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 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.
If I need prescription medications could I have an underlying sleep issue?
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, so I began to perform sleep studies on patients even if they didn’t think sleep was an issue. (It always was.)
There are currently only a few medical conditions that prompt doctors to investigate sleep, these include: high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. In fact, in my experience any person who is suffering from a chronic illness may have an underlying sleep disorder. Treating the sleep disorder as well as the chronic illness often leads to a more optimal outcome.
Working with thousands of patients I’ve found 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 will I know if my sleep is normal or abnormal?
Adequate sleep is the foundation of a healthy body and mind. This means that you are getting enough deep, paralyzed sleep every night to heal your body and brain. A healthy sleep pattern should move through several sleep cycles, including 2 stages of light sleep, deep sleep ( also called slow wave sleep) and REM sleep.
If you’re experiencing sleep disruption (such as frequent nighttime wakings), short sleep duration or otherwise poor sleep quality, your body is not able to heal properly, and health issues, ranging from colds & flu to more serious 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, sleep apnea, daytime sleepiness or headaches are often associated with poor sleep quality, insufficient restorative sleep can also be the root of seemingly unrelated health risks such as chronic pain or depression.
It is now recognized that 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 related to sleep.
How much sleep do I need?
A healthy sleeper will not only experience 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, they will also experience quality sleep. What constitutes quality sleep? You will wake feeling refreshed energized and ready to face the day. If you’re using a sleep tracker your total 8 hours of sleep will 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 is acceptable, 2 hours of each is consistent with the studies done in the 1970s by highly-respected sleep expert, William Dement, who started the Stanford Sleep Laboratory. Those general benchmarks have also been achieved by my clients who have followed the RightSleep program in order to improve their sleep.
How will you know if you’re getting enough deep sleep and REM sleep? Unlike in 2004, when I began ordering sleep studies for my neurology patients, you don’t necessarily need to ask your doctor for a sleep study. There are a number of wearable devices that allow you to track your sleep duration and sleep quality. The tracker you choose should be able to record the number of minutes spent in deep sleep and minutes spent in REM sleep.
The most important piece of advice I can give you is to be patient. Not sleeping well makes our lives miserable so most of us are in a hurry to feel better. Though vitamins are some of the building blocks you will use to help your sleep switches work better, it is only better sleep that will help you heal. If your sleep switches have been unable to repair themselves for many years it’s not surprising that it might take months to years for you to feel better. Stay the course, keep trying things, sleep as much as you can whenever you can and try to be patient with your body. It knows what to do it just takes time to get it all done.
What time should I sleep?
The timing of sleep matters too. A healthy sleeper typically falls asleep around 9 -10 pm and wakes up at 6 -7 am. Our “body clock” is connected to the day’s 24-hour cycle and the timing of sunrise and sunset. Sunlight exposure, outdoors during the day helps keep our body clock working in the right rhythm.
When your system is working optimally, you’ll feel sleepy in the evening and easily fall asleep. You’ll wake up in the morning feeling rested and ready to seize the day.
Going to sleep late, particularly after midnight, can disrupt the body’s sleep-wake cycle, and prevent you from getting the amount of deep and REM sleep that you need, especially if you have to wake early to start your day. Being unable to fall asleep at 10 pm can be helped by spending more time outdoors and following the RightSleep program.
Working a night shift can be even more disastrous for your health. 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 enough
Many people will tell you that good sleep hygiene or healthy sleep habits, such as optimizing your sleep schedule, creating a bedtime routine, healthy eating and lots of physical activity are all you need for better sleep.
If these sleep hygiene tips have not worked for you, you may start to feel like your poor sleep is “your own fault” and that you must be doing something wrong. Good sleep hygiene can, indeed 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 right brain chemistry to support sleep.
Many things about our modern, indoor life contribute to having sub-optimal brain chemistry for normal sleep; reduced time spent outdoors, reduced sun exposure, low vitamin D levels which produce an unhealthy gut microbiome. When left unaddressed, these changes in our lifestyle affect the production of the chemicals we need to be able to sleep. If you are deficient in things your brain needs to sleep properly simple sleep hygiene methods may not be enough.
Luckily, with the right process, proper brain chemistry for sleep can be restored.
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 issue (often the root of your sleep and health issues) then temporary use of a sleep aid might be necessary. It is merely assisting the process until your sleep comes back to normal.
Whether prescription or over-the-counter, such as melatonin, gaba, or glycine, the sleep aid will only help you if it is something your brain wants. If it is right for you, you will sleep AND wake feeling better in the morning.
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. Usually your body will tell you when it’s time to stop the sleep aid. You will wake up feeling drugged or groggy in a way you didn’t before.
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 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, as was always intended. This is possible through following RightSleep®, a customizable program that uses over-the-counter vitamins to improve your sleep and heal your body. Learn more about RightSleep.