Why is Sleep Important? Part Deux
When we left part one, I had just explained how lack of sleep can make people fat, and was about to explain how it can also make people ugly. First, just a quick review of the cascade that makes you fat. When you don’t sleep, there is an increase in the hormone ghrelin, which causes hunger, and makes you eat everything in sight at 3am. At the same time, levels of leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full, go way down. So you feel like you’re starving, but you can’t feel full, so you eat and eat and eat. Then, the stress hormone cortisol enters the scene since you’re not sleeping. Cortisol is a bully that pushes insulin around, so insulin picks up his toys and goes home, and this means insulin isn’t around to process all the sugary food you just ate courtesy of ghrelin. With all those sugars floating around, they eventually find their way to fat. But that’s not the end. Cortisol is such a bully that when insulin leaves, it starts picking on growth hormone. Fed up, growth hormone is suppressed, and that’s a bummer, because growth hormone is what repairs, restores, and rejuvenates the body. It builds protein, heals bone, and heals cartilage and connective tissue, as well as parts of the body that are very important to the beauty industry. And at long last, here is where I tell you how lack of sleep can make you ugly.
They did a study centered on determining sleeplessness through imagery. It showed that it took people just four seconds max to look at images and determine which people had not slept. The bottom line is that not sleeping makes you look older. Your skin loses elasticity, making it more wrinkled. Why? Well, remember the 3am date with the Frigidaire? How the stress hormone cortisol crashed the party, bullying insulin and human growth hormone and causing their suppression? Well, without human growth hormone to repair and replenish the cartilage and connective tissue, the skin loses its elastic properties. Without elasticity, the skin wrinkles badly. Also, many restorative and metabolic pathways take place at night. Certain genes present on our chromosomes have specialized jobs. They are involved in creating proteins to restore the skin, connective tissues, cartilage, musculature, and basically to repair the body and fight the aging of the body. The genes that do these jobs turn on at night while sleeping. If you’re not sleeping, those genes can’t do their job normally. All in all, it makes you look old and ugly before your time: your eyes get puffy and bloodshot, your face gets droopy, you have decreased muscle tone and more pronounced wrinkling, and your posture changes, becoming more stooped over. When shown subjects with good sleep patterns, public perception studies show that those subjects are considered more likeable, sexier, more successful, more articulate, healthier, and happier. So now we know, if you don’t sleep, you get fat. If you don’t sleep, you look ugly. And that’s not so good.
Next, let’s talk toxins. In order to be awake with a functioning, metabolizing brain, our body produces waste products, basically like pollution in the brain. These byproducts of metabolism are inflammatory compounds called beta-amyloid and tau proteins, and these are deposited in the brain. These are no bueno; it’s very important that we get rid of these compounds. Why? Both of these proteins are causative factors in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and other types of dementia as well. The body has a system, the lymphatic system, and it’s like a garbage disposal system. It coats the entire brain in cerebrospinal fluid and it pushes all the toxins, inflammatory products, beta-amyloid proteins, and tau proteins out and away from the brain, and it takes them away where the liver and the kidney metabolize them and they are ultimately excreted in urine, feces, and sweat. That lymphatic system is critical, but like any system, it can be overloaded. If you don’t sleep, your risk of dementia goes way up, especially if you are chronically sleep deprived. A lot of other things go bad too, but this is a big bad one. You must sleep in order to clear the body of inflammatory products and toxins, and to keep the brain healthy. It is nothing short of critical.
I’ve given you a lot of reasons to give yourself seven to nine hours of sleep each night. During sleep, our bodies undergo transformative changes. Our blood pressure drops, our heart rate drops, our respirations drop. It sets up the conditions that allow us to clear our body of toxins, to heal, to restore, and to grow. But there are plenty more interesting studies related to sleep deprivation that will make you want to give yourself those seven to nine hours. During spring daylight savings time when we lose an hour of an hour of sleep, heart attacks increase by 24 percent. They infer that not sleeping increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, because of hardening of the arteries. If you don’t sleep, arterial repairs aren’t getting done, so there is an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Couple that with increased levels of uncleared inflammatory products and toxins oozing around the brain and body, and it creates all sorts of problems if it is chronic.
