by Dr. Kirk Parsley, MD
Wired into the age of the smart phone—where it is seductively easy to be awash in light and digital stimulation—it is easier than ever to skimp on sleep.
Unfortunately, the individual who boasts of being a 6-hour-a-night sleeper are doing so (erroneously I might add) under the belief that their discipline is making them more productive. They often think they’ll squeeze more life out of their lifetime. Lights, electricity, infinite streams of digital news, digital connections, cat videos etc. (after sundown), all culminate in disrupting our natural biological rhythms.
This is a bad thing.
The feature point of my TED Talk was that lack of sleep (and poor sleep) is an American health epidemic that is as dangerous and deadly as it is unseen. Obesity, stress, depression, inflammatory and autoimmune disease—each of the trending (and often inter-connected) health issues has roots in chronic sleep deprivation.
It’s also costly. Surely in terms of lost productivity, but most of the burden being put on the nation’s health care system, as has been thoroughly reported.
What does the scientific literature say? Across the board, sleep deprivation is bad news. Here’s a single example that shows the systems-wide nature of what I’m talking about: One night of sleep deprivation has been shown to alter over 700 genetic expressions (called epigenetics). I’m not a geneticist, nor do I plan to be, but altering 700+ markers via a few hours of sleep, seems like a pretty ominous event.
Now, I will free admit that there are high achievers that chronically under sleep. However, I also submit that regardless of what they have accomplished, it would have been more (or better) if they’d slept better. Why? Because it’s during sleep that hormones shift emphasis from engagement in our daily lives (work, thinking, hunting, studying, doing, leading, training, competing, socializing, parenting, decision-making—you get the drift) to restoration, repair, processing and IMPROVEMENT. From cellular repair, to waste product removal, to processing and characterizing memories, the various activities that allow us to wake up recharged with will power, vigor and energy all happen during these precious hours of sleep.
Cutting back on sleep makes profound sacrifices in how well we’ll be able to think, work and perform the next day. The degree of detriment is determined by the degree of sleep deprivation. Dozens of research trials have compared performance after sleep deprivation to blood alcohol levels. This has been done with basic coordination test and with neurocognitive testing. After being awake for approximately 18 consecutive hours, our ability to make decisions, do math problems, our reaction time, and driving safety, correlates to a blood alcohol level of approximately 0.05%–a fairly normal occurrence in America.
Shorting your sleep by two hours per night over the course of 11 nights, for example, illustrates the compound nature of sleep deprivation. After that 11 nights, your ability to perform will be about the same as if you had stayed awake for 24 consecutive hours. This doesn’t just make it tougher to do math in your head: just like consuming alcohol, your performance is diminished across multiple domains. In fact, with this amount of sleep deprivation, the average performance is on par with a blood alcohol level of 0.08-0.10—which is legally considered too impaired to drive safely.
Research demonstrates decreased mental function, slower reaction time, worse communication, loss of coordination, emotional instability, decreased mood, decreased physical endurance, and decreased physical strength (anaerobic power)–from a single night of insufficient sleep.
So, if I’ve convinced you, here is how to start improving your sleep:
- Pick a bedtime and stick to it consistently, building around it a bedtime routine. The same kind of step-by-step ritual you might have for a toddler. A proper pre-sleep ritual will help shift your hormones toward a better, quicker transition into sleep.
- Light, in particular blue light, sends a signal to your brain that it’s time to wake up (or be awake). You want to diminish this effect as much as possible within 3 hours of sleep time. So 2-3 hours before bedtime, turn off the TV. Or at least put on a pair of blue-light filtering glasses, which will help decrease the amount of blue light in entering your eyes, especially if you need to put in some work on the laptop or if you do your reading on a e-reader, etc.
- You can have carbs with your dinner, but make them “slow” carbohydrates, primarily non-starchy vegetables.
- If you have little to no control over your bedtime routine, simply don’t have enough hours in the day to get 8 hours of sleep, or need a bit of help initiating a good routine, try our sleep supplement. The Sleep Remedy is a combination of substances involved in initiating sleep, like Vitamin D3, magnesium and a small dose of melatonin, etc. You can also read more about sleep and the supplement at docparsley.com
- Finish all exercise sessions at least 3 hours before your bedtime. You may have had the experience of putting in a high-intensity workout in the evening and then noticed how you stared at the ceiling until the wee hours. That is because exercise is a form of stimulation, that tells your brain (and other cells) that you need to be active right now, and it takes many hours for those hormonal, and neurological shifts to revert to sleep promoting patterns.
- Try a cool Epsom salt bath 30 minutes before bed.
- Practice meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, breathing techniques, or any other relaxation techniques that work for you. This is the yin to the yang of something like CrossFit. A meditation or yoga routine will work in concert with the above tips to help you get to sleep early and realize the powerful hormonal benefits of how we’re designed to sleep.
For more information on Dr. Kirk Parsley and strategies to improve the quality of your sleep, click here. And, for a limited time, you can get 10% off your first order by entering “dianarodgers” at checkout. Also, listen to the Sustainable Dish Podcast interview with Kirk Parsley, here.