and wakefulness that we can entrain to an extent) periods during the day/night when we are more sleepy than at other times.
Notably, one of these occurs in the mid-afternoon. I call it “hitting the wall.” Our brain seems to be useless and we get cranky during these times – for me, it is at about 2:00 p.m. — and we have to give ourselves a 45 minute to 1/12 hour nap in order to revive our brains and bodies. Otherwise, we accumulate what researchers call sleep debt, which is sleep lost to stress, sickness, forcing ourselves to stay awake unnaturally, or those stupid upstairs neighbors partying at all hours of the night (sorry — that last was last night for me. See? I’m cranky. I need a nap).
Scientists used to think that once you lost sleep, you couldn’t make it up. Well, don’t fret: it appears that, yet again, our grandparents were right about most things — in this case, advising us to “catch up on some shut-eye.” We can work down sleep debt. Nice.
There is also such a thing as getting too much sleep. There is a relationship with depression, oversleeping and disease. It’s okay to sleep long and late once in a while in order to catch up on your sleep debt, but if you find yourself sleeping 10+ hours a night on a regular basis, you may want to do an evaluation on your physical and emotional wellbeing.
Having said that, we heal during healthy sleep. During the day, we tend to use the sympathetic nervous system processes (fight or flight), which is associated with using the body’s energy for survival, much more than the parasympathetic system (rest and relaxation). During sleep the opposite is generally true. The body’s metabolism needs the shut-down period for maintenance of the nervous, endocrine, immune, somatic, and visceral systems of the body that don’t normally get that kind of reparative attention during the hustle and bustle of the day.
We are a nation that prides itself on its hustle and bustle and its apparent commitment to fatigue. Caffeine is the #1 over-the-(coffee-)counter drug in this nation (by the way: even decaf coffee has caffeine. It’s more “lightly” caffeinated than decaffeinated). Besides the morning hours, coffee cafes nationwide do their best business from 2-4 p.m., when other countries institute a nationwide nap time. They have dinner later than we do, but they are more rested and consequently healthier emotionally and physically. When we accumulate sleep debt, our extended fatigue contributes to emotional and physical imbalances that, over time, may not be so easily undone by our catch-up sleep.
If we deprive our bodies of regenerative activity by not getting enough good sleep, our physical and mental performance suffer greatly, as does our work and personal relationships. Chronic inflammatory illnesses flourish in an exhausted body because there is not enough time to replenish and repair damaged tissues in our bodies. Neurosis and psychosis flourish in an exhausted mind because there is not enough time to restore the chemical and energetic balance of our nervous systems.
Maybe that’s partially why our teenagers have such a difficult time adjusting to their transition from childhood to adulthood, and why our kids are the #1 kids in the world likely to be prescribed some form of anti-depressant. Teenage circadian rhythms are naturally programmed to stay up relatively late in the evening and to awaken later in the morning than our school systems allow. As a result, our teens have trouble falling asleep at 10:00 p.m. and definitely have trouble waking up at 5:-6:30 a.m. It’s not that they are lazy — their natural human systems require a different sleep schedule. Why we haven’t addressed this pressing parenting and academic issue in this day and age is absolutely beyond me. Our adolescents are still children — big children, but children – and like all children they need a lot more sleep than adults – at least nine hours every night (remember when they were infants/toddlers and they didn’t get naptime or to bed early enough in the evening, and we all experienced the traumatic effects of their emotional “meltdowns?” Same thing!). How are they supposed to progress in body, mind and spirit into healthy adulthood when we force them into a sleep-deprived model of education? It’s insane.
So this leads us to a nice chart of how much sleep our families need a day/night. These are averages. Again, individual bodies do not read charts and textbooks. These are tendencies, not absolutes.
Babies normally go to bed early, around 7 p.m., and wake early, with a 2 hour nap period during the day. Toddlers slightly less, but they need their naps. School-aged children can go to bed a little later, but they need their naps, too. So do teens. So do we adults.
Am I getting a point across here? As a nation, we need to nap. That’s why at a lot of chiropractic offices you can’t get an appointment from 1-4 p.m.. Chiropractic is a labor-intensive job. Not only are we catching up on our paperwork, we’re taking 45 minute-1 ½ hours to flop down on our massage tables with the lights off and the soothing ocean music playing in the background. How else are we going to perform at our optimum for the second shift, from 4-7 p.m.? A tired chiropractor is a cranky chiropractor. Not a pretty sight nor a pleasant experience.
We would be a lot less likely to start individual and collective fights with one another, we would increase our productivity and work satisfaction, and we would cut way back on our use of psychopharmaceuticals, pain relievers, and stimulants during the day and artificial sleep “aids” like wine and sleep pills at night if we all simply got our nap-time. We would also save scads of money. Our bodies and our lives would really benefit from the elimination of these chemical, psychological, and physical stressors.
Here’s what we all can do to encourage excellent sleep patterns:
- Be consistent with sleep, and make it a priority of a healthy routine. We can’t just “fit in” a bit of sleep in our schedules. We must create a deliberate time and space for sleep. We need to establish a regular schedule so our circadian rhythms are consistent as well.
- Create a deliberate evening routine that encourages sleep at least an hour before bedtime, like meditating for 20 minutes, a nice shower, or some good loving/cuddle time with our significant others (or ourselves, for that matter). There is nothing wrong with deliberately scheduling nightly love time. That has its own health benefits (we’ll delve into that a lot in future blog posts). Turn off the news, will you?
- Create a comfortable and restful sleep environment that is dark (dark is important for melatonin production – use an eye mask if you have to), quiet, and cool with a bit of fresh air.
- Invest in the proper mattress and pillows. See your chiropractor to be certain of the types you need.
- Your bedroom should be your temple room for sleep and lovemaking. Keep the computer, phones, TV and books out of the bedroom. Put those in the study/living room and leave them there when you go to bed.
- It’s okay to have a small 100 calorie meal/snack before bedtime, but nothing with processed sugar, caffeine, alcohol, or wheat. Brush, floss, and use the toilet before lying down for the night.
- Regularly exercise during the day and do some nice stretches about two hours before bedtime.
- Give up smoking, and don’t go to bed full of anger or worry. Make amends with your partner and yourself. Cuddling/meditating/lovemaking will help that.
If you or your family members have implemented all of the above, as well as the other essentials of health that I describe, and are still experiencing interrupted sleep patterns, snoring, leg cramps/tingling, apnea (difficulty breathing when asleep), and anxiety waking in the night, it’s time to consult your trusted health professionals for answers as to what’s going on. That’s what we’re here for.
For more information, the National Sleep Foundation has some great information (like the chart above). If you are a science geek like me, the journal Sleep is fun. I also reblogged an article from the American Chiropractic Association last January that is also worth a read.
Until next time, sweet dreams!
Next time: We’ll cover Stretch/Exercise.
Truthtime question: Do you lie on your bed/sofa with your neck propped up in a sustained hyperflexed position and sometimes fall asleep like that?