100% of the top conditions seen by a General Practitioner can be related to poor sleep. Some of these include:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Anxiety and Depression
We have different phases of sleep including:
REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement):
The body is paralysed but brainwaves are most similar to when awake.
This is important for memory consolidation and emotional control
Important for physical repair and learning
Brainwaves are slow, growth hormone is secreted. Children have a lot of this phase of sleep, it gradually decreases across adulthood.
During sleep, the brain has a special detoxification and clearance system called the Glymphatic System. Breakdown products and proteins are cleared by immune cells specific to the brain.
Sleep complaints are very common and include:
- Snoring while sleeping – 48%
- Snort, gasp or stop breathing – 11%
- Trouble falling asleep – 16%
- Unrested during day regardless of hours of sleep – 27%
- not enough sleep – 26%
Poor sleep and chronic pain have a vicious cycle with new research showing sleep disruptions increase pain, more than pain disrupts sleep.
Quote: The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep. E. Joseph Cossman
The most common sleep disorder in the USA is “insufficient sleep”. The number of recorded sleep hours is steadily declining, with reports in 2001 of 7h sleep on worknights, compared with 6.7h in 2008. Almost 50% of adults get less than the recommended amount of sleep and up to 57% of children get less than needed.
Global effects of insufficient sleep include:
Mental health: anxiety, depression, panic
Physical health: inflammation, high blood pressure, obesity
Cognitive Performance: reduced short term memory, verbal fluency and creativity
Physical performance: decreased reaction time and coordination
Emotional Intelligence: ethical decision making and identifying emotional states.
Tips for better sleep:
- Start with a good wind-down before sleep. Avoid strong overhead lights as these make your body think it is daytime. Have a minimum of 1h wind down time to bring your body into parasympathetic mode ready for sleep.
- Control light exposure: use blue light blocking glasses 2h before bedtime when using devices or watching a screen. Use night time control for screen brightness/blue light blocking on your mobile phone.
- Turn mobile phone into Airplane mode or ideally keep in another room where you won’t be disturbed.
- Choose your bedtime so you get sufficient sleep – adults need 7-8h per night. Wake up time may be decided for you as per your schedule, YOU have the choice of when to go to bed.
Set up your bedroom for a good night’s sleep:
- No pets
- No wakeful stimuli eg devices
First thing in the morning ensure you have exposure to full spectrum light (ideally sunlight) for 30 minutes of the first 2 hours of waking. This will help set your day-night clock for better sleep. Aim for 10 minute bursts of light every couple of hours.
So how are mitochondria and brain health linked?
Very intricately indeed! Neurons which are nerve cells which send messages all around our body, use a lot of energy to do so, and the mitochondria provide the energy for this. So if mitochondria become damaged or dysfunctional (not working properly), there can be slowing down or limited messages getting through.
In terms of what this might look like for a person, symptoms could include:
- brain fog
- reduced endurance for tasks that previously were easy
- lack of motivation
- lethargy or fatigue
- inability to concentrate
All of these symptoms are suggestive of mild to moderate neuroinflammation.
The brain can become inflamed (aka neuroinflammation) from many causes including:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Ageing – yup we’re all at risk of it!
- Pro-inflammatory diet – think junk food
- Depleted antioxidant reserves – not enough colourful veg and fruits
- Inflammatory bowel disease
So what can be done for a brain on fire?
I would start with a general overview of:
- Maximise: Exercise – specific to the individual
- Minimise: Alcohol and Stress
- Prioritise: Sleep and good nutrition
Then tailor a program specific to an individual person and their contributing factors.
