Sleep is an essential need of the human body. You need adequate, good quality sleep to be healthy. If you don’t get sleep your physical and mental health will be affected, to the point that your risk of death will be increased. Studies have shown that newborn mothers are just as dangerous behind the wheel of a car, as a drunk driver. Your reflexes are diminished, the risk taking proportion of the brain is affected and with lack of sleep hallucinations may appear (an individual cannot distinguish between what is real and what isn’t).

Insomnia has reached epidemic proportions. More than a 1/3 of adults have trouble sleeping every night, and 51% say they have problems sleeping at least a few nights each week. And 43% of respondents report that daytime sleepiness interferes with their normal daytime activities.

The number of adults aged 20 to 44 using sleeping pills doubled from 2000 to 2004, and the number of kids aged 1 to 19 who take sleep remedies jumped 85% during the same period.

This isn’t a surprise in today’s modern society, where people value productivity and activity above all else, and is almost scornful of rest and relaxation. Then ‘resting’ for many people means watching TV, browsing the internet or engaging with some other electronic device that is anything but restful for the brain and the body. We literally have forgotten ‘how to’ rest.

Being healthy means getting adequate sleep and if you are not getting it your body will suffer. It is essential in the basic maintenance and repair of the neurological, endocrine, immune, musculoskeletal, and digestive systems. The hormone ‘melatonin’ is secreted naturally after the sun goes down and during the normal circadian rhythms, which increases immune cytokine function and helps protect us against infection (evidenced by the increased chances of getting a cold or flu after not sleeping for a few nights). In fact, sleep is so important to our overall health that total sleep deprivation has been proven fatal and even a form or torture.

The benefits of a full night’s sleep are:
* enhancement of memory and mental clarity;
* improves athletic performance;
* improves immune function;
* increases stress tolerance;
* boosts mood and overall energy.

The detrimental effects of sleep can happen if you get fewer than 6 hours per night. This is associated with low-grade inflammation in the body, and worsening insulin resistance, as well as increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease (CVD). The following is an abbreviated list of some of the more damaging effects of sleep deprivation;

1. Impaired immune system – a study from University of California found that loss of even moderate sleep, can weaken the body’s immune system and its responses to disease and injury;
2. Overweight and obesity – recent studies show that even the loss of one nights sleep can have dramatic changes in your appetite and food intake. Other studies show that restricting your sleep to 5 hours per night affects your body’s ability to control carbohydrate tolerance and inulin resistance;
3. Decrease in brain function – sleep deprivation has a direct impact on short term and working memory, therefore suffering from cognitive decline;
4. Mood and mental health – insufficient sleep shuts down your prefrontal cortex and can cause or exacerbate a number of psychological conditions, ranging from anxiety to depression to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD);
5. Increased risk of death – not getting enough sleep reduces your life expectancy;
6. Systemic inflammation – as I mentioned before, sleep deprivation provides a low grade inflammation, which is the root of all diseases.

I could go on, as there is really no disease or medical condition that sleep deprivation doesn’t either contribute to directly, or that will make the condition worse. So here are some tips on useful ways to change your daily habits that might be affecting your quality or inability to sleep.

* Reduce your exposure to artificial lighting. This type of lighting comes from televisions, monitors, iPads, iPhones, tablets, etc. Just a single pulse of this type of lighting at night disrupts the circadian mode of cell division, which cannot only affect our sleep, but also increases our risk of cancer. Melatonin starts to secrete around 9pm to 10pm, and these types of devices stifle the production of this very important hormone and neurotransmitter;

* Don’t use a computer for 2 hours before going to bed. No staying up late on Facebook or Twitter!

