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Posted on / Dr. Susan Wilder

Sleep Is Your Superpower

Technological advances of the past century have decimated sleep and, sadly, we have not evolved to need less. Thanks to artificial lights and addictive devices, most teens and at least 1 in 3 U.S. adults do not get enough sleep. 

Insufficient sleep contributes to epidemics of obesity & diabetes, cognitive issues like attention deficit and dementia, depression and hormone deficiencies. Insufficient sleep is a significant contributor to the epidemic of 'deaths of despair' over the past 5 years (suicide, overdose, and alcohol-related deaths) causing us to experience a decline in life expectancy from 2014-2018. Now, introduce a global pandemic along with social/political upheaval and we have a perfect storm of anxiety, uncertainty, grief, loneliness and fear… “Corona-somnia” anyone?

Sleep is an incredibly active process, wherein our brain clears toxins, stores memories and recharges. Sleep is only important if you need to think, drive, communicate, avoid infection or cancer and enjoy life.

In the short term, insufficient sleep is associated with:

  • severe immune dysfunction (a 70% drop in natural killer cell activity)
  • inflammation
  • hormone dysfunction (low testosterone is often a symptom of sleep deficit)
  • poor attention span
  • impaired memory
  • poor judgement
  • low productivity
  • brain fog
  • depression
  • irritability
  • increased accident/injury risk

Long-term, insufficient sleep contributes to:

  • obesity
  • impaired metabolism
  • blood sugar abnormalities (high fasting blood sugar is one of our first clues that your sleep is not optimal)
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • dementia
  • cancer (colon, prostate, and breast)
  • early mortality

There is no “catching-up” on sleep deficit. The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.

Medicating Your Sleep

Per the Director of Berkeley Sleep Lab, Dr. Matthew Walker, “sleeping pills are blunt instruments that do not produce naturalistic sleep”. Back in 2012, we notified our patients of research which linked the use of sleep medication to increased mortality. The studies showed that just 18 tablets a year of ANY sleep medication (including over-the-counter Tylenol PM) increased risk of death threefold - a risk equivalent to smoking! Mortality risk was found to be 4.6 times higher with regular use!

We encourage anyone dependent on sleeping pills to undergo a sleep study, consider using a sleep tracker such as Fitbit or Oura Ring and clean up sleep hygiene through the following habits:

  • Minimize caffeine intake
  • Minimize alcohol intake (a toxin and carcinogen)
  • No alcohol within 3 hours of bedtime
  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule
  • Keep your bedroom cool – around 65 degrees is optimal, or try a bedside cooling device
  • Aim for complete darkness – even a nightlight blunts melatonin production
  • Practice nightly calming rituals or meditative activity (check out the Calm App)
  • Keep electronics out of the bedroom
  • Request a sleep study or consult with a psychologist or sleep specialist if you're still struggling with healthy sleep

Sleep is one of the most important parts of your day that often gets overlooked by insurance-based, symptom-focused physicians. At LifeScape, we're dedicated to helping our patients reach true vitality and take the time to investigate all of your health factors (including sleep!).

Interested in working with one of LifeScape's providers? Learn more about LifeScape's Concierge Care program and our Primary Care options.

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