There are also psychiatric reasons that we need to sleep. Essentially, every psychiatric illness either causes sleep disruption or is exacerbated by sleep disruption. Most schizophrenics have an abnormal circadian rhythm that causes them to sleep during the day rather than the night. Sleep deprivation also causes some issues with psychiatric components. If you don’t get enough sleep, you have less empathy, you cannot recognize the pain and suffering of others. You can also lose the ability to understand facial expressions of pain, suffering, happiness, sadness. You can’t effectively ‘read’ someone’s expression or demeanor. Also, impulsivity increases when you do not sleep, and you’re prone to dangerous behaviors. There is no question that depression, anxiety, psychosis, panic disorder, and a host of other psychiatric problems are dramatically increased when people’s sleep wake cycle is impaired. You also can’t effectively concentrate if you do not sleep. Remember our student from part one, Randy Gardner. He deprived himself of sleep and was nearly a basket case by the third day. Speaking of school, I think that kids should not be starting as early as they do. I have seen that they do not regularly get the proper amount of sleep. They should start school at 9am, not before. As it is now, we make these kids get up so early, they are basically in a state where they cannot concentrate because they are sleep deprived, and that’s a huge problem, because this mimics attention deficit disorder. It’s very likely that many kidsdiagnosed with attention deficit disorder and even medicated for it really were just sleep deprived. Also, many studies on learning and sleep have been done. One was set up to study how well students learned a second language. They taught the same cirriculum to all of them, and the results showed that students with adequate sleep had a higher retention rate than sleep deprived students. From that, and many other studies, researchers have confirmed that memory is impaired by not sleeping. They did a similar study focusing on creativity and showed a three-fold decrease in creativity when sleep deprived. We know that the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which does all the decision making, is impaired by sleep deprivation. Scientists believe that the Challenger explosion and the Chernobyl disaster are both a direct consequence of a lack of sleep. There was a pilot program in some county in Minnesota that started school 90 minutes later in the morning, and the number of car crashes in the driving children under age 20 went down, as did the suicide rate.
There is some interesting stuff about the immune system as well. They found that natural killer cells go down in people that don’t sleep. What does all that mean? We all have these primordial cancer cells floating around in us, which are basically little tiny cellular precursors to cancer. But we also have specific immune cells called natural killer cells, and they circulate around and their job is to kill those primordial cancer cells. So, this study showed that if we don’t sleep, the number of those natural killer cells goes down, leaving more primordial cancer cells. This supports all of the studies that have shown that chronically sleep deprived people absolutely do have higher instances of breast, prostate, and colon cancer. Recently, the World Health Organization even went so far as to recognize chronic sleep deprivation as a carcinogen. That’s saying a lot, people. Other immune studies centering on immunizations, flu shots, were completed tolook at antibody response. One group of people were sleep deprived, and the other group was well slept. All were given the same flu shot at the same time. The results showed that the people who were sleep deprived had just half the antibody response of those who were well slept. That’s a dramatic finding. So when you’re chronically sleep deprived, cancer incidence goes up and the ability to mount an immune response goes down. That’s like the perfect storm. This is important, because it has a huge impact on your life, especially now with the coronavirus. If you get fewer than five or six hours a night, your immune system is approximately 40 percent less competent than the immune system of someone who is well swept. Also dramatic, people.
Just a quick review… unless you are among the five percent with a genetic mutation that allows your brain and body to work properly on little sleep, you need to sleep seven to nine hours each night to have optimal health. If you chronically and consistently do not get enough sleep, we have learned that you will overeat and be overweight, you will not be able to learn as well, your concentration and memory will nose dive, you will be less intelligent, and cosmetically, you won’t be very appealing. Basically, fat, dumb, and ugly. That doesn’t sound so great. So you really need to sleep.
Now that you know why you need adequate sleep, here are some tips on how to get it.
– Get into a routine. Go to bed at the same time every day, and try and get up at the same time every day.
– Create the proper environment. Sleep in a quiet place to avoid interference. Also sleep in a dark room, as any light throws off your natural melatonin that tells the body it is time to sleep. A cold room is best for sleep, cool enough to require a comforter. It’s very name tells you why: the weight of a comforter is…well, comforting. You can also buy a weighted blanket; these are great for kids too.
– Situate yourself. Sleep position is important. Many publications say that the best sleep position is on your back with your legs elevated to maintain appropriate spinal cord posture. If you’re unable to sleep that way, then whatever position feels best to you and doesn’t cause pain in the morning is the correct one.
