The Third Pillar of Good Health
The first two Pillars of Health were simple and well known. They are likely to come up in any conversation about improving your health. We all know that nutrition and exercise play integral roles in our wellness. However, our Third Pillar, Sleep, is rarely, if ever, discussed. The importance of sleep is frequently ignored by healthcare professionals. When was the last time that you can recall speaking with anyone about sleep?
According to the vast majority of sleep researchers, humans should be spending roughly 30% of the day asleep. Let that sink in for a second. 7 hours of sleep per day. Are you getting, at least, that much every night? Most of us are not. Some are caring for children that disrupt our sleep patterns. Some suffer from insomnia. Some simply go to bed too late and/or wake up too early. There are many reasons that we fall short of 7 hours. Once you are aware of some of the potential health consequences, you may just shift your priorities a bit.
In previous newsletters, I have credited Matthew Walker's book Why We Sleep with opening my eyes to the importance of sleep. He discusses at length the importance of sleep in our overall health. It would be disingenuous to ignore that he has had some criticism about the book. Some have suggested that he may have exaggerated some of his claims, but even if all of his claims are overstated, there remains enough truth in all of them that they must be taken seriously.
Some of the most impactful takeaway messages still resonate with me today and certainly prompt me to go to bed a little earlier every night. He writes, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine concurs, that inadequate sleep has been linked to a wide variety of health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, ADHD, hypertension, stroke, obesity, depression, immune deficiency. Limited sleep does not simply target and impact only one area of our health.
Inadequate sleep has a systemic impact.
Are you wondering - "What can I do to improve my sleep today?" Here is a quick list of things that you can do to sleep better, and wake up healthier.
1 - Stick to a sleep schedule
Go to bed at the same time, and wake up at the same time every day.
2 - Create a restful environment
Set the temperature a couple of degrees cooler. Make sure the room is dark. Limit outside noise.
3 - Limit caffeine and blue light exposure before bed
Caffeine effectively blocks adenosine, which is a sleep-promoting chemical. The effects of caffeine can last in our systems for up to 9 hours, so even drinking a cup of coffee in the afternoon can impact your ability to sleep at night.
Blue light (i.e. TV, phones, laptops, tablets) impacts our melatonin levels and melatonin is responsible for initiating sleep. Recommendations for sleep improvement suggest that we should avoid blue light devices for 2 hours before going to sleep.
If you struggle with sleep, start with these simple changes as a trial. Then see if your sleep improves. Sleep may just be the key to improving our overall health, with the least amount of effort required!
Movement is my medicine,