Excerpts from Keys to Independence, Leaving Home to Study

By Sheila Partrat, Rachael Desgouttes and Sophie Paine Published by Partridge October 2018

SLEEP: The Golden Chain that Ties Health & Body Together

Sleep, the often underestimated and overlooked free essential, is as important to our wellbeing as the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. It affects how we look, feel, and perform on a daily basis, and can have a major impact on our overall quality of life. We spend a full one third of our life “between the sheets”. Far from being unproductive, the quality and quantity of our sleep has a direct impact on how successful the other two thirds are. Read on for the basics and quick tricks to improve our nights AND our days.

SLEEP and society: The trends

Less sleep: As a society, we tend to trade sleep for more productive work-related or social activities. Over time, this has led to sleeping about one to two hours less than what we used to do a few hundred years ago.

Lower quality: Add to that the relatively recent shift in the content of both work-related and social activities, most of which have us plugged in behind a screen often into the evening, which negatively impacts sleep.

It’s safe to say that quality and quantity of sleep are not on an upward trend. Most of us can relate, but what is the impact and what can we do about it?

SLEEP – The basics

What happens when we sleep? Our sleep cycles follow a regular pattern, alternating between REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep throughout a typical night. This cycle repeats itself about every 90 minutes.

NREM is made up of four stages and takes up about three quarters of our night. It starts between being awake and falling asleep with a light sleep. As sleep onsets, we become disengaged from our surroundings. Breathing and heart rate are regular while our body temperature drops. Blood pressure also drops, while breathing becomes slower. Muscles relax, blood supply increases while tissue growth and repair occurs, and energy is restored. Hormones are released, such as growth hormone (which is essential for growth and development, including muscle development).

REM which is the other 25% of the night, first occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and recurs about every 90 minutes, getting longer later in the night. It provides energy to brain and body and supports daytime performance.

How Much Sleep Should We Be Getting?

Older adult: (65+) 7 – 8 hours
Young adult and adult (18 to 65) 7- 9 hours
Teenager (14 to 17) 8 -10 hours
School age (6 to 13) 9 – 11 hours

What Happens When We Get Enough or Too Little Sleep?

Enough quality sleep Enough quality sleep Not enough … over time
Appetites are balanced by helping to regulate levels of the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which play a role in our feelings of hunger and fullness Obesity is increased by an increase in ghrelin, which is a hunger hormone. Risk for diabetes is increased because sleep deprivation increases insulin resistance.
Morning alertness. Hormone cortisol dips at bed time and increases over the night for morning alertness. Memory loss is accelerated, with increased likelihood of problems with cognition, test scores, creativity and sexual arousal. Yup, that too!
Better psychological functioning. Better psychological functioning. Kids have a strong link to diagnosed ADHD.
We grow and repair body tissue. Risk for diabetes is increased because sleep deprivation increases insulin resistance.
Contributes to a healthy immune system. Weakened immune system.

TEENS And Sleep, a particular case

Is your teen not able to fall asleep before 11pm? It’s natural! Biology shifts during the teenage years towards later times for both sleeping and waking. However, it does need a little management. Teens tend to have irregular sleep patterns, often sleep deprived across the week, followed by typically staying up late and sleeping in on the weekends. Be watchful, “starve and binge” can negatively affect biological clocks and sleep quality.

“Sleep deprivation puts teenagers into a kind of perpetual cloud or haze”, explains Dr. Mary Carskadon, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University and director of chronobiology and sleep research at Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island. “One of the metaphors I use is that it’s like having an astigmatism. You don’t realise how bad your vision is until you get glasses or in this case, good sleep.” That haze, she says, can negatively affect a teenager’s mood, ability to think, to react, to regulate their emotions, to learn, and to get along with others.

Looking to upgrading the quantity and quality of sleep? Check out these sleep robbers and easy fixes for a sleep upgrade.

  • Manage the lighting: Make your room as dark as possible. Why? Melatonin starts in dark and cortisol starts with the light. (Source: Lights out. T.S.Wiley)
  • Turn off the Wi-Fi and put the phone on airplane mode. We are exposed to way more electromagnetic fields in our environment today than our ancestors were. 200,000,000x in fact! This is way more than our circuits can handle. Do your bit to limit your own exposure. What are the sources?
    • Indoor cordless telephones and base units, wireless computers and their wireless routers, mice and printers, wireless security, baby monitors, microwave ovens and more. (Source: National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences).

      What To Do About it

      • Unplug / remove wireless in bedroom when you sleep. Make sure the wireless router is not in your bedroom. Don’t charge the laptop in the bedroom at night.
      • During the day, keep the telephones away from the head. Chord gives distance. Laptops nowhere near bed or body, use trays for laps.

Get more sleep enhancing nutrients: certain nutrients in foods are precursors to sleep enhancing hormones. Check out the chapter Food Smarts for a Better Life for advice on a well-rounded diet. If there is room for improvement, see if you can regularly add more foods with:

  • Tryptophan: eggs, cheese, good quality whey protein (like to Protelicious) or other protein powders, salmon, nuts and seeds and turkey.
  • Vitamin C: oranges, red peppers, kale, Brussel sprouts, grapefruit, kiwi, and green peppers.

Try a screen curfew, the blue lights from smart phones, laptops and television suppress melatonin and elevate our cortisol levels. For every hour we are on our devices it suppresses our body’s melatonin production by 30 minutes. Try closing the screen at least 30 minutes before you go to sleep to give your melatonin a chance to catch up. Alternately, check out Night Mode for your smart phones, which turn off the sleep depriving blue light. Check out f.lux, a free blue light-filtering app that can be downloaded on a cell phone or laptop.

Sleep in a cool environment. Most experts agree that somewhere between 17 to 20 Celsius (or 62 to 68 Fahrenheit) is an ideal sleep temperature.

Still Can’t Sleep?

Try a wonderful breathing tool from yoga. Gently close off your right nostril and breathe exclusively through your left nostril deeply, slowly, evenly for three to five minutes. This slows down the constant computation of the mind and helps put distance between ourselves and our emotions.