Foundations for Optimal Health: Sleep
By Dr. Molly Casey
Optimal health is a journey and a process—certainly not a destination. It’s a process that we must engage with and prioritize in life if we want to feel, look and perform our best. This is the third article in a four-part series that lays out the four cornerstones of health. The first article discussed the absolute foundation of your health—the Central Nervous System. The second article dealt with the principle of feeding cells and detoxing the body. There is an extraordinary amount of information that we, as a society, are bombarded with daily in regard to health and wellness. Regardless of whether the information is correct or incorrect and how well or poorly we implement it, if the cornerstones of health aren’t strong and well tended to, that misinformation or those questionable practices will be limited in how they affect us. Let’s move on to the third cornerstone of your health!
Cornerstone No. 3: Sleep
Sleep. We need it to survive. Here’s a question: Have you put the time and effort into your sleep routine that you have put into your food or exercise routines? The answer is probably no. If asked directly, most people will absolutely say a person needs sleep to survive, though very few have examined their actual sleep routines and tried to improve them. Why is that when we need sleep to survive? It doesn’t make sense.
I’m sure you’ve heard before the long list of benefits sleep has in store for you, but you need to do it to receive the benefits. Read this with yourself in mind: How would your life be different if you slept enough to receive its full benefits? People with healthy sleep routines are better able to respond to challenges on a daily basis because they are well-rested—to me that sounds like a happier life and one that leads to more fulfilling relationships because the well-rested can offer full attention with greater ease.
Those with healthy sleep routines have healthier bodies. They get the full effect of their workouts as the body heals most in sleep. They lose weight easier because sleep decreases inflammation, and weight and inflammation go hand in hand. They are sick less often because sleep enhances the immune system. Someone with a regular, healthy sleep routine is a better employee because they produce at higher levels in school/work with increased focus and memory. When is the last time you saw a sleep-deprived individual with an incredible attention span and creativity spurts? These are integral to one’s health and success—child or adult.
Sleep allows the full integration of the effects of cornerstones 1 and 2. The cornerstones of health work with each other because they fuel each other. Sleep drives every single positive thing you do for yourself and your body. A lack of sleep exacerbates every single negative thing you do for yourself and your body. Looking to change health with external band aids such as the perfect workout routine or the perfect meal plan/diet at the expense of overlooking the cornerstones is a waste of time.
Sleep needs vary with the stages of life and with your overall health. For instance, infants sleep 14-17 hours a day, young children (3-5 years old) require between 10-13 hours nightly while seven to nine hours of quality rest for most healthy adults (26-64 years old) is sufficient. These needs increase with various scenarios in life such as the body fighting off illness or dealing with major life stressors—death of a loved one, loss of a job, or mental health issues.
Aside from actual time spent sleeping what else matters in your sleep routine?
- Set a schedule and stick as closely to it as possible, even on the weekends. Of course, life comes up but do your best (i.e., in bed by 10 p.m., lights out at 10.30, up at 6 a.m.)
- No electronics one hour prior to bed (it’s often easiest to have a ritual in this one hour)
- A completely dark room: Take out the blinking alarm clocks and get darkout shades (completely worth the money, especially when you start sleeping through the night!)
- No cell phone on or near the bed or—if you must—on airplane mode
- Turn off the Internet modem nightly
Take a month and play with this. See what fits best for you and then stick to it. If you can’t commit to a month, take a week. Just do it. You will notice the changes and, frankly, so will those around you! Sleep is a weapon. Let me say that again: Sleep is a weapon—learn to treat it as such and your health will improve!
About the Author: Dr. Molly Casey is a Doctor of Chiropractic who practices in the Los Angeles area. She works twice a week at The Joint’s Glendale, CA clinic.