Hello out there to all those interested in improving their health and wellness.   Although I don’t know you all personally, in my experience  as a physician, most of you were not getting enough sleep.  Sleep is the foundation from which to build health so I’m starting here. 

Person sleeping well

“How much sleep should I be getting?”

By Dr. Melissa Gomez

When I was in college in the late 90’s  I frequently skipped studying in the weeks leading up to an exam, then crammed all my studying into the 24 to 48 hours before the test.  I can remember feeling so tired walking to the testing building and having a hard time concentrating during the test, then doing poorly on the test and then wondering why my GPA suffered.  However, at the time and through medical school, residency and my early career I continued to deprive myself of sleep without giving it much thought.  We spent very little time learning about sleep during medical school and I think we all viewed sleep as a necessary evil. But the truth is that not only is sleep not evil, its very necessary and incredibly   important for your short, long term health and ultimate success. 

Recent research from the United States shows that we have lost 20-25% of our time sleeping over the last 70 years.  Where as in the early 1900’s people averaged about 7.9 hours of sleep, today the average American is getting about 6.5 hours of sleep per night.

So then the questions becomes, “How much sleep should I be getting?” And “What are the risks if I am not getting that much sleep?.”  

Research suggest that we should be getting an average of 7-9 hours of sleep a night.  Now that’s not time spent in your bed, but time actually asleep.  And the risks of getting less than this 7-9 hours of sleep can be tremendous.  Again, looking at the research just one night of sleep that lasts less than 6 hours can increase your stress hormone levels, decrease your sex hormone levels (were talking about you testosterone), increase your blood sugar levels, increase the inflammation in your body, decrease the strength of your body’s immune system and decrease your ability to learn new things and consolidate memories.  If you are trying to lose weight, body fat percent or increase muscle mass,  the hormones that increase (cortisol) when you don’t sleep well are strong enough to completely prevent fat loss and muscle growth. Also, it ages you prematurely, so we start to look older sooner.  Over many years of poor sleeping, you are at much higher risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia and cancer.  

At this point, while we don’t fully understand the multifaceted purposes of sleep, we know that the body in essence sends in the brain’s “garbage trucks” at night to get rid of all the metabolic trash we accumulate in our brain during the day and when we don’t let our brain’s trash pick up happen we see metabolic “junk” pile up over time.  The most devastating consequence of this accumulation of junk is dementia (aka Alzheimer’s).

So if you are an average American who is getting less than the 7-9 hours of sleep recommended there are some simple things you can do to improve your sleep length and quality:

 1.  Go to bed at a consistent time every night and wake up at a consistent time every morning (even on the weekends, even when you are super busy and have a lot of deals pending).

2.  Stop drinking caffeine (coffee, energy drinks, caffeine supplements) at noon; even better if you can stop by 10AM.

3.  Avoid alcohol (completely), even one glass of alcohol can drastically decrease your deep sleep and cause you to wake up too early in the morning and have trouble falling back asleep.

4.  Turn off half your lights in the house about 90 minutes before going to bed and try to stop looking at screens which emit blue light completely about an hour before bedtime (computers, phones, tablets, LED televisions).

5.  Avoid eating high sugar/processed carbohydrates 3 hours before going to bed.

6.  Set the temperature in the room you are going to sleep in to 65 degrees Fahrenheit or less ( I love 60 degrees).

7.   Don’t exercise within 2 hours of your bedtime.

8.  In the hour before you go do bed add a “wind down” routine such as gentle stretching, meditation, journaling.

9.  Try the supplement Magnesium L-threnoate (“MagMind” is a brand you can find a Natural Grocers™), it crosses the blood brain barrier to help calm your mind at night.

10.  Eliminate light pollution such as night lights, light coming in from windows, light from electronic devices, consider black out curtains and a mask to sleep with.

11.  Try a weighted blanket

And don’t wait until you die to sleep.

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