Have you ever thought of sleep as a waste of time? As in, you could stay up, or get up, and do something more productive. A luxury? Unnecessary? What if I told you that not only does your body improve brain health and immunity while you sleep, but it also fights chronic disease?
And moreover, your body’s natural rhythms are primed for more sleep in the winter months?
It’s not exactly a waste of time. The early bird may get the first worm, but if this means less than 6 hours of sleep, he may do so to his own health detriment.
Here’s what the latest research says about lack of sleep, how sleep fights chronic disease, and how the darker months of the year can help us.
If you are middle-aged and have a chronic disease, such as heart disease, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, or Type 2 diabetes, one of the best lifestyle changes you can make is to get more sleep.
Or, if looked at in the reverse, NOT getting enough sleep can make it much worse.
A new study of 1,654 participants aged 20-74 years looked at sleep and its effects on those with chronic disease. It followed these participants for 20 years (1).
The researchers found that participants with existing high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes, who slept less than 6 hours per night, were 1.8 times likely to die of heart disease or stroke. Unfortunately, 45% of Americans have these conditions, and the majority do not get enough quality sleep.
The study was published earlier this month in the Journal of the American Heart Association. And, it’s not the first to find this deadly connection.
How does this relate to winter months?
Have you ever noticed what the natural world does during the winter? It slows down. Some animals hibernate. Trees and plants go dormant. Our earth’s rotation results in dark skies for more and more hours of each day.
And humans? We tend to be sleepier, more depressed, and more apt to gain weight.
But perhaps, if we gave into the rhythm of nature, and really focused on high-quality sleep in the winter, some of the increased weight and depression would subside. There’s little doubt that lack of sleep leads to both these conditions, and winter is a perfect time to shift to slower lifestyles and more sleep (2).
Believe it or not, a good night’s sleep starts in the morning. Getting out early in natural sunlight can improve your natural melatonin and sleep-hormone balance.
This works with your body’s natural 24-hour circadian rhythm to induce wakefulness during the day, and sleep at night.
There’s little doubt that our ever-growing use of screens is affecting our health and our sleep. Experts surmise that the artificial blue light emitted by screens negatively affects our sleep hormones.
In fact, a 2017 study found that both light intensity and wavelength altered normal body changes that typically induce sleep (changes in body temperature, melatonin levels, etc). These changes both disturbed sleep and morning alertness (3).
Stress also affects sleep. One of the best ways to deal with stress?
Prayer and gratitude.
If you get in the habit of praying, writing down and/or releasing your stress to God, and listing a few gratitudes before bed each night, you will reduce cortisol and stress.
When you reduce cortisol, you sleep better (4).
And, it doesn’t stop there. When you sleep better, you’ll reduce cortisol. And on goes this healthy cycle.
Similar to changes in sleep-hormone in the evening, your body’s metabolism and digestive hormones change in the evening.
Our bodies are not meant to digest foods late at night.
One way to improve your eating and sleep schedule is to eat a high fat Keto Zone dinner early in the evening, and then practice intermittent fasting in the late evening and through the night.
Eating high fat can keep you satiated in the night so that you don’t wake up hungry. Intermittent fasting allows your body the time to digest and then rest from digesting.
It utilizes daytime hormones to deal with food, and nighttime hormones to improve sleep.
Although results vary, many people sleep better using over-the-counter melatonin supplements, melatonin + valerian supplements, chamomile teas, lavender formulas, and more for sleep. These formulations are typically mild and safe, but it’s always a good idea to speak with your doctor before adding them if you are unsure.
Magnesium. If you are magnesium deficient, as most adults are, adding 100-200 mg through a supplement, an Epsom salt bath, or a few squirts of magnesium oil/lotion can significantly improve sleep and subsequently, daytime energy.
Your sleep environment has a profound effect on sleep quality. This includes light, noise, temperature, and more.
If you’d like more natural strategies and tips, check out our post on the subject.
This new study is just one more piece of evidence that humans need good sleep for 6 or more hours per night, and that sleep fights chronic disease. And while the evidence keeps piling up, we still have a hard time not skimping on it, or in actually achieving good sleep. Our lifestyles, diets, and priorities may hold the key. As you head into the darker winter months, see it as an opportunity to slow down a bit, and fight disease. Use it as a time to establish good sleep habits, and give your body the sleep it needs.