I’m always curious as to how I can easily improve my health, and I know one of the most powerful ways to improve health is by choosing what to eat. I know variety is the spice of life and that includes a wide variety of vegetables. So we eat on average 21 meals in 7 days (unless you’re intermittent fasting….more on that in another post) and I want to review the current variety of vegetables I eat in an average week and see if I fall short of 21 different vegetables. So here goes
- Baby spinach
- Sweet potato
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Snow peas
So I’ve listed my most common vegetables that I would purchase on an average week (mainly organic) and I’m eating two thirds of the concept of 21 different vegetables in a week! This makes me think what can I add to improve this variety. Here goes:
- Asparagus (although seasonal)
- Spring onion
- Bean sprouts
- Bok choy
So if you have a think about your usual favourite vegetables you buy/grow on a weekly basis, are you getting close to a variety of 21 vegetables? What extra/different veggies might you add to your weekly shop to increase the variety?
And why is it recommended to have a wide variety of vegetables in our nutritional intake?
Well each different vegetable provides different nutritional benefits to us, so to optimise our cellular needs through what we eat, we need a good variety of vegetables on a regular basis.
Are you aware of a wandering mind?
Or can you focus intently on what you are doing and not get distracted?
I was at my annual Australian Rehabilitation Medicine conference at the weekend and I thoroughly enjoyed a three hour workshop on Mindfulness with Dr Craig Hassed. We had opportunities to practise mindfulness, communicate while the other party is distracted or fully attentive, and do mental arithmetic under time and audience pressure!!!
Craig presented many research articles he has either been involved in or referenced in his talk. One of the very interesting facts about a wandering mind and longevity relates to telomeres. What is a telomere? Well it is similar to the end of a shoelace and comes out of either side of the coiled up DNA in each cell. When we are born we have long telomeres and as we age our telomeres shorten. Is there anything that makes them shorten more rapidly? Yes a wandering mind…. People who worry a lot or who have anxiety may appear 10 years older than their true age.
So if you want to maintain your youthfulness, why not give regular meditation a go. If you can manage even 5 minutes twice daily you may well notice some benefits. You could find a guided meditation online or find a quiet place to sit/lie down, close your eyes, scan your body from your toes to your head, listen and focus on your breathing, and if you notice thoughts then let them go and return to focusing on your breathing. There is no need for “perfection” in meditation, rather taking the time to sit down and not be connected with anyone or anything than yourself for a few minutes is just right.
Sleep is the number one medicine everyone should be taking!
I highly recommend a good intake/dose/amount of sleep every night. Research shows on average we are sleeping 2-3 hours LESS per night than in the 1980s – that is a big loss of sleep over 365 days.
So why is sleep so important for good health? While we sleep our brain cleans out metabolic waste products, so we can think more clearly, create more memories and be more engaged with what we do. The most important time to have undisturbed sleep is from 11pm to 3am.
Why do so many people have sleep issues?
I believe there are a whole range of reasons for this including lifestyle, nutrition, stress and environmental. Firstly I strongly believe and have read the research on the impact of screen time on our health. This has been a big change in our daily routine over the past decade and a half since portable devices have become easily available. So what is the issue with screens in the evening? Our screens emit blue light which is part of the natural light spectrum. Blue light tells our brains it is daytime and that we should be awake and not be producing melatonin (our go to sleep hormone). So by using a blue light emitting device right up until you close your eyes (your head may already be on the pillow!), your brain is wired and active and takes longer to relax into the restful state.
What can you do to help your body and mind settle into sleep better?
There are a range of supportive measures you can use:
- Avoid using technology including tv, computers, ipads and phones for 90 minutes before bed.
- Avoid overhead light globes and use warm lighting for example salt lamps or warm globes.
- Buy some blue-light blocking glasses if you must use a screen late in the evening.
- Use a screen dimming application on your computer for example f.lux, to decrease the blue light emitted from the screen – it looks slightly yellow.
- Use the Twilight mode with an Android phone and Night Shift with an iPhone to automatically dim your screen from 7pm to 7am.
- Go for a morning walk to get sunlight on your retinas (back of your eyes). Sunlight is a trigger for our circadian rhythm and if you teach your body when it is morning and time to be up and active, it will help train it to slow down and rest in the evening. Failing time to have a walk, even 5 minutes outside for your morning cuppa is beneficial.
If you can improve your sleep you will notice changes in your health in as little as 24-48 hours. It is fundamental to good health and there is no medicine that can replace regular restorative sleep.