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The Importance of Sleep for Overall Health & Wellness

Everybody needs sleep, but everybody’s sleep needs are unique and individual. And with Daylight Savings this past weekend, many of us experience disruption in sleep, even if it feels as though “we’re gaining an hour”.

First of all, I do want to mention that I do not have a specialization or specific training when it comes to sleep. But it has been a part of my own personal and professional curiosity, learning and discussions that I have about sleep and how it impacts our overall wellness.

I recently listened to a podcast where physician Zach Bush said off hand that we are all about 72 hours away from having some kind of “break, mentally” (paraphrasing) and I have had been very interested in sleep for a long time, so I spoke to psychologist and Stanford-trained sleep specialist, Dr. Yishan Xu about this very thing.

While Dr. Xu didn’t confirm timing and how severe or specific of an impact it would have mentally, she did mention that not getting sleep for consecutive nights would have negative cognitive implications.

I have an interest in entrepreneurs and their habits, and one of the themes that seem to pop up quite often is the habit of waking up early and that it is touted as something high achievers “should do”.  

While this may be a preferable way to sleep and work for some people, it can be detrimental for some people if this is not what their specific sleep needs are.  There are people who have a preference for working and going to sleep later, but the thing to keep in mind the most is the quality and quantity of sleep YOU need.

Dr. Xu also mentioned that many of us prioritize work or “getting things done”, and one of the first things to be sacrificed is sleep.  Just like eating fast food and not having movement will have negative impacts on your health, so will not getting enough sleep based on your needs.

If people are having difficulties sleeping or experiencing insomnia, it can be helpful to know that it could be due to medical or psychological reasons.  

So if there is a concern around your sleep, first consult your family doctor who may be able to diagnose whether it may be a medical issue, such as sleep apnea, or if it might be more psychological in nature, for instance stress or anxiety.

But because family doctors are not always completely well versed in sleep difficulties, it can help to ask to be referred to a sleep clinic.

If you have a relatively mild concern about your sleep quality, there are few things to keep in mind:

Caffeine intake – While we may all have an intuitive understanding of our caffeine sensitivity, it can also be helpful to know that different kinds of caffeine seems to metabolize differently AND it can