Tuesday
Jun262012

Sleep, Blessed Sleep

The quick answer:  To eat better, sleep better.  If you get adequate sleep in the dark, you’ll crave wholesome nutrients more than sugary stimulants.

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How Will You Measure Your Life?

We had lunch with old friends in a mountain town of enduring charm.  Guests included a young couple, recently graduated from college, about to head east for a Wall Street position.  They’re small-town kids, unusually bright, blessed with solid values, eager to be tested in the Big Apple.  The bottom of an economic cycle seemed an auspicious time to enter the world of high finance, I thought. 

The conversation turned to the unusual demands of such a job, which included sixteen-hour work days.  The Biblical warning against serving both God and Mammon was noted.  The world admires ambition, but the usual measures are material in nature and there’s that Biblical warning about coveting, you know.

Another recalled a man who, in similar circumstances, had purposely chosen to underachieve financially—judging time with wife and family to be of greater worth.  Well, I thought, there’s a guy who’s got his feet under him. 

Someone recalled Dr. Clayton Christensen’s 2010 Harvard commencement speech, “How Will You Measure Your Life?”  The table was silent for a moment as we reflected on the metrics that had governed our own lives.

Driving home, another metric important to life came to mind—sleep time.  Americans are hard workers but there’s a price—we generally don’t get enough sleep.  I’m not speaking of the new mother in those first months before baby has sorted out day and night.  I’m talking about all of us who think missed sleep reflects meritorious ambition. 

Sleep

This blog rotates through 13 themes each quarter of the year.  Thirteen weeks ago we discussed sunshine, the natural source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D from sunshine is reported to last twice as long in our body as vitamin D from pills—so it seems there is a physiological difference with sunshine that may be beneficial.  The full spectrum light from sunshine was addressed last year in the post, Let There Be Light

This time we address the opposite theme—the importance of time in the dark, sleeping.  I’m surprised how often we find guidance on how to live by the Creation account in Genesis:

“And God said, ‘Let there be light; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.  And the evening and the morning were the first day.”  (Genesis 1:3,4)

The division of light from darkness was important, I believe, but in our time, with electric lighting, true darkness has been much reduced and the division compromised. 

Melatonin

 Melatonin is the master hormone of the night, a blessing of adequate sleep.  When we close our eyes in a darkened room the pineal gland, a sort of third eye, is triggered by darkness to produce melatonin.  The production of melatonin peaks in the fourth hour of sleep, which then produces other beneficial hormones that restore and prepare us for the coming day.  Basically, you make melatonin for 4 hours; the other hormones do their work the next 4 hours.  (In infants, melatonin production stabilizes in the 3rd month, enabling them to sleep through the night, at last.)

Melatonin is also a potent antioxidant, a protection for your DNA.  Though our understanding of melatonin is incomplete, it seems important to health to not shortchange the body through insufficient sleep, in a darkened room.  The division of dark from light in the Creation is important today also.

Sleep Deficiency

Scientists have linked some chronic diseases to insufficient sleep, as discussed in the post, Blessed Sleep.  These include depression, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and overweight, heart disease and cancer.  There are also mental effects including dementia and impaired judgment. 

Losing Fat

I connect the growing dependence of stimulants like caffeine and sugary drinks in the last century to our decline of adequate sleep in a darkened room.  If sleep is not fully refreshing we crave stimulants to get going, more than nutrients.  A sugary breakfast cereal, a mid-morning soft drink, and candy snacks during the day will seem the right answer.  If you get adequate sleep, 8-9 hours per night, you’ll need less sugar and this will lower your insulin level thus allowing your body to release and consume fat for energy.  When insulin is high, sugar is stored as fat; when it’s low, fat is released for consumption.

A 2010 University of Chicago study of dieters found that those who got the most sleep lost twice as much fat as those with the least sleep (8.5 Hrs. vs. 5.5 Hrs.).  As excess fat is a widespread problem in America, adequate sleep in the dark may be the cheapest health aid available.  A prior post, The Skinny On Overweight, argued that rather than the pain of repeated dieting, it would be better to first try eating a wholesome diet combined with exercise. 

