How Bad Do You Really Want to Sleep?
I am one of those people who love sleeping and will do anything necessary to make sure I get to bed on time, go through my routine and get my full 8 hours…whenever humanly possible! That does not mean that once in a while I don’t stay up a little later, but I am willing to bet that I am in bed by 9:00 pm, 300 of the 365 days of the year. Sometimes even earlier if I am tired from a previous night of poor sleep or heavy activity during the day.
Now, the opening paragraph does not insinuate that I get 8 hours per night. I have a sleep disorder that does not allow me to go through all 5 stages of sleep before hitting REM, which is where vivid dreams happen. In a nutshell, my body and brain have not received all messages that make dream safe for me, as I am a lifelong sleepwalker. My sleepwalking can vary from freaking out my husband with random conversations, to actually driving a car on railroad tracks and getting arrested in my sleep in my 20’s. After the arrest, I had extensive sleep tests to figure out the problem and I was finally diagnosed with the disorder and my choice is to take a sleeping pill or I sleepwalk. For my own safety, I begrudgingly take a pill nightly. This type of sleepwalking as an adult, runs in families. I don’t know of anyone else in my family that has it.
I recently tried to get off the sleeping medication as I desire to be medication free. It’s the only thing I take, and I really don’t want to. So, I tried early in 2019 and had the most amazing dreams…dreams that I could remember and recite. Day after day, the dreams came and went. They were fun, never scary, creative and I looked forward to them. But within a couple of weeks I was absolutely exhausted. Exhausted to the point of tears almost daily. Then I started eating like crap and they cycle was in full swing. After about a month, it was clear that I still had the disorder and I would need the sleeping pill again, so I gave in and took the pill. I am back to sleeping most night’s but I miss the wild dreams.
I made an appointment with a neurologist to see if 30+ years after my original diagnosis, if there is some other treatment besides a pill for me. This doctor was great and spent about 45 minutes discussing sleep and my situation. Unfortunately, they just don’t know enough about the sleepwalking yet and how to better control my situation. I believe the less of two evils is to take the pill and sleep and at least feel refreshed, rather than not get any rest during disruptive sleep. What I do know is that when you sleep, your brain more or less “takes out the garbage”. Envision little people with brooms going through all the lobes and sweeping the toxins up and disposing them, leaving the brain refreshed for the next days use. I am concerned I do not fully benefit from this process, as sleep that has been induced by a drugs or alcohol is not the same as natural sleep. But I won’t take that for an answer, and I am actively eating as clean as possible through a meat, veggie, fruit, fat and herbs / mineral diet, eliminating all inflammatory foods like grains, beans and dairy. I am also making sure I move about 45-60 minutes a day in the form of intentional exercise. This could be golf, swimming, the gym, walk/hike or kayaking. After 90 days, I will try again and see if the reduced inflammation in my brain helps.
In the meantime, I want to help others with what my research has taught me about sleep. In our over stimulated world, sleep has to be something you must commit to. It’s not just one thing that allows for good sleep, but a series of things that you can do to achieve better sleep.
I am sure most of you have heard about circadian rhythm, which is our biological clock to arrive to the state of sleep. The benefit of melatonin secretion at 9:00 pm does not change to a later time, just because you went to bed later. Rather, you just lose the opportunity to maximize the effects of sleep’s natural cycle.
There is no badge of honor for those people who brag about only needing 5-6 hours of sleep a night. There are over 17,000 well scrutinized scientific studies that support the facts regarding supporting a structured sleep schedule will make a change for the better in your health and mental clarity today as well into your aging years. I personally feel strongly that our lack of sleep hygiene in America is partially to blame for the increase in Alzheimer’s in our parents and grandparents’ in conjunction with the consumption of the Standard American Diet (SAD) which is critically high in processed foods and sugar.
- Eat clean wholesome foods. Well, what does that mean? Think back to the early 1900’s when there was not a refrigerator in your ancestors house. They opened their back door and all their food was on the land. They grew and raised some of their own foods and bartered or purchased from others what they did not produce. There was no “healthy” cereal made by General Mills. No skim milk with all the fat removed, leaving behind just the sugars. There was meat, eggs, real milk, vegetables, fruit, healthy fats, nuts and seeds. That’s it! So before you eat it, think about the year 1900 and what you might see out the back door. Put your calorie counters down and think about what is in the food you are eating. Yes, a calorie is a calorie as it is a unit of measure. But a Hostess cupcake does not equal the nutrient density or benefit of a sweet potato with butter.
- Set a nighttime routine and stick to it. Look at the circadian rhythm clock above and you can see that since melatonin secretion starts at 9:00, one should think about taking advantage of it and hitting the sack before 10:00 pm (sorry late night news, we will watch you in the morning while we are brushing our teeth).
- Turn off your electronic devices 2 hours before bed. Turn the lights in the house way down or off. You may want to watch TV while you relax, buy blue blocking glasses. Your prescription glasses can be made with these lenses that help block the light that keeps your body in an alert state. If the urge to sleep hits at 8:30, don’t fight it. Go to bed and take advantage of it. Don’t fall asleep on the couch, because now you have interrupted your bodies 5 stages of natural sleep.
- Don’t drink alcohol at night. I know how tempting that glass of wine is to cut the tension of the day, but the tradeoff is poor sleep, which perpetuates the anxiety the next day and a vicious cycle begins. If you must have a glass, have it with dinner, then switch to herbal tea or mineral water on ice, still uber refreshing!
- If you get up in the middle of the night to pee, try cutting your liquid consumption at least 2 hours before you go to bed. You want to try to avoid getting up between 2:00 am – 4:30 am when you are getting your deepest sleep, this is when the toxins are removed, and inflammation is reduced. This can be more difficult as you approach your mid 60’s, so if you can keep it to 1 time a night, you will be ahead of the game.
Let’s treat sleeping like the gift it really is and allow our brains to help us become a Better Me tomorrow and for our overall health of the future! May we age gracefully!