Monday, March 14, 2011

What is So Important About Sleep?

The time we spend sleeping is commonly regarded as the time when our bodies get a chance to focus energy expenditure on tissue healing and rejuvenation. While the exact function of sleep still is not completely understood, we can make a number of conclusions based on a large volume of research examining the negative effects of sleep deprivation.

Picture of family sleeping
Family sleeping

Some negative outcomes of inadequate sleep include:

  • Increased level of systemic inflammation, which can be a predisposing factor in the development of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
  • Increased overall pain response. 
  • Decreased immune response to illnesses such as the common cold.
  • Decreased circulating melatonin, which has been found to have anti-rheumatic and anti-autoimmune activity and thus may help in conditions such as multiple sclerosis and scleroderma

Some benefits of adequate sleep quantity and quality include:

  • Increased immune function.
  • Increased cognitive function. 
  • Increased wound healing.

So, how much sleep do you need? While adequate sleep is obviously vital for our health and survival, the length needed is individualized. Less than eight hours will likely be insufficient for many and fewer than four or five hours is linked to numerous negative outcomes. The following is a chart summarizing the recommendations of the National Sleep Foundation:

Age Hours needed each night
Newborns (1-2 months) 10.5-18
Infants (3-11 months) 9-12
Toddlers (1-3 months) 12-14
Preschoolers (3-5 years) 11-13
School aged (5-12 years) 10-11
Teens (11-17 years) 8.5-9.25
Adults 7-9
Older adults 7-9

If you are having trouble sleeping you may be wondering how to promote sleep.

Some general tips for healthy sleep include:

  • Reserve your bed for sleep and sex. Avoid watching TV, computer use, reading and studying while in bed. Additionally, avoid "screen time" 30 minutes before bed.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark during sleep hours.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get up at the same time each morning (and yes, this includes weekends).
  • Neutral or warm baths with Epsom salt may help decrease tension and improve sleep.
  • Avoid stimulating substances such as caffeine and B vitamins after 4 p.m.

You can discuss your sleep concerns with your local naturopathic doctor (ND) for more personalized recommendations. You can also contact Bastyr Center for Natural Health at (206) 834-4100 to make an appointment to meet with an ND.

— Tony Rutledge, ND, naturopathic physician and resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the teaching clinic of Bastyr University.

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