By Dr. Paul Bernitt, DHH – Director of TriVita Clinic of Integrative Medicine
Sleep is an essential aspect of our lives, as it allows us to recover and re-energize. It’s so important that if we are any good at it, we’ll spend one-third of our lives sleeping. Even so, many people do not get the sleep they need, and the long-term effects can lead to serious medical conditions. Being aware of sleep patterns and understanding what can disrupt this vital activity will preserve wholeness and vitality physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Inadequate sleep, generally considered anything less than 7.5 hours per night, can have a profound effect on your metabolism and hormonal balance. Hormones are secreted primarily during REM sleep, also known as the dream phase. Additionally, sleep loss is also linked to decreased thyroid function resulting in lowered metabolic rate, increased evening cortisol associated with insulin resistance and aberrations in the release of human growth hormone (HGH). HGH often termed the “healing hormone” in medical circles, and is responsible for all cellular regeneration. This is why we refer to restful sleep as “restorative sleep.”
During restorative sleep, critical functions occur. Our livers activate to do the important work of assimilation and detoxification, the immune system generates antibodies, our skin produces collagen, and our minds stop racing, shut off the cares of the day, and integrate our experiences in a way that promotes optimism and hope for the future. As such, a good night’s sleep is one of the most powerful tools to reduce stress and anxiety. On the other hand, insomnia is a sleep disorder that can be short-term or chronic and impedes these crucial processes, thereby hindering the activities of daily life.
The autonomic system manages our body’s ability to respond and relax through two branches known as the sympathetic (fight/flight) and parasympathetic (rest/digest). It’s important to recognize that our ability to sleep, digest, keep a steady heart rate, normal blood pressure, and so much more relies on a balance of the two. Too much sympathetic activity such as stress, helplessness, worry, fear, and doubt limits self-actualization and purpose, and impairs our ability to rest and recover.
Stress is always present, but how we react is the real issue. Often we’re “justified” in feeling stress, but justification doesn’t regulate health and wellness. How we feel about the stress does. The accumulation of the effects of stress will eventually cause excessive sympathetic activity preventing sleep, normal heart rate, regular breathing, and optimal digestion — our ability to sleep acts as a gauge to monitor the effects of stress and adjust accordingly.
Exercise and deep breathing can help reduce or eliminate stress, irritability, and muscle tension, allowing your body to reach the deep state of relaxation needed to fall and stay asleep. Some natural ways to induce relaxation and restorative sleep include the following:
- Enjoy cardio and resistance exercise daily (20-30 minutes per day)
- Optimize transit (food to poo) time to 24 hours
- When feeling overwhelmed, stop what you’re doing, take 3-5 deep breaths, and focus on something for which you’re grateful
- Eat a small handful of walnuts an hour before bed. They contain melatonin, an antioxidant that will help make you drowsy
- Incorporate 10-20 minutes of meditation daily
- Develop a consistent sleep schedule
- Reduce alcohol and caffeine consumption
- Avoid spicy foods before bed to prevent heartburn and acid reflux
- Don’t eat or drink an hour before bedtime and empty your bladder before going to sleep
- Keep a sleeping area that is quiet, comfortable, cool, and dark
- Don’t watch TV or use electronic devices in bed
There is Hope!
If you are experiencing insomnia, fatigue after sleeping, or heightened anxiety during waking hours, speak with your healthcare provider about our safe, natural, and effective brain mapping and neurofeedback program. Brain mapping, or QEEG, is a noninvasive diagnostic tool used to evaluate brainwaves in real time and identify opportunities to improve brain function and balance. Once the brain map is complete, your medical provider will review the results with you and recommend a specific neurofeedback protocol specifically designed to meet your goals. Neurofeedback is a biofeedback therapy used to correct brain imbalances that can cause symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, and a wide variety of other brain-related symptoms.
Let us help you take your next steps towards optimal health and wellness. If you’re having difficulty sleeping or experiencing any of the symptoms associated with a lack of sleep, call 480-337-4148 to book an appointment.