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The Importance of Sleep

Why We Need Sleep

Sleep allows our body and mind to recharge. Sleep gives our body a chance to repair and reset, our liver can detoxify, and our brains take the opportunity to “work through” life issues, usually in the form of dreams. Not getting adequate sleep can break down our bodies and lead to diseases, an inability to stay alert (ADHD is a common complaint) and keep our brains optimally functioning. Adults need 7 to 9 to function. As we get older, we may find more sleep is necessary.

What’s the Science?

Our bodies have an internal body clock regulating the sleep cycle. The clock operates on a 24-hour sleep cycle known as the circadian rhythm. Light is another influencer affecting a small gland, the hypothalamus. As natural light disappears in the evening, the body releases melatonin, the hormone that induces drowsiness. When the sun appears, the body releases cortisol that promotes energy and alertness. Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone. When cortisol is low in the morning but high in the evening (diet, stress, lifestyle all effect cortisol production), it can leave a “frayed” feeling, disrupting sleep cycles. We call this being “tired and wired”.

Random fact: Did you know our day, or lifespan, should include at least 40% of our time in rest? This includes sleeping, as well as restful activities like reading, journaling, crafts, dinner conversation etc. Basically, it's more than okay to have down time.

How sleep affects our health

We need adequate sleep for behavioral and cognitive functions. Insufficient sleep and sleep deprivation has shown to have serious repercussions including leaving people vulnerable to attention lapses, reduced cognition, delayed reaction time, and mood instability. As we become used to reduce sleep, this chronicity can show up in irritability, weight gain, and some autoimmune diseases. Lack of sleep is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, hormone imbalances, infections, colds, high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes. It is also linked to mental health problems

Sleep and Stress

Studies show the average person sleeps 6.7 hours a night. In reality, our bodies need a MINIMUM of 8 hours a night. And you can’t make up for lack of sleep by sleeping longer on the weekends. The consequences of not sleeping are devastating. Irritability, Overwhelm, low motivation, inability to exercise, losing patience, low mood, and binge eating are all symptoms of loss of sleep. Most adults report feelings of sluggishness and poor concentration are a result of poor sleep hygiene. But here’s the vicious circle: Poor sleep can mean feeling stressed but added stressors also can inhibit quality sleep.

So, what can be done?

Eating a balanced diet with no sugar, eliminating stimulants and alcohol, and getting adequate exercise can reduce stress. In turn, these behaviors can help to lower blood pressure and help to prevent weight gain. It is also important to find the stressors in your life and try to eliminate or at least reduce the frequency and intensity. Are you a reactive person and quick to anger? You may want to try taking up yoga, walk in nature, or try mindfulness meditation. Do you have toxic relationships you’re trying to navigate? Minimize your interactions with difficult people and maintain adequate social support. Belonging reduces stress-joining a club, church, or an activity with others that is faith based can be helpful in reducing stress.

Sleep Hygiene Recommendations:

  • Have a relaxing night routine

  • Power down electronics and phone one hour before bedtime. Reading is relaxing and can induce sleep.

  • Avoid alcohol and stimulants in the evening

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. The body likes an internal clock.

  • Get natural light every day and make time for exercise.

  • Sleep in a dark room with a comfortable temperature

Supplements that can help with Sleep

5-HTP, otherwise known as tryptophan, supports sleepiness. It helps to modify serotonin levels and is a precursor to melatonin. Recommendations are 50 to 100mg. Foods like turkey, milk, oats, and cheese contain tryptophan. Check with your doctor as some medications do not mix well with 5-HTP.

Valerian Root binds GABA A receptors in the brain and acts as a inhibitory neurotransmitter, which then quiets the brain. It helps us get into NREM (slow wave) and REM sleep.

Hops (which is found in beer) promotes falling asleep faster and staying in a sound sleep.

Lemon balm, while helping heart function, is a calming herb and supports relaxation.

Magnesium glycinate is a mineral which supports relaxation of the heart and the muscles but also helps the body relax and promote sleepiness. It is recommended to take this mineral with water at night only and with Vitamin D, as this vitamin is a co-factor.

Supporting cortisol production is important for reducing stress and promoting sleep. Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb good for the adrenals and has been shown to help with relaxation and inhibiting cortisol production at night.

L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea. While it isn’t a sedative, it does have the unique ability to support the increase of alpha brain waves, inducing a relaxed feeling while also decreasing beta brain waves which can be excitatory.

Video: How To Trick Your Brain Into Falling Asleep


Written by Jennifer Schwartz-Doctorovich, MS, LPC-Associate, FNTP, CFSP

Supervised by Tamara D. Allen Bush, LPC-S


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