Sleep. We all have to do it. To be deprived of it is used as torture. We know we need it. Yet we can see it as a luxury – or as an inconvenience – so we live our lives pushing through the tiredness that inevitably comes when we don’t get enough.
But is it something we can really take for granted? Or ignore the benefits of? Well, not if we’re on a quest to reduce chronic inflammation.
Why? For several really important reasons…
While we sleep something amazing happens within our brains; the brain cells shrink so that the cerebrospinal fluid can wash away toxins and beta-amyloid proteins and flush them out of our brain via our neck. It’s like having a brain drain! If this process isn’t working properly, because of a lack of sleep, then waste products build up in our brains. These then increase brain inflammation and impact on our mental function, which can eventually lead to neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. During sleep our brains also consolidate what we’ve learned, which improves our memories – and I don’t know about you but I need all the memory consolidation I can get!
Sleep deprivation also leads to stress and poor eating habits – which leads to sleep deprivation – which leads to stress… When we’re stressed our bodies release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Now cortisol works as an opposite to another hormone called melatonin; in the morning cortisol needs to be high to wake us up with energy for the day, and then in the evening melatonin needs to be high to help induce good sleep.
If stress causes cortisol levels to continue to be high into the evening then melatonin can’t take over – ever had those times of racing thoughts that just won’t let you go to sleep…? Unfortunately, a lack of sleep also causes increased cortisol levels and if we’re not careful we can get stuck in a vicious cycle.
And the effect of all of this on inflammation? Well, melatonin has anti-inflammatory effects. Cortisol can also have anti-inflammatory effects but prolonged stress can cause cortisol dysfunction resulting in systemic – or chronic – inflammation.
Great sleep also repairs cells and tissues and strengthens our immune system. All round, pretty important!
So what do we do to get a good night’s sleep?
- Exercise during the day is really helpful, so we try to get moving. This takes effort as we have desk jobs so we really have to prioritise it.
- We have meals rich in fibre, which supports our microbiome and helps with deep sleep.
- About 2-3 hours before going to bed we’ll have our evening meal so that our stomachs have a chance to prepare and move food out into our small intestines before lying down to sleep.
- We try to go to sleep and get up at roughly the same time every day. To have really long lie-ins at the weekend will just regularly make us feel like we’re jet-lagged, so we avoid this. Our bodies really work well with consistent and helpful rhythms.
- I use my mobile phone to set a daily ‘go to bed’ alarm, which is about 1½ hours before we actually want to be falling asleep. This helps in two ways: firstly having a reminder to start getting ready for bed is really helpful to avoid having to rush. Secondly, from this time onwards we make every effort not to use our mobile, tablet, TV or computer. The back light from these screens increases cortisol but instead, by that time, we want to start increasing melatonin.
- Sometimes, especially when travelling and our routine is disrupted, we’ll use some Young Living lavender essential oil – it smells wonderful and really helps us to get to sleep. Just a drop or two in a saucer and before you know it, the bedroom will have a gentle aroma of lavender. Or we’ll add it to a handful of Epsom Salts when running a bath.
- Once ready for bed I’ll have to read for a while to drift into the land of nod – must be my age!
- We aim for 7-8 hours of sleep a night – any less than that would make us really grumpy!
- As for the bedroom, we keep it cool and as dark as possible. Being too warm or cold overnight will for sure disrupt our sleep. And we won’t produce as much melatonin if the room is too light.
- And we sleep on our side – apparently this is the best way to sleep for the ‘brain drain’ to work effectively!
- We both supplement with magnesium (as magnesium citrate), which is a calming mineral, often referred to as ‘nature’s tranquilliser’. It’s very easy to become deficient in magnesium but it’s necessary for over 300 biochemical processes in our bodies. We also supplement B vitamins, which help to maintain a sense of calm. It’s obviously possible to get vitamins and minerals from what we eat but sometimes we need an extra boost – especially as we get older. FYI, stress really depletes B vitamins and magnesium…
- And finally, we supplement with probiotics, which support melatonin and serotonin production.
It might sound like a lot but now it’s part of our daily routine it really helps. And it’s great when we get good sleep!
Want to understand more?
Dr Josh Axe has several articles about sleep but you could start with this one: Get Some Sleep! Sleep Deprivation Causes + 6 Natural Treatments
Dr Michael Mosley explains about the effect of diet on our microbiome and our sleep in his book ‘The Clever Guts Diet’ (Short Books ISBN: 978-1-78072-304-4)
Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD explains about the importance of sleep for brain health in her book ‘Natural solutions for Dementia and Alzheimer’s’ (Lifestyles Press ISBN: 978-0-9935431-6-6)
Dr Russell L Blaylock MD has a monthly wellness newsletter that we subscribe to called ‘The Blaylock Wellness Report’ and the June 2019 edition was titled ‘Drainage System Clears Toxic Waste From the Brain’. These reports are really insightful and if you’re interested to subscribe you can do so by going here: http://www.blaylockreport.com/