Please comment:  Are you able to get adequate sleep?  How much do you need?  Have you experienced sleep-related health issues?  Do you eat better if your sleep better?  What did you do to improve your sleep habits.

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Reader Comments (9)

I haven't been getting adequate sleep lately. I told my husband just last night that we need to go to bed earlier. I have noticed that when my body is trying to heal from anything I need even more sleep. I've been napping a lot lately. That is a big indication that I'm not getting enough, for sure!

June 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

It's such a blessing when the baby sleeps through the night! I never valued sleep much as a teen and only got 6 hours a night. It really affected my performance throughout the day, and I often fell asleep in class. Now, I seem to need (and get) 7-8 hours a night, and I spring out of bed ready to go by 7-7:30. I used to think that was so early, but I love it now. Going to bed early and getting up when the sun comes up makes me feel really refreshed. People are amazed that I don't need naps, even though I have 2 young children. I get to take advantage of their nap times to do something fun! I notice that I eat a lot better when I'm not missing sleep. It's a wonderful feeling.

June 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSacha

Laura, we're in the time of long days and short nights, so it's timely to pay attention to sleep. Thanks for the observation about the need for more sleep when healing.

Sacha, nice to hear from you. Because much of growth happens during the night, it's good for kids in the growth years to get plenty of sleep. Thanks for reminding of the benefit of arising with the morning sun.

June 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterskip hellewell

I feel like I've always needed a lot of sleep... I wonder if that's just how I am or indicative of a problem? Neither of my children slept through the night during until after age one and that was really hard for me. I always prioritized sleep and would sometimes go to bed at 9 if needed. Now that I'm contemplating having another baby I cringe to think of another year of poor sleep :)

June 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey

After having twins three months premature with one ending up having cerebral palsy, I can definitely attest to the importance of sleep! After several years of not enough sleep my body reacted with anxiety. The twins are now twenty and we went through many years of great sleep. My son (the one with cerebral palsy) is now experiencing pain and I am sleeping with him and rotating him throughout the night. Even though my sleep is interrupted I try to sleep as long as possible in the morning to "catch up"!
I appreciate all the wisdom you share on this blog!
BTW we were in your neck of the woods not to long ago. We were lucky to watch the grand kids while their parents got a break and went to a movie with Brooke and her husband. It sure is a beautiful place. We have relatives in Midway as well and love visiting there.

June 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLK

Did you notice that new information was publicized on the national new this week about what type of diet really is most beneficial. The answer: a low glycemic diet. They went on to explain how to eat a low glycemic diet with the reporter walking through the grocery isles saying, "instead of this sweetened apple juice, eat an apple instead". They were promoting eating food in its more natural state, imagine that.

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Hi Karen

Yes, I looked at several articles on Dr. Ludwig's study. It was a well-controlled study, but not long. The pt were 4 weeks on each diet after losing weight. But a good outcome and supportive of the traditional diet of whole foods, which is low G.I. I plan to comment on this week's menu post. Best to you.

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterskip hellewell

We have an interesting light paradox where I live in Alaska. This time of year it never gets fully dark, making it difficult to get a full night's rest, but in the daytime the sun still doesn't get all that high in the sky and it's frequently cloudy, which inhibits the vitamin D production. I suppose this wasn't a problem for the native peoples traditionally since they lived in houses partway underground and without windows, and probably spent most of their waking hours outdoors. I've also heard they typically slept less in the summer and a lot more in the winter. I suppose I just need to go to bed earlier in my blacked-out room, but it's difficult to make oneself go to bed when at 10pm it's still as bright as noonday!

June 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Ahhhh, sleep... I don't know a single adult who feels they get enough. While I have made a real effort to get to bed earlier, I am still short of the recommended 8 hours. And if only I could sleep thru the entire night.... That would be dreamy! I have some work to do in the sleep department, that's for sure.

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

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