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Protecting Your Sleep

If you are just joining us, we are working through Paleo Magazine's special edition of "Go Paleo: The Step-By-Step Guide" to look at how our pre-industrial ancestors lived. Part of the reason the Paleo movement has taken off is because a lot of the diseases we deal with today, like cancer, heart disease, autoimmune issues, etc., were not nearly as prevalent. The argument could be made that people were just dying of something else instead, like war and pestilence! While that was true, I am sure, some of the issues we face today that our ancestors didn't is likely lifestyle based.

Last week, we talked about how important sleep is for health, as well as for preventing sickness. This week, we are going to look into some of the things that can rob you of sleep. It might help if you start to think of your bedroom (and sleep) as your castle. In order to get a good night's sleep, you are going to have to be diligent about protecting it.

Here are the five things we are going to look at:

  1. Screen Time
  2. Exercise
  3. Temperature
  4. Light Levels
  5. Mental Factors and Stress

Screen Time

Screen time refers to really any "back-lit" device: computer, phone, tablet, reader and television. I first came across the concept of back-lit screens interrupting sleep when looking for papers on the topic of ADHD. There is a really nice little article in Psychology Today by Victoria Dunckley entitled "Electronic Screen Syndrome: An Unrecognized Disorder? In it, Dr. Dunckley relates how interacting with screens shifts the nervous system into the fight or flight mode, which, in effect, amps up our brains. She relates this phenomena primarily to kids with ADHD; however, I have found that most of the things that can set off a child with ADHD tends to impact all of us to some degree - back-lit screens are no exception. The current recommendation is to put away the screens, at least two hours before bed! For some of you, that may be no problem; for others, it may take some major effort! This problem isn't going away - starting to deal with it now is in order.

Exercise

First, the good news about exercise and sleep: the National Sleep Foundation reported on a study that showed that those who get 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week had a 65% improvement in sleep quality (that is about 25 minutes a day of exercise)!

Those of you that know me personally might find it hard to believe that I would tell you NOT to exercise. This may be one of those cases where you might want to rethink when (not if!) you workout. Exercise does several things that can impact sleep: it increases your body temperature and can stimulate your brain. These two factors may impact your ability to get to sleep, especially the closer you exercise to your bedtime. Again, the National Sleep Foundation notes that not everyone is affected the same, but if you have trouble falling asleep, you may want to move your workouts earlier in the day. The two hours before bedtime rule applies here for many people.

Temperature

The temperature you keep your bedroom at night might be keeping you awake, or waking you up after you have been asleep for awhile. I reviewed several articles for this section and, while not an exact science, thermoregulation impacts sleep in two primary ways:

  1. A cooler temperature helps to induce sleep.
  2. Temperatures top low or high can impact REM sleep. REM sleep is that portion of sleep where you have dreams and a lot of eye movement (Rapid Eye Movement). It is thought that REM sleep helps clean out bad chemical by-products from your brain, and that it is responsible for waking refreshed and ready to face the day.

I found ideal temperature ranges to be between 60-70 degrees; however, it did vary with the person. Too warm seemed to be more of an interrupt than too cool.

Light Levels

Okay, I will be honest: when I first read this one, I thought to myself: "Who doesn't get this?" But as I progressed through the article in Paleo Magazine, it started to make more sense. We tend to think of light as big sources: sunlight, a street light, an overhead light, etc. But really, any light can interrupt sleep: night lights, back-lit alarm clocks, cell phones, window shades that leak in the neighbor's porch light, etc.

Last week, we discussed circadian rhythm - that natural pattern of sleep and wake cycles that all life seems to follow. Artificial light can interrupt that! Remember that circadian rhythm plays a role in hormone production, cellular regulation and brain wave patterns. Start messing with that and you can have more than a poor night's sleep. A disrupted circadian rhythm has been linked to depression, obesity, cancer and heart disease. You can read a nifty little summary article from sleep.org here. The Paleo Guide sums it up: "Avoid any type of light at night, if possible. If your situation doesn't allow you to avoid all light, wear a sleep mask."

Mental Factors and Stress

For me, personally, this one probably impacts my sleep more than any of the others and I am guessing I am not alone. It gets pretty hard to turn stuff off during the day and, at night, when there is a lot less to distract me, my stress and brain can take center stage! There is a really nice article on Stress and Insomnia by the National Sleep Foundation on their website. It basically says: yes, stress does impact sleep, but dealing with it effectively starts before you get to bed!

In the article the author outlines three steps:

  1. Set your sleep time for the total hours of sleep you are currently getting, not what you would like to get.
  2. Spend some time winding down before bed.
  3. Set up your bedroom to be a place of comfort and peace .

I know these seem like generalities, and they are to some extent; however, the article goes into greater detail. In addition, next week's newsletter is going to go into greater detail on strategies to maximize your sleep!

One final caveat before we leave the topic of "Mental Factors and Stress," which is something I do personally. If I am lying awake at night, I ask God if there is anything that He wants to talk about with me and, then after that is addressed, I try to ask Him if there is someone I can be praying for. That seems to help me get my focus to a little different location and help me sleep!

Good Sleep is Coming!

Today, we looked at five different factors that can impact sleep: Screen Time, Exercise, Temperature, Light Levels and Mental Factors and Stress. Each one of these has the potential of interrupting sleep. I am sure you already see some things that might be affecting yours! Take heart! Next week, we are going to be going over some practical strategies on how to improve these and get you to sleeping like a baby!

Yours in Health,

Doug Williams, D.C.
Care Chiropractic
Lafayette, Indiana

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