– Blue light is bad. Blue light is emitted from screens on iPads, computers, kindles, etc. You must not have blue light exposure for a minimum of one hour before sleep, so shut it all down at least an hour before you go to bed. This is really important, as the bluelight is very disruptive to the melatonin cycle; it actually tells your body to get up. Speaking of light, there’s nothing as disruptive as bright light in the middle of the night. So if you must get up to use the bathroom in the night, don’t turn on a bright light. Get a dimmer switch and leave it set very very low and only use that.
– Wind down. Consider incorporating a period of time to wind down into your pre-sleep routine. Reading from a book by low light is good, but it must be the old school kind written on paper, not on Kindle or in an e-book. Taking a hot bath is good too. It causes the small capillaries at the skin’s surface to open up, getting blood to the skin surface to radiate heat and cool the body.
– Don’t drink a lot of fluids before sleep, because as your body goes into sleep, if it senses it has to go the bathroom, it wakes the brain, and then you wake up. Your body does have a mechanism for this; the posterior pituitary releases an anti-diuretic hormone to prevent the creation of urine during sleep, but you can override that by drinking too much fluid before sleep. So avoid that.
– Don’t eat big meals before sleep. This also disrupts sleep. A little snack is okay, because you don’t want to go to bed hungry, as that is disruptive as well. Ideally, you really need to have your dinner four to five hours before sleep. Also, along those same lines, don’t have any sugar before bedtime. Sugar tends to inundate the system and then wake you as it’s metabolized, so no sugar before bedtime.
– Alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. No, no, and no. All are disruptive to sleep architecture. Alcohol: for every drink, you need four hours before going to sleep to not affect sleep. Caffeine: this has a long half life, so you need at least six hours per caffeinated beverage before going to sleep. Nicotine: ideally, you should have four hours before sleeping. This is a tough one, because people who smoke are commonly awakened by withdrawal from nicotine. So if you’re a smoker and you have trouble sleeping, try to quit smoking. I guarantee you’ll sleep and feel better in a short period of time.
– Vitamins and supplements. Magnesium is a calming hormone, so it helps you sleep. Calcium is used to manufacture tryptophan, an amino acid which causes drowsiness, so that helps promote sleep. Vitamin D3 and B vitamins help metabolize calcium, so those are good. You need iron, vitamin E, and melatonin. Also, valerian root is helpful. L-theanine is good, it is another amino acid that has a calming effect.
So now we’ve discussed the risks and repercussions of not sleeping and some tips tohelp you sleep better. If you find you still can’t sleep, consider seeing a physician, especially if you can see that it is impacting your life in a negative fashion.
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Rather than just introducing you to today’s topic, I want to play a little game of ‘Who am I?’ I’ll give you ten clues and let’s see if you can guess who I am. And no looking down below and cheating!
1. Everyone has me, either intermittently or constantly.
2. I am an unwelcome guest.
3. Some people deal with me better than others do.
4. I keep lots of people up at night.
5. I make some people physically ill.
6. I can shrink your brain.
7. Some people take drugs to deal with me.
8. I can make some people binge, purge, or starve themselves.
9. I can cause a whole host of medical problems.
10. I have a good side, but nobody ever gives me credit for it!
I am defined as “a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension.”
So who am I?
I am STRESS!
I see so many stressed out people every day that I thought I’d do a little educational primer on stress.
Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to life’s everyday demands. A small amount of stress can be good. Positive stress is officially called eustress, and it can motivate you to perform well. But multiple challenges throughout the day such as sitting in traffic, meeting deadlines, managing children, and paying bills can push you beyond your ability to cope.
What’s going on in your brain when you feel stress? Your brain comes hard-wired with an alarm system for your protection. When your brain perceives a threat or a stressor, it signals your body to release a burst of hormones, especially cortisol, that increase your heart rate and raise your blood pressure. This is part of the fight or flight mechanism. But once the threat or stressor is gone, your body is meant to return to a normal, relaxed state. Unfortunately,some people’s alarm systems rarely shut off, causing chronic stress. When chronic stress is experienced, the body makes more cortisol than it has a chance to release. This has been shown to kill brain cells and even reduce the size of the brain. Chronic stress has a shrinking effect on the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. So it’s very important to find effective ways to deal with stress. Stress management gives you a range of tools to reset your brain’s alarm system. Without managing stress, your body might always be on high alert, and over time, this can lead to serious health problems and contribute to mental disorders such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. So don’t wait until stress damages your health, relationships, or quality of life…start practicing some stress management techniques.
