Sleep: Can You Do It?

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By Greg Ashby

Sleep is just as – if not more – important as breathing and eating and should be treated like it for it’s when you’re asleep that your body tends to your physical and mental health, processes the previous day (including toxins) and gets you prepared for the day ahead. 

Lack of sleep (or sleep deprivation) can and does lead to disease progression, psychosis and in extreme cases, may contribute to death. Most people don’t even realize how deadly lack of sleep is for humans.

Sleep appears to be a restorative physiologic process. What we know about sleep is that it is incredibly important biologically because all animals have sleep requirements.

  • Sleep affects every aspect of human physiology (stem cells, immune function, metabolism, energy biogenesis, cognition, learning and memory).
  • It is intimately tied to metabolism and cell cycle functions.
  • Why we sleep is currently unknown. But we spend one-third of our life doing it. Some plausible theories are that sleep is vital for an auto repair and a house cleaning process called Autophagy, which occurs in the body, mainly in the brain.
  • It also appears that sleep (and energy metabolism) are tightly regulated in the hypothalamus.
  • Cognitive decline is obvious with sleep deprivation where learning is impaired.
  • Sleep apnea is a known killer in humans and generally appears in those with obesity, again linking energy metabolism to sleep.
  • Less than 6 hours or more rather than 9 hours of nightly sleep seems to predict a shorter longevity – clearly, sleep is critical to longevity.
  • Check out this interesting article: Why do we sleep?
  • In children and adolescents, hormones that promote growth are released during sleep. These hormones help build muscle mass, as well as make repairs to cells and tissues; sleep is vital to the development during puberty.

When you deprive yourself of sleep, your brain can’t function properly, effecting your cognitive abilities and emotional state. If it continues long enough, this lowers your body’s defenses and puts you at risk of developing chronic illness. 

The most obvious signs of sleep deprivation are excessive sleepiness, yawning and irritability. Chronic sleep deprivation can interfere with your balance, coordination and decision-making abilities. You’re at risk falling asleep during the day, even if you fight it.

 Your body’s need for sleep cannot be overridden by caffeine and other stimulants.

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When you’re sleep deprived, the effects of alcohol consumption are magnified, as is your risk of being involved in an accident. According to Harvard Medical School, studies show that sleeping less than five hours a night increases the risk of death from all causes by about 15%. Sleep deprivation is dangerous to your mental and physical health and can dramatically lower your quality of life.

  • Decreased Performance and Alertness: Sleep deprivation induces significant reductions in performance and alertness. Reducing your nighttime sleep by as little as one and a half hours for just one night could result in a reduction of daytime alertness by as much as 32%.
  • Memory and Cognitive Impairment: Decreased alertness and excessive daytime sleepiness impair your memory and your cognitive ability (your ability to think and process information, it’s kind of a big deal!).
  • Relationships: Disruption of a bed partner’s sleep due to a sleep disorder may cause significant problems for the relationship (for example, separate bedrooms, conflicts, moodiness, etc).
  • Poor Quality of Life: You might be unable to participate in certain activities that require sustained attention, like going to the movies, seeing your child in a school play, even regular exercise.
  • Occupational Injury: Excessive sleepiness also contributes to a greater than two-fold higher risk of sustaining an occupational injury.
  • Automobile Injury: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates conservatively that each year drowsy driving is responsible for at least 100,000 automobile crashes, 71,000 injuries and 1,550 fatalities.
  • Lower Stress Threshold: When you’re tired, routine activities – such as stopping at the grocery store on the way home from work, walking the dog or picking up the house – can feel like overwhelming tasks.
  • Impaired Memory: Deep sleep fosters the formation of connections between cells and REM sleep aids in memory formation. Students considering pulling an all-nighter to study for that big exam might do better if they get some sleep.
  • Trouble Concentrating: When you’re dragging yourself through the day, it’s hard to stay alert and focused.
  • Decreased Optimism and Sociability: Whether it’s the effort we have to put into staying awake or other factors, sleep deprivation makes us less hopeful and less friendly.
  • Impaired Creativity and Innovation: A growing body of research suggests that sleep deprivation may have a particular effect on cognitive processes that rely on our experiences with emotions.
  • Increased Resting Blood Pressure: Several studies have found that sleep-deprived people have trouble focusing on taed blood pressure (Fujikawa et al., 2009) and even half a night of sleep loss has been reported to increase blood pressure in people with hypertension or prehypertension (Lusardi et al., 1996).
  • Increased Food Consumption and Appetite: Research indicates that acute sleep loss enhances pleasure response processing in the brain, underlying the drive to consume food (Benedict et al., 2012). The researchers raise the question of whether chronic sleep deprivation is linked to rising levels of obesity.
  • Increased Risk of Cardiac Morbidity: A number of factors can lead to an increased risk of heart attacks – and sleep deprivation is one of them. During experimental sleep deprivation of healthy participants, the increase in inflammation associated with the future development of cardiovascular disease occurred. (source)

When there is a decrease in melatonin, estrogen raises, a known risk factor in developing breast cancer. Men who had moderate sleep problems had two times the risk of developing prostate cancer. Those with severe sleep issues had three times the risk. Proper sleep is even thought to improve cancer remission rates.

In the journal, Cancer Research, the team also reports how they found the immune systems of sleep disrupted mice were less effective at fighting the early stages of cancer than the immune systems of well-rested mice.

Study director Prof. David Gozal says, “It’s not the tumor, it’s the immune system. Fragmented sleep changes how the immune system deals with cancer in ways that make the disease more aggressive.”

Sleep deprivation disrupts autophagy, a process of cellular recycling that effectively removes old, damaged and faulty equipment in our body, potentially stopping cancer, insulin resistance, diabetes, infections, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, inflammation and even aging. 

From the Mayo Clinic, here are steps to improve your sleep:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule – going to bed and waking up at the same time each day (yes, even on weekends)
  • Create a bedtime ritual – turn off all devices an hour before bed, use an eye mask for complete darkness, take a detox bath or meditate
  • Watch what you can eat or drink – don’t go to bed on a full stomach
  • Include physical activity – at least 30 minutes daily, more if possible
  • Learn to manage stress more effectively – meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises are all great tools 

Sometimes a sleep supplement may be needed. Here is what I’ve used:

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Greg Ashby
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Greg Ashby

Integrative Health Coach and Functional Nutrition Consultant at Ask Dr. Garland
Greg Ashby, CHHC, AADP lives in Ogden, Utah and is an Integrative Health Coach and Functional Nutrition Consultant. Greg has been in the Health and Wellness industry for over 20 years.

Because of his personal experience with Adrenal and Thyroid disorders, as well as Cancer, he’s committed to the areas of Autoimmunity and Cancer prevention and management when it comes to research and his work. He enjoys studying the Psychology of Eating and Behavioral Disorders.
Greg Ashby
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