Healthy Living - You Need to Get Some Sleep

By: Dr. Heather Tick

Using both the data of modern science and the time-proven traditions of complementary medicine, Dr. Heather Tick M.D. has helped tens of thousands of patients reach their peak levels of health over the past 30 years. She is the first holder of the prestigious Gunn-Loke Endowed Professorship of Integrative Pain Medicine at the University of Washington and serves at the forefront of research and teaching as a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Washington in the departments of Family Medicine and Anesthesia & Pain Medicine.

Want to be sharper during the day? Happier? More productive?

Take this simple step. You don't need fancy equipment and there's no learning curve. You might enjoy it, too.

Just get more sleep.

Why you need sleep

Think about the last time someone cooked you dinner when you didn't expect it, or when a friend gave you a gift you liked. If you're an athlete, imagine being “in the zone”.

Think about how 'in the moment' you feel during these events. Your biological functions line up with each other. Your respiratory rate, blood pressure, and brain waves fall into sync. Scientists call this 'entrainment', and they agree it's good for your health. When you're in deep sleep, the same thing happens. Your biological functions fall in sync, and this plays a crucial role in your health.

Sleep isn't a luxury. It's a smart investment. Being awake takes a toll on your body. Molecules are damaged and depleted. During sleep, your body rebuilds your stores of the right kind of useful molecules. When you don't sleep enough, your brain makes molecules associated with stress. This causes proteins to clump together and fold in the wrong way.

What does this all mean? If you sleep well, you get an overnight tune-up. If you don’t sleep well, you experience cellular stress.

Are you swamped with work and life? Sleep could be the biggest productivity hack for busy people.

Get your melatonin tonight

Help your brain out.

The pineal gland in your brain secretes melatonin when you're sleeping in the dark. Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant, it helps modulate your immune system, and may discourage the growth of cancer cells. If you get enough melatonin, it'll help balance your hormones, improve your sleep quality, and help you stay young.

How to get more melatonin? Sleep in complete darkness. Even a crack of light from your window or a smartphone glow drastically reduces the amount of melatonin your brain releases. Sleep with blackout curtains, or wear a sleep mask, and don't use your cellphone right before bed.

In adults, you can increase your melatonin levels with dietary supplements. Melatonin has few side effects. It also lowers your body temperature by a few degrees, which helps you sleep more soundly.

Sleep aids and pain

If you have chronic pain, chances are sleeping more will help.

Sleep encourages healing and helps you manage pain. Try the tips in the section below to improve your sleep before taking sleep medication.

If you feel a need, consult your doctor about sleep medication. There are different types of sleep medications, many of which also belong to other drug categories. Some of the most effective and safest sleep medications are antidepressants.

Are you taking other medication? Some pills interfere with sleep. Opioids, decongestants, heart medications, statins, some antidepressants, asthma drugs, and stimulants can make sleeping more difficult.

Top research-backed tips for better sleep

Most of these tips are easy. It's just a matter of remembering to do them.

  1. Avoid using your phone, computer, or TV an hour before bed. The glare from screens is engineered to mimic the sun's rays. The glare makes your body think it's still daytime.
  2. Turn down the temperature in your bedroom a few degrees.
  3. Installf.lux on your computer. It adapts your computer's display to the time of the day, so you don't get blinded in the evening.
  4. Have a relaxing bedtime routine. Listen to music, read a book, or have a warm bath.
  5. Avoid arguments before bedtime.
  6. Finish big meals or vigorous exercise four hours before bed.
  7. Avoid stimulants like nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, and sugar.
  8. Give yourself time for seven to eight hours of sleep. Don’t worry if you don't fall asleep right away. Your body and brain need to unwind. Nothing interferes with sleep more than worrying about not sleeping.
  9. Think of five things you're grateful for before bed. Focus for a minute on each. Research shows being grateful makes you happier.

Do you have doubts sleeping seven to eight hours is worth it? Give sleep a chance. Try keeping a good sleep routine for a week. See if it makes a difference. Research shows it will – you might get more done, be more focused, and feel happier.