To help combat the negative effects of stress and anxiety, here are five tips to help manage stress in your daily life…
1. Follow a Regular Sleep Routine
It may seem like simple advice, but often the simplest advice is the best advice. Following a regular sleep routine can help you decompress, recharge, and rejuvenate your body and mind after a stressful day. Try going to bed at the same time every night and aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Resist the urge to stay up late watching TV. In fact, avoid screen time altogether before bed, including tablets and smart phones. Studies have proven that reading on a backlit device before bed interrupts the body’s natural process of falling asleep. These devices also impact how sleepy and alert you are the following day.
2. Use Exercise to Combat Stress
Exercising regularly can have an enormous impact on how your body deals with stress, and it is one of the most recommended ways doctors instruct patients to reduce stress. The endorphins released while exercising can help improve your overall health, reduce stress levels, regulate sleep pattern, and improve mood. The key to exercising is to choose something that you truly enjoy. Whether it’s going for a walk, taking an exercise class at the gym, going for a swim, or lifting weights, exercise keeps us healthy. Make sure to mix up your exercise routine to prevent boredom and stay motivated.
3. Learn How to Meditate
One of the simplest ways to help alleviate stress is to practice deep breathing and meditation. There’s no secret to this, and you don’t have to chant and burn incense or any of that. It’s just about finding a quiet space without distractions. It only takes a few minutes every day, either before bed or first thing in the morning. Breathe in through your nose, letting your abdomen expand. Hold your breath for a count of three, then breathe out slowly through your mouth. Repeat this three times. Focus on your breathing and your heart beat to prevent thinking about everything that you need to do. If doing it in the morning allows stressful thoughts of the upcoming day to intrude, try it at night. Deep breathing is especially important when your stress levels are high. Aim for meditating for at least 15 to 20 minutes, but if you’re feeling pressured during the day, a quick 5-minute meditation session can help you chill out.
4. Take Care of Your Skin
It may not seem like skin care and stress prevention are linked, but they are. Have you ever noticed that your skin is more prone to break out when you’re stressed out? How many times have you gotten up for work all stressed out about a presentation and looked in the mirror only to see a big zit on your nose? For crying out loud…why the heck is that?!!? How does your skin know you have a big presentation? Well, stress causes a chemical response that makes your skin more sensitive. And as we discussed, your body produces more cortisol when stressed, which causes your sebaceous glands to produce more oil. More oil means oily skin that is prone to acne. So it’s important not to neglect your skin care routine, especially when you’re stressed out. This goes for both guys and girls. You may be exhausted at night and want to go straight to bed, but taking an extra few minutes to wash your face and remove daily dirt and any facial products or makeup you’ve worn during the day will make a world of difference. And if you’re prone to oily or dry skin, always choose skin care products that are specifically designed for your skin type. Your skin will thank you for it by surprising you with big red zits less often.
5. Ask For Help When You Need it
Asking for help may not always be easy, but when you need a shoulder to cry on or someone to listen, it can help put things into perspective. Seeking support from family and friends or a professional isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it takes courage to admit you need help. Many patients that I see for the first time have been needlessly suffering for so long. I feel terrible for them. There is no reason not to seek help for any ailment affecting your health, especially your mental health. Patients who wait until they start to develop multiple physical and psychiatric issues before seeking help have a much harder time recovering than those who seek help sooner. Remember that friends and family are great support, but if you develop any signs of anxiety or depression or other mental health issues, get help from a licensed mental health professional immediately. In my experience, some patients may need medication, but some do not, they find relief through simple talk therapy with me. It’s very much an individualized assessment. While not a replacement for professional help, you can also look for online support groups for stress management. You’re not the only person who’s ever dealt with a specific stressful situation, so why not discover how other people managed their stress and overcame a potentially frustrating situation.
Hopefully after reading this you have a better understanding of what stress is, how it can impact your physical and mental health, and what you can do to start dealing with it effectively to minimize its role in your life. If you feel you need help, call my office for an appointment. I can help you. For more mental health topics and stories, check out my book Tales from the Couch, available on Amazon.com or for purchase in my Palm Beach office.Learn More