* Try and use blackout shades to make your bedroom pitch black. Even the slightest bit of light in you bedroom can disrupt your biological clock and you pineal gland’s melatonin production;

* Cover your digital alarm clock or get an analog clock. Even the tiny glow from your alarm clock radio could be interfering with your sleep. The ideal light tone is a reddish amber, certainly not blue or green;

* Reserve your bed for sleeping. If you are used to watching TV or doing work in bed, you may find it harder to relax and drift off to sleep, so simply just avoid these activities in bed;

* Turn off any digital device that glows or gives off any light;

* Wear orange goggles, lenses at night that filter out the melatonin-suppressing blue light;

* Install a low-wattage yellow, orange or red light bulb if you need a source of light for navigation at night. A salt lamp can be handy for this purpose;

* Move alarm clocks and other electrical devices away from your head. If these devices must be used, keep them as far away from your bed as possible, preferably at least 90 centimetres;

* Check your bedroom for electro-magnetic fields (EMFs). These can disrupt your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin, and may have other negative effects. To measure this you need a gauss meter. Some experts even recommend pulling your circuit breaker before bed to kill power to your house;

* Keep the temperature in you bedroom at or below 21 degrees Celsius. The optimal sleep temperature is between 15.5 to 20 C.

* Get some morning sun. Ten to 15 minutes of morning sunlight sends a strong message to your internal clock that the day has arrived, making it less likely to be confused by weaker light signals during the day;

* Soak up sun during the day, especially around midday. The more, the better. Sunrays help us keep awake in the moment and make us pleasingly tired come that evening;

* Keep moving during the day. Being active provides you with fresh power. Plus you will feel the right amount of exhaustion for bed time. Which is perfect for sleeping;

* No caffeine in the afternoon. Caffeine remains in our blood for up to 7 hours. Therefore the habitual cup of coffee in the afternoon is not ideal for quality of sleep. If you find that you are looking for that cup of coffee because of tiredness in the afternoon, you should be looking at insulin resistance, or your diet as this is not normal and is not conducive for sleep;

* Don’t sleep on a full stomach – or an empty stomach. Having dinner about two to three hours before going to bed at night is good for sleep but also good for your digestion;

* Stimulate sunset. This can be done by turning off or dimming the lights one hour prior to bedtime;

* Always do the same at night. We do this for babies as we know it helps them sleep better at night, as adults we should too. Take a shower, brush your teeth and then read a few pages of your favourite book. Your body will get use to the routine and will know to prepare itself for bed;

* Tidy up your bedroom. A tidy room means a tidy mind, and sleep quality improves in a tidy, decluttered bedroom;

* Sleep on your right side. This reduces pressure on your heart and it’s less of an effort to sustain blood circulation. It also helps with food leaving the stomach and entering the small intestine;

* Go to bed earlier. Get to know your body’s signs of sleepiness and weariness. We have all heard the saying ‘an hour before midnight is worth two hours after’. When you fall asleep, you go through normally a 90 minute cycle of non-REM sleep followed by REM sleep. But this ratio changes over the course of the night. Early in the night (11pm-3am) the majority of those cycles are composed of deep non-REM sleep (stages 3 & 4) and very little REM sleep. The second half of the night (3am-7am), this balance changes, such that the 90 minute cycles have more REM sleep (dreaming) as well as a lighter form of non-REM sleep, stage 2. Stages 3 & 4 is when our body regenerates and repairs tissue and engages in other restorative processes. If we don’t have enough deep sleep we cannot help rejuvenate and heal our bodies;

* Lastly, no horror stories before bedtime!

As for supplements, Magnesium and 5-HTTP are normally the best to help with sleep.

Magnesium is a good choice. Most of us are deficient in it. Taking too much will cause a laxative effect but depends on the individual to dosage. 5-HTTP is a precursor to melatonin production and can be useful for aiding in getting to, and staying asleep. The recommended dose is 100mg one hour before bed.

Most of us run around like a headless chook for most of the day, running from one activity to the next, and then wonder why we don’t fall asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. But if your nervous system has been in overdrive for 16 hours of the day, it’s unrealistic to assume that it can be switched into a lower gear in a matter of minutes simply when you want it to. Therefore before reaching for the pharmaceuticals (sleeping pills) or other unnatural means, look at your surrounding environment for change. Sleep well!

If you would like more information or would like to book an appointment at Neurohealth Chiropractic – please call the clinic on 9905 9099 or email us or fill in the contact form from our website

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This article is written by Dr. Steven Cannon, Chiropractor – Neurohealth Chiropractic