Yesterday I talked about movement, so today I'll discuss something that in many ways seems like the opposite - sleep. I'll try to make this better than the usual finger-wagging "You'd better get 8 hours of sleep!". With that goal, I'll tell a story from a time in my life when health was not the priority for me that it is today. I was living in New York. Single... as was my best bud, and we would occasionally go out on the town and, um... overindulge. This was long past my college days, so I didn't exactly spring out of bed the next day. My buddy and I would analyze these hangovers, and we came up with a theory that it wasn't due to the alcohol. It was due to the lack of quality sleep. We were onto something.
Today sleep is finally getting the props it deserves. Check this out. The blood pumping through our bodies is pretty pure... but not pure enough for our most important organ. Blood could still have contaminants, so it isn't allowed in contact with the brain. This is accomplished by a protective layer around our little Einstein called the blood-brain barrier. That's good, but now we have a problem. The brain uses 25% of our daily energy and just like any other energy-hungry device it produces a lot of waste. All of our other organs dump their waste products into the bloodstream, but the brain doesn't have this option. Here's what happens. When we sleep the cells in the blood-brain barrier relax so that the waste products from the brain can pass through and get dumped into the bloodstream. Poor sleep = no trash removal = brain fog.
I could give you the laundry list of how sleep benefits you, but it's basically everything - physically, cognitively, emotionally. Everything is better when you have sufficient quality sleep, and everything is worse when you don't. Have I sold you on sleep yet? OK, then let's get down to business. Yes, you need 8 hours of QUALITY sleep per night. I'll settle for 7 hours, but NO less... and I'm not budging on the quality. The time part is straight forward, but what makes for quality? The first thing to be aware of is that the deepest portion of your night's sleep comes in the very beginning. Therefore it is critical to be properly primed for sleep. Our primal brothers and sisters had no problem with this. The sun went down... and it got dark... real dark. The blue screens of TV's, computers, and phones make our brain think it's still daytime. These devices need to be avoided for two hours before bedtime so the brain has time to generate melatonin. Books to the rescue. Plus, reading is a more calming activity than watching vampires kill each other, or worse... the news!
OK, so now we're getting to bed on time and without having been blasted by blue light. We're almost in the end zone, but we could still fumble the ball. We need three things for blissful sleep - darkness, coolness, and quiet. We're talking so dark that you can't see your hand even when it's right in front of your face. Unless you live in the country this can only be accomplished with blackout shades. Coolness means 72 degrees or less (68 is primo). I hear ya on the shades and air conditioning. It is a bit of an investment. If noise coming from the outside is an issue that can be addressed with an ambient white noise generator. There are free apps you can download for this.
Making these changes might seem like an imposition, but it's not so bad. My teenage kids revolted at first, but now I'll sometimes catch them hopping into bed before me. They know where the money is at. I'll leave you with these sage words. Don't give up on your dreams... keep sleeping.