Sleep and health go hand in hand. Truly healthy people typically fall asleep easily, sleep through the night, wake up feeling rested, and experience a strong level of energy, good mood, and focus during the day.
Their health issues are so minimal or non-existent that they probably aren’t doing a lot of heavy thinking about their sleep. They simply sleep well and feel good.
Statistics reveal that many, and perhaps the majority of people, aren’t experiencing this level of mind-body harmony.
As of 2020, an estimated 30% to 40% of adults in the U.S. were reporting symptoms of insomnia. Keep in mind that this represents only a fraction of those impacted by sleep problems, since many people have sleep issues without knowing it.
For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, 70% of Americans take at least one prescription medication and 50% take at least two.
What does taking prescription medications have to do with sleep?
Most healthy people who experience the proper amount of restorative sleep do not have any need for prescription medication since their body heals overnight and their body systems are able to perform optimally. When sleep becomes sub-optimal, especially over the long term, the body cannot function properly, and a host of health conditions may arise, both physical and mental.
As a neurologist who wanted success for my patients, I discovered that restoring sleep meant restoring health, and I began to run sleep studies on patients even when they didn’t think sleep was an issue (it always was), and even when testing for an underlying sleep issue with their condition wasn’t the norm.
In fact, there are only a few areas where it is common for doctors to investigate sleep. These include: High blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
However, I’ve discovered in working with thousands of patients that restorative sleep is the key to overcoming most health issues. If you care deeply about your health and longevity, you owe it to yourself to make optimal sleep your #1 priority.
Are You Getting Adequate Sleep?
Adequate sleep is the foundation for a healthy body and mind. What this means is that you are getting sufficient deep sleep to heal the body and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep to heal the brain.
A healthy sleep pattern should move through several sleep cycles, including light sleep, deep sleep (designed for body healing) and REM sleep (designed for brain healing).
If you’re experiencing sleep disruption (such as regular nighttime wakings), short sleep duration or otherwise poor sleep quality, your body is not able to heal properly, and health issues, ranging from cold & flu to degenerative conditions, will inevitably arise. Your particular sleep or health issue might be what brought you to this article.
While common sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea, or symptoms such as daytime sleepiness or even headache are often associated with poor sleep quality, insufficient restorative sleep can also be the root of seemingly unrelated health risks such as chronic pain and depression.
Over time, insufficient sleep can cause a variety of health issues, such as depression, anxiety, digestive issues, and arthritis even though these conditions may not appear to be a sleep problem.
How much sleep do you need?
A healthy sleeper will not only experience 8 hours of interrupted sleep and wake up feeling refreshed, they will also experience quality sleep. What constitutes quality sleep? Your total 8 hours of sleep will include at least 2 hours of deep sleep and 2 hours of REM.
Though some online sources say that less than 2 hours of deep sleep and REM are necessary, 2 hours of each is consistent with the studies done in the 1960s-70s by highly-respected sleep expert, William Dement, at Stanford. I’ve also seen those benchmarks present in people who I’ve personally guided to improved health through restored sleep.
How do you know if you’re getting enough deep sleep and REM? Unlike when I began ordering sleep studies for my neurology patients in 2004, you don’t necessarily need to ask your doctor to order a sleep study. There are now a number of wearable devices that allow you to track your sleep duration and sleep quality, to find out for yourself.
What time should you sleep?
Timing matters too. A healthy sleeper typically falls asleep around 10pm and wakes up at 6am– you may go to sleep slightly earlier or later, but this is a good general time frame to represent what is optimal for most.
When your system is working optimally, you’ll feel sleepy in the later evening and easily fall asleep before midnight. You’ll wake up in the morning feeling ready to seize the day. This has to do with the circadian rhythm and our “body clock” that is connected to the day’s 24-hour cycle and the rise and fall of the sun.
Going to sleep late, particularly after midnight, can disrupt the body’s sleep-wake cycle, and prevent you from getting the optimal amount of deep and REM sleep.
Working a night shift can be even more disastrous for your health, as being awake during the nighttime sleeping hours, and trying to sleep during the day works against the body’s natural rhythm and biological processes.
Good Sleep Hygiene Is Not Enough
Many people will tell you that good sleep hygiene or healthy sleep habits such as optimizing your sleep schedule, creating a bedtime routine, and lots of physical activity during the day will all lead to better sleep.
There is a time and place for sleep hygiene. However, if it is not what your body needs most, these methods will not work for you, and may even make you feel like your poor sleep is “your own fault” and you must be doing something wrong. Sleep hygiene is like the icing on the cake of good sleep. It can help enhance a person’s ability to sleep, but only if their fundamental ability to sleep is normal. This ultimately comes down to having the optimal brain chemistry to support sleep.
Many common situations today contribute to suboptimal brain chemistry, such as lack of being outdoors, not being exposed to enough sunlight, having low vitamin D levels, and an unhealthy gut microbiome. When left unaddressed, these issues grow worse over time, and if you are experiencing them, sleep hygiene methods will not help you.
Luckily, with the right process, proper brain chemistry for sleep can be restored naturally.
What about sleep medicine?
Sleep medication should be thought of as a temporary fix, rather than a long-term one. If you are working on fixing your brain chemistry issue (often the root of your sleep and health issues) then temporary use of a sleep aid is okay; it is merely assisting the process until your sleep comes back fully “online.”
Whether prescription or over-the-counter aids, such as melatonin, gaba, or glycine, the sleep aid will only help you if it addresses your specific deficiency.
For example, if you don’t have a melatonin deficiency, taking supplemental melatonin won’t help; but if your body is not producing enough melatonin, taking this supplement may make it easier for you to fall asleep. Sleep is your #1 priority, which is why using sleep aids on a temporary basis is OK, but once your brain chemistry for sleep is fully restored, you will no longer need “sleeping pills” of any kind.
Healing Sleep Disorders and Chronic Pain
If you are experiencing a sleep disorder, chronic pain, or other conditions where sleep can be the ultimate solution, quality sleep can allow your body to heal naturally over time. Optimal sleep health helps create optimal physical and mental health.
There is nothing wrong with having good sleep habits or using temporary sleep medication, but the real key to better sleep is restoring your brain chemistry so you can sleep easily and deeply, the way your body always intended. This is possible through RightSleep® a customizable program, which uses over-the-counter vitamins to improve your sleep and heal your body. Learn more about RightSleep.