Corey Vanderwouw: Get more sleep
In November 2019, the journal Science published an article with a related video of the brain being “washed” by cerebrospinal fluid while the research participants slept. It was the first time anyone had actually seen this phenomenon. They were able to catch images on video where the flow of the fluid was so regular and rhythmic that author Lewis stated that it’s possible to look at the cerebrospinal fluid movement and know whether the person is awake or asleep.
Based on multiple sleep studies, researchers had already supported the idea that an essential job of cerebrospinal fluid is to clear the brain of metabolic waste and toxic byproducts that has built up during the day. This only happens during sleep, which is one reason why sleep is vital to all living beings. Sleep is also important to learning and memory, and plays important roles in regulating mood, appetite and libido.
Sleep is so essential to our brains that getting less than the recommended hours of sleep decreases the quality of a person’s cognition, increases risk for chronic diseases, and can shorten lives.
Dan Rohn, DPT, author of Sleep as a Component of Holistic Health, reports that a person who gets less than 5 hours sleep for 5 nights in a row, or who gets no sleep for 24 hours, has a 20% cognitive deficit. This is the same level of cognitive deficit as a person who is legally drunk with a .08 blood alcohol level, demonstrating that there are immediate cognitive deficits due to lack of sleep.
Long term effects linking decreased sleep to serious chronic diseases are shown in many research studies and are supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These associated chronic diseases include hypertension, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, which all pose serious health risk. Chronic conditions are currently the leading causes of death of Americans.
The National Sleep Foundation makes sleep recommendations for age groups from newborn to older adult. Their recommendations are the following: newborn fourteen to seventeen hours, infants twelve to fifteen hours, toddlers eleven to fourteen hours, preschoolers ten to thirteen hours, preteens nine to eleven hours, teens eight to ten hours, adults seven to nine hours, and older adults seven to eight hours. It is not recommended for anyone to get less than seven hours of sleep.
We don’t only need a certain number of hours of sleep for restorative processes. We also need quality sleep as well. There are four stages of sleep that we go through every 90 minutes. Stage one and two are light sleep stages, thought more to regenerate body cells.
The two stages of deep sleep, called stage three sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, are thought responsible for cleaning the brain’s metabolic waste and transferring short-term memory to long-term memory. A person needs to stay asleep for the entire 90 minutes to complete all stages of sleep for each cycle, therefore getting good quality sleep.
If a person’s sleep is disturbed, meaning the person is aroused out of their sleep cycle or woken up, the sleep cycle will not complete. This often leaves the person missing out on their very important deep sleep. This happens chronically in people with sleep apnea, where the body wakes itself frequently throughout the night. This is a medical condition which should be addressed by a doctor. Alternately, reasons for sleeping less hours or having sleep disruption can be related to lifestyle.
Lifestyle choices that can improve your sleep include the following.
Set a sleep routine where you go to sleep at the same time each night and wake up at the same time in the morning. We naturally form circadian rhythms, which assist us in continuing healthy sleep patterns.
Exercising will help the body become tired so that it is better able to fall asleep at bedtime. Exercising is best when done during the day no closer than three hours before bedtime.
Be careful with stimulants including coffee and energy drinks. People vary on the amount of time it takes caffeine to clear the body, but it commonly takes six hours for caffeine to clear out.
Optimal temperature to fall asleep is between 60-67 degrees.
Darkness allows our bodies to release melatonin which is important for us to fall asleep. Lamp light, computers, phones, and other electronic devices put out blue light which prohibits melatonin release, keeping us awake. Lights and electronics should be put out 45 minutes minimum before it’s time to sleep. If you must use a screen device try the night time function that reduces blue light, or use a pair of blue light blocking glasses.
Prohibiting as many nighttime noises as possible will help the body get through complete sleep cycles. Consider using ear plugs or a white or pink noise machine, if noise frequently wakes you during the night.
Relax before bedtime to allow your body to calm.
If you have an electronic clock that stares at you during the night, turn it around or put it in a drawer to lower distractions and anxiety.
Wake up to natural light. Natural light signals our bodies to prepare to wake up.
Recommendations can be further researched through Harvard Health and recommended sources throughout the CDC.
Move better, live better (and sleep, too!)
Corey Vanderwouw has been a physical therapist for 20 years. She co-owns Fit for Life physical therapy in Grass Valley with her partners Ingo Zirpins and Margaret Matthews.
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