Sleep – The Fundamental Lifestyle Factor for Optimal Health


Sleep is a major lifestyle factor to consider

A cornerstone to good health is getting enough restful sleep each night. Inadequate sleep or poor-quality sleep impacts our overall health, including our emotional wellbeing, our cognitive function and daytime performance, weight management and cardiovascular fitness.
Sleep is important so that our brains can process our neurological input, and for our physical recovery and cellular repair. Sleep deprivation impacts our sympathetic nervous system giving rise to anxiety and depression. Further impacts include glucose intolerance which chronically may lead to diabetes. Even our hormones are affected!

Inadequate sleep of less than 7 hours per night is associated with a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and stroke. Further, poor sleep overwhelms the immune system causing excessive inflammation within the body.
The good news is that all of these ill effects can be reversed by obtaining regular good quality restorative sleep.

What happens when we sleep?

Sleep is governed by our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is a feedback loop within our bodies that synchronizes with environmental cues such as darkness and morning light. For example, darkness will stimulate the secretion of melatonin from our pineal gland. It’s melatonin that helps to make us feel sleepy and lowers our body temperature. In addition to melatonin, our body increases adenosine at the onset of sleep. Adenosine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps to calm our nervous system and suppress arousal.

The two main types of sleep rhythms are rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep patterns. It’s the REM that indicates the dream state, and therefore memory consolidation. The NREM is ‘dreamless’ but never-the-less incredibly important deeper reparative sleep broken into four stages. Each stage is a deeper level of sleep, and the patterns alternate forming our individual sleep architecture.

How much sleep do we need?

How much sleep do we need - legs in bed, putting alarm clock aside

Studies show that it is recommended that we get 7 hours and 13 minutes of sleep for adequacy. In 2014 the average amount in the US was 6 hours and 31 minutes. As a society we are gradually getting less quality and quantity of sleep. On a holistic level this is impacting our long term health.

Here is the recommended sleep duration of each life stage.

Newborns: 0-2 months,  2-18 hrs
Infants: 3-11 months, 14-15 hrs
Toddlers: 1-3 yrs, 12-14 hrs
Pre-schoolers: >3-5 yrs, 11-13 hrs
School-aged children: 6-11 yrs, 10-11 hrs
Young teens: 12-14 yrs, 8.5-9.5 hrs
Older teens: 15-17 yrs, 8.5-9.5 hrs
Adults: >/= 18 yrs, 7-9 hrs

What lifestyle factors may be impacting our sleep

Several lifestyle factors negatively impact our sleep because they disrupt our circadian rhythm. These include: stimulants such as caffeine consumption, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, medications, electronic media exposure, bright lights exposure, exercising too late at night, and erratic sleep timing.

Did you know that massage therapy will improve your sleep?

essential oils for aromatherapy treatment: Chamomile, Lavender, Sweet Marjoram, Vetiver
essential oils for aromatherapy treatment: Chamomile, Lavender, Sweet Marjoram, Vetiver

A literature review has shown that as little as a 3-minute slow back massage is enough to increase sleep duration by 46 minutes in seniors. In a randomised controlled trial massage was shown to effectively reduce daytime fatigue and improve sleep quality in coronary bypass patients. From these studies it can be deducted that regular massage therapy may improve sleep quality and quantity. Having a regular relaxation massage with essential oils does wonders for the nervous system. We include relaxation and aromatherapy massage services in our Northern Beaches, Dee Why practice which are both indicated to help with stress and insomnia. Book in to see one of our skilled and nurturing massage therapists to help relax your nervous system. It is recommended that you book late in the day or evening. Specifically having an aromatherapy massage with ‘calming nervines’ would be beneficial for insomnia.


Sleep hygiene principles to nurture your circadian rhythm

Allow some ‘wind’ down time

spa bath can help wind down and relax for sleep

  • Diaphragmatic deep breathing exercises, relaxing yoga moves, or a meditation App.
  • Calming herbal teas such as chamomile, lavender, passionflower, lemon balm, valerian or sleepy-time teas.
  • Have an Epsom salt bath with 6 drops of lavender essential oil 1 hour before bedtime.
  • Train your body into a nurturing space ready for sleep by having a nightly ritual – e.g. yoga/ stretching, bath, tea.

Dietary factors to consider

  • No sugar or refined carbohydrates in the evening.
  • Protein with every meal to assist your glucose management and satiety.
  • No caffeine including green tea & black tea if caffeine sensitive.
  • Avoid alcohol or at least consider having four consecutive alcohol free nights.
  • Resist snacking after your evening meal.
  • Try to have an early dinner – ideally before 7pm to allow your digestive system time to process your meal before bedtime.

Cup of herbal tea with chamomile - helps relaxation

Lifestyle factors to consider

  • Ensure you exercise throughout the day to clear excess cortisol that maybe produced due to stressors. Even a brisk walk at lunchtime can do wonders.
  • Make sure your sleep environment is quiet, clean and free from clutter and electronics.
  • Switch the modem off at the wall – you don’t need the messages while you sleep, and your phone alarm will still work. Also I recommend putting all phones onto flight mode at night to reduce radio-wave frequency throughout the home while you are sleeping.
  • Go to bed routinely early during the working week, and allow a catch-up sleep in on the weekend.
  • Wear earplugs if you are a light sleeper.

These fundamentals for better sleep are a good place to start. If you continue to experience trouble with your quality or quantity of sleep it is important to delve deeper. Other reasons may be at play such as: hormonal imbalance, depression, anxiety or high stress levels .

Feel free to get in touch if you require naturopathic support.



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