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Sleep Your Way to Better Health
Written by Tracy Kaye Holly   

woman sleeping lying on side in bedThe body can endure sleep debt for only so long after which, if the debt remains unpaid, we suffer and experience the effects of mental and physical bankruptcy. Let’s put it this way…if you haven’t had your ‘beauty’ sleep, it ain’t pretty! The mirror can reflect your whole world as ugly, including your health.

These days the vast majority tend to push the envelope when it comes to sleep. We stay up late working, watching TV, partying or playing video games. The problem with such common nocturnal habits is that they rob the body of the time it needs to cleanse, detoxify, repair and rejuvenate. The end result is chronic sleep debt.

If you haven’t had enough sleep, it can feel like you’re walking around in a fog. You can become impatient and crabby. It can take a toll on an individual’s ability to make good decisions. This not only affects you; it also affects those around you. Your most valued relationships can suffer. This is not healthy!

When you haven’t had sufficient sleep, your diet also suffers. You’ll notice that you crave refined carbohydrates, high sugar snacks and foods that are not hydrating. All this contributes to inflammation and dehydration and the origin of ‘dis-ease’ in the body.

Insomnia also has a corrosive effect on the thyroid gland. Testosterone levels decrease and growth hormone release is blunted. Sleep deprivation increases free radical activity, risk of infection and illness, and is associated with premature biological aging, fatigue and muddled thinking.

Evidence suggests that employees are less prone to injury, error, infection and burn-out when given the opportunity to rest horizontally for 20-30 minutes each day.

Physician Alon Avidan, Director of the UCLA Sleep Center, says it’s not uncommon for shift workers to develop psychiatric conditions due to accumulated sleep debt. “Things get to a point where it begins to impact their social function and relationships. They can feel depressed and anxious.”

Scientists believe sleep disturbance is a common response to changes in our lives, such as trouble at the office or home or self-induced anxiety as a response to stress, poor diet, lack of exercise and physical activity.

“Man is ill because he is never still.” ~Paracelsus

Some people hate going to bed. They feel that sleep is a waste of time and a function of mortal weakness. Perhaps… but like it or not, sleep is not an option. Sleep is nature’s toll charge for achieving balance and restoration and prepares us for the new day ahead. Sleep provides nourishment to the nervous system, relaxation to our muscles and rest for the mind. The body requires adequate rest and sleep to maintain optimum health and vitality. Get to bed and embrace sleep; it will be your best friend.

What is the optimum amount of sleep? There are no hard and fast rules about how much sleep is enough. It actually varies considerably from one person to the next and depends on age, gender, stress levels and physical workload. Our evolutionary pattern suggests 8-9 1/2 hours of sleep as an ideal figure. Coupled with a 20 minute power nap or meditation period in the mid-afternoon, AKA as “siesta” time; but to operate at peak efficiency during the day with a sense of vitality, most adults need about 7.5 hours each night.

“Growth Hormone is considered by some to be the Fountain of Youth”

Did you know that deep REM sleep provides a stimulus for growth hormone (GH) release? GH is secreted from the pituitary gland and promotes overall strength and vitality. The pituitary gland is no larger than a pea and is located at the base of the brain.

GH stimulates growth in virtually all body tissues, including bone, muscle and organs. Unlike many other hormones, GH has no single target gland, having a somewhat universal effect throughout the body.

GH is especially active during childhood and puberty, but is followed by a sharp reduction in most adults. Observation of this decline is based on representative samples of Western population, most of whom are overweight, de-conditioned and sedentary. Do you see the connection?

Sleep is essential to the management of body composition and weight. During sleep we release GH in pulse-like rhythmic cycles, which acts to reorganize and restore the basic structure of our entire being.

Adequate sleep improves cortisol chemistry and balance. Cortisol is released from the adrenal glands under stress, and excess cortisol released during prolonged mental or emotional stress simply ruins the body and weakens the immune system. During sleep our adrenals are at rest.

Steps to help achieve a restful sleep:

  1. Avoid alcohol, tobacco, sugar and rich foods before bedtime.
  2. A wholesome diet and regular brisk exercise promote healthy fatigue, meaning you have a natural inclination to go to bed and fall asleep.
  3. Try a warm to hot bath with relaxing essential oils before bedtime.
  4. Don’t exercise directly before retiring (that is stimulating).
  5. Make your bedroom quiet, dark, cozy, comfortable and a restful place to sleep with the bedroom window open if possible.
  6. Relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation provide peace of mind.
  7. There are many well-known and proven natural sleep remedies that can enhance the quality of sleep, for example: homeopathic Calms Forte’, melatonin, calcium, magnesium, tryptophan (amino acid), 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) or herbs such as chamomile tea, kava kava, valerian root, St. John’s wort and passionflower.
  8. Eating some protein before you go to bed is helpful to offset some of the diminished hormone responses. When protein levels are kept steady throughout the night, an increased amount of hGH is released, cortisol levels decrease, and nitrogen availability favors maintenance of the anabolic flux (negative entropy) created by resistance exercise.
  9. Go to bed at the same time each night, as our bodies love routine.

By using the synergy of these helpful tips, going to bed can be a positive ritual.

"The advice I would give to my younger self is very, very simple: Stop burning the candle at both ends and renew your estranged relationship with sleep — you will be more productive, more effective, more creative, and more likely to enjoy your life." - Arianna Huffington


Tracy Kaye Holly -

Tracy Kaye Holly is a Certified Sports Nutrition Advisor and the author of The Athlete's Cookbook, Sports Nutrition for Kids and Simple Strategies for Living Lean and Staying Well. Tracy also teaches Latin, Ballroom and Bollywood dancing, judges and competes from time to time in Masters' level Ms. Fitness and Natural bodybuilding.


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