The importance of a good night's sleep

One of the questions I ask of new patients when doing their consultation is, "On a scale of 1-10, rate the quality and quantity of your sleep?" I hardly ever get anyone to rate their sleep above an 8 and many people rate their sleep below a 5.

Current research shows that people are sleeping on average 15 minutes more since the pandemic began. However, the quality of sleep has decreased. People have also reported dreaming more since the pandemic began and this has been my observation as well. Sleep is critically important to our body's daily recovery. It's when the body settles down, turns off and cools it's motor and when we heal from the days traumatic events. Remember, the first four letters in the word HEALth spell HEAL.

First, to understand why sleep is important we must understand sleep itself. Sleep happen in cycles of 90 minutes and there are 2 types of sleep cycles within this 90 minutes. Non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is divided into "light" sleep and "deep" sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep which is typically associated with dreaming. REM sleep happens more later during the night and into the early morning and is important because it serves and an overnight "therapy session" to take the sharp edges off difficult emotional experiences from the day before. Interestingly, alcohol can impair our REM sleep. Many people drink alcohol at night to reduce stress. However, it can have the opposite effect because while alcohol is a sedative and can put us to sleep, it also impairs our REM sleep, which is what we need when we are under stress.

How about sleep and the immune system? Here are some interesting classic study findings.

  1. People who get less than 7 hours of sleep per night are 3 times more likely to get Rhinovirus (the common cold).

  2. A study of over 50,000 women showed that those that got less than 5 hours of sleep per night were 70% more likely to develop pneumonia (a risk factor for Covid).

  3. Mice who were deprived of sleep and then exposed to the malaria virus were far more likely to die than their well rested counterparts.

Here are some tips for a better nights sleep from Dr. Matt Walker PhD, a prominent sleep researcher and author from the University of California, Berkeley.

  1. Regularity: Going to bed at the same time, waking up at the same time. We need to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

  2. Light: Getting lots of darkness at night because we are a dark-deprived society (and making sure you get daylight during the first half of the day).

  3. Temperature: You need to get cool to get to sleep. The best temperature for a good night's sleep is 65-67 degress.

  4. “Walk it out”: Don’t lie awake in bed because trains your brain to be triggered by your bed and force you awake because you have a learned association (TIP: If you’ve been awake for 20 minutes, then get up, go and do something else and only come back to bed when you’re sleepy).

  5. Alcohol/caffeine: Avoid alcohol and caffeine too close to bedtime.

Some other tips are:

  1. Have a wind down routine such as reading or meditation.

  2. Stop all blue-light technology (cell phones, computers, i-pads) 60 minutes before bedtime.

  3. Remove clock "faces" from your bedroom as knowing it's 2:30 am may trigger more anxiety.

  4. There is no "deep sleep in a pill" and pharmaceuticals such as Ambien or Lunesta weaken the immune system and can lead to higher incidence of chronic illness.

  5. Know your sleep "Chronotype"- Your sleep chronotype simply means:

  • Are you a morning person? (25-30% of the population).

  • Are you an evening person? (25-30% of the population)

  • Or are you somewhere in between? (the rest of us 40-50%)

I am definitely a morning person and like to be in bed by 9-10pm and up by 5-6am. Sleep is one of the highlights of my day. I use a sleep and recovery tracker called an Oura ring to measure my sleep performance because I believe so strongly in a good night's sleep.

The Dali Lama said that "Sleep is the best Meditation" so I wish everyone a good night's rest!

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