Turn on any television show for 20 minutes and you will undoubtable see a commercial advertising some sort of sleep aid. Whether or not it has been identified, sleep health has become a huge issue in America, and it is slowly killing us. Before we dive into the importance of sleep health as it relates to our mind and body, we need to first look at what happens when we sleep to understand why we sleep.
The Sleep Cycles
Our sleep cycles are made up of four stages with each cycle lasting approximately 90 minutes.
Stage 1 – Transition to a sleep state where our heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and body temperature begin to decrease. The pineal gland releases melatonin and our brain waves shift from alpha to theta waves.
Stage 2 – A light stage of sleep before we hit our deeper sleep where our heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and body temperature continue to decrease while our body slips further and further into relaxation.
Stage 3 – This stage is where the heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and body temperature reach the lowest and the brain waves are slow delta waves. This stage is vital in terms of recovery as this is the stage where we heal and recover the most because the blood flow to muscles and bones increases. Along with healing, the brain begins to consolidate memories and “stores” them all while boosting our immune function
Stage 4 – The infamous REM sleep which stands for Rapid Eye Movement. This is where our brain reaches near wake stage. This is where we experience vivid dreams, and the body becomes temporarily paralyzed to keep us from acting out our dreams.
Sleep Health: The Benefits of Sleep
- Physical restoration
- Cleans the brain of toxins
- Strengthens the immune system
- Regulates our mood
- Processes information and memorization
A study entitled, “Mortality Associated with Sleep Duration and Insomnia” discovered healthy individuals who sleep less than 6 hours had a 15% higher risk of mortality than those with adequate sleep of 7-9 hours.
What does quality sleep have to do with physical therapy? A 1994 study titled, “Poor Sleep Quality Is Strongly Associated with Subsequent Pain Intensity in Patients With Acute Low Back Pain” concluded that for every point decrease in sleep quality on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index questionnaire, pain intensity scores increased by 2.08 points.
Sleep Aids... The Ugly
Let’s go back to the sleep aid commercials mentioned earlier. Antihistamines such as Uniosm and ZzzQuil as well as Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Valium, Sonata, Lunesta, etc. are all central nervous system depressants. They help you feel drowsy to fall asleep but they eliminate stage 3 of sleep, so we never get into the deep sleep where we actually get the bulk of the benefits from sleep! There are other drugs classified as antipsychotics that include Gabapentin (Neurontin) and Lyrica can cause addiction, rebound insomnia, drowsiness and dizziness, sleepwalking, and hallucinations. These drugs taken too close to the morning alarm clock can be dangerous for those taking the medication and the people they share the road with during the morning commute.
These should only be used in very short durations for acute sleeplessness and never as a chronic weekly or even nightly aid to sleep.
Fix Your Sleep Naturally
- Establish a nightly routine where you sleep and wake times are consistent.
- Keep the bedroom cool.
- Don’t Smoke
- Avoid caffeine after 3 PM
- Don’t nap after 3 PM, nap no longer than 30 minutes
- Avoid alcohol – Limits stage 3 sleep
- Don’t eat 2-3 hours before bed
- Get sunlight exposure
- Relax before bed
- Limit screen time and blue light exposure 2 hours before bed
Supplements that can help
- Tryptophan – Best option if sleep problems are accompanied by depression or anxiety
- Melatonin – Start with 0.5 mg and bump up by 0.5 mg as needed up to 5mg 30 minutes before bed. Take only if needed as you should produce melatonin naturally.
- Concentrated Cherry Juice – 2 Tablespoons prior to bed provides natural melatonin production, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory benefits (don’t take if on blood thinners)
- Magnesium – 300-400 mg to help improve sleep quality
- Vitamin B5, B12, and D
- GABA – Helps balance sleep cycles
- Valerian Root – Increases natural GABA
Need More Help?
Check out the link to a previous blog on fully supported sleep positions here
Sleep health is incredibly important. It can change how you think, feel, act, perform, and live. As always, if needed, get the help of a trained sleep expert to perform a full sleep study if you feel you have trouble falling and staying asleep. We would love to hear from you, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.