“Sleep is the Swiss army knife of health. When sleep is deficient, there is sickness and disease. And when sleep is abundant, there is vitality and health.” — Matthew Walker
NOTE: This article is 1,538 words. If you want the simple supplementary checklist and Quickstart Guide to Sleeping Better as a PDF download, get it right here. It’s free.
If I were to estimate the percentage of patients in my practice with sleep disorders, accounting for age, sex, occupation, I would guess it to be somewhere around 90%.
And that is a conservative estimate.
Poor quality or quantity of sleep will affect every part of your humanity.
If you do not sleep well, you cannot live well.
If you do not sleep well, your body breaks down from not getting a good quality, restorative sleep.
Here are a few examples of what happens with poor sleep:
-increase in appetite, often for simple sugars and carbohydrates
-impaired immune function by unnecessarily increasing pro-inflammatory cytokines
-decreased parasympathetic nervous system activation which is involved in healing and repair
-increased sympathetic tone
-increased blood pressure
-increased cortisol levels
-elevated insulin and blood glucose
-impaired short and long term memory
So. In other words…poor sleep affects everything.
Maybe most shocking of all if the impact it has on brain function.
The Brain Eats Itself?
“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” — Ernest Hemingway
In a study last year, Italian researchers looked at the effect of sleep deprivation and the effects on the brain.
What they found was sleep deprivation caused an increase in activity of astrocytes (called microglial cells) in the brain.
Astrocytes are the equivalent to landscaping artists in the brain, pruning off old, unnecessary, unused synapses in the brain.
Normally, we want astrocytes active, but not too active. We don’t want an over pruned brain, right?
In this study, well-rested mice, astrocyte activity was around 6%, and more than doubled their activity at 13.5% in chronic sleep-deprived mice. Chronic sleep deprivation in this study was defined as 5 days.
Does this sound familiar?
Ever had to pull all-nighters for exams, important deadlines, and had a bad week of sleep?
Parents — ever have a child that was sick, or just not sleeping through the night?
Have all of you or all of you have experienced this?!
Of course, you have. We all have.
When you are sleep deprived, those landscape artists in your brain become overzealous, and literally gnaw off and prune healthy synapses under chronic sleep deprivation.
POOR CONTROL OVER EMOTIONS & RATIONAL THOUGHT
Poor sleep also affects the brain in that it makes you more irritable and angry.
Chronic sleep deprivation will leave your control over emotions (in particular anger) depleted, and you are more likely to snap or lose your temper.
This is because a lack of sleep will directly affect our prefrontal cortex (PFC).
The PFC is akin to a “parent brain” — it is involved in decision making and has strong regulatory effects on our emotional centers like the amygdala and other motivational areas.
So when your “parent” brain, is less active, you will overreact to things because your emotional centers are not being inhibited properly.
Further, the ability to express and feel happiness and joy resides in our prefrontal cortex, and when the PFC is over pruned and has less activity, you are left with anger, irritability, and impatience.
IMPAIRED MEMORY AND LEARNING
Just ONE bad night’s sleep will not only affect the microglial cells but the hippocampus as well.
The hippocampus is involved in memory, learning, and storing new memories.
Ever stay up all night for an exam and it:
That’s the hippocampus throwing her arms up and waiting for you put her to bed!
Your ability to acquire new knowledge shuts down, as does your ability to retrieve the information you already “know”.
Fat burning, fat loss, visceral fat loss, muscle gains, and learning take place when we have restful, uninterrupted sleep.
The crazy thing is, even in studies with minimal changes such as 6 hours of sleep, demonstrated were declines in cognitive function that are imperceptible to the participants.
In other words, they had significantly poorer function, and were completely unaware of it.
In this study, participants who had 6 hours of sleep per night performed poorly as those who had had total sleep deprivation of 2 nights.
Perhaps the most shocking thing that emerged from this study is the participants were largely unaware of the decline in their ability to perform cognitive tasks.
Suffice it to say most people do not know how badly they are sleeping, or the impact on their brain until they start sleeping better.
It’s all about the paradigm.
You don’t know what you don’t know until you know.
Sleep should be one of the main focuses of any health program.
Without sleep, you cannot have good health, irrespective of what your macronutrient intake is like, your fitness routine, or how many tweeting birds you are clocking in Muse.
Now I’m not saying those things are not important, but they must be done in conjunction with restorative, quality sleep.
You simply cannot be healthy without good sleep.
When we look at the stats, the picture of poor sleep really comes to life.
50–70 million Americans report sleep issues, with insomnia reported as the most common sleep complaint. 25 Million Americans have chronic, obstructive sleep apnea.
Almost 36% of adults report less than 7 hours of sleep as “typical”.
This is where language is important. What is “typical” and “common” are not “normal”.
There is a big difference between common and normal.
One is a trend (“common”), the other is what our physiology dictates (“normal”).
Normal sleep is being able to effortlessly initiate and continue sleep through the night. Period.
(PS — Getting up to go to the bathroom is disrupted sleep).
The ability to fall asleep is one of the most natural things on the planet.
Yet, we seem to be losing this ability to do so without the help of medication.
There are a myriad of reasons why someone cannot initiate and maintain a night of restful sleep.
The most common clinical presentations that coincide with poor sleep I see in clinic are obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, hormonal imbalances (most commonly including adrenal and thyroid dysfunction), poor adaptation to stress, depression, anxiety, and physical misalignments such as back pain.
Poor sleep (6 hours or less) will make you more insulin resistant, raises cortisol and decreases cognitive function.
AND maybe the worst of all, you are not aware that the cognitive decline is even happening.
So here is my gift to you:
I challenge you to fully commit to a better sleep protocol for 7 days.
Do everything I have listed here and DO IT TO THE LETTER.
Following these rules will allow you to have more energy, be more productive, have more mental clarity, have a better immune, digestive, and reproductive system, have a better temperament, and of course, lose weight.
Oh, did you catch that last one? It’s true. Better sleep, just by itself, will help you lose weight.
Here is your 7-Day Sleep challenge:
- Declutter and tidy up your room. View this room as a protected space for resting and repair.
- No caffeine after 2pm
- Drink at least 3L of water per day
- Do not drink in the 45 minutes leading up to sleep
- Do not eat 2 hours before bedtime
- Go to sleep at the same time every night
- Eat a high fat, low carbohydrate diet throughout the day
- Exercise 3–4x/week, so that you are consistently elevating your heart rate. HIIT and strength training are preferred.
- At noon and at 4pm drink a tall glass of water with 1 tsp of sea salt
- 1 hour before bedtime, no devices whatsoever (phones, TV, computers, electronic readers)
- 1 hour before bedtime, lower all the lights in the house as dim as possible.
- Wear blue-blocking glasses for any computer work after 4pm
- Install f.lux, or other blue-light blocking filters on your computer
- Install blackout blinds, or wear an eye mask for sleeping.
- No devices in the bedroom whatsoever. Charge your phone and your computer in your living room. Buy a manual alarm clock. Absolutely no TVs (yes — I’m telling you to take it out of your bedroom).
- Just before retiring for the evening, handwrite in a journal 3 (or more) things that happened today that you are grateful for
- In bed, placing your hands on your belly, perform square breathing: 4 counts in, hold for the inhale for 4 counts, 4 counts to exhale, hold the exhale for 4 counts. Do this 10 times.
- Add white noise to your sleep (oceanic sounds, rainfall, etc)
- The room temperature should be on the cool side
- Sleep naked or in comfortable, breathable loose clothing
- Optional: if available, sleep with a weighted blanket
Take a day or 2 to set everything up. Then get after it! You deserve a restful sleep and the healing it affords.
Want A Copy of My Sleep Checklist Tracker?
Want to lose weight, have more clarity, and feel amazing? This cheat sheet will help you track your 7-day sleep challenge for better sleep, brain function, and energy.
Click here to download my 7-day tracker to help you get the best sleep possible.