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 that they probably aren’t doing a lot of 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 sleep “normally” but 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.
If I Sleep Better Will I Need Fewer Medications?
Healthy people who experience the proper amount of restorative sleep rarely have a need for prescription medications. 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.
In my Neurology practice I discovered that restoring optimal sleep meant improving health, and I began to order 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 wasn’t the norm for their neurology disorder.
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.
Working with thousands of patients I’ve discovered 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.
How Much Sleep Do I Need?
A healthy sleeper will not only experience 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep they will wake up feeling refreshed. If that’s not happening for you it’s possible that you sleep but you don’t have enough time spent in the deeper sleep stages where repairs occur. Your total 8 hours of sleep should include at least 2 hours of deep sleep and 2 hours of REM sleep.
Though some online sources say that less than 2 hours of deep sleep and REM are acceptable, 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 better health through improved 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.
When Should I 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 representing what is optimal for most.
When your system is working well, you’ll feel sleepy at bedtime 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 May Not Be The Whole Story
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 improving your sleep hygiene doesn’t work for you, you may end up feeling like you’re “doing it 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 sub-optimal 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 may not work for you.
Luckily, even if you’ve been sleeping badly for years, following the RightSleep program can restore your brain chemistry and you can return to sleeping normally.
What About Sleep Medicines?
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 (often the root cause of your sleep and health issues) then temporary use of a sleep aid is fine; it is merely assisting the process until your sleep comes back fully to normal.
Whether what you are using is prescription or over-the-counter, such as melatonin, glycine, or antihistamines like diphenhyramine, the sleep aid will only help you if it addresses your specific deficiency (what your brain is missing).
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 when your sleep has improved, your body will signal you that the sleeping pills are no longer necessary.
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 itself over time.
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. Learn more about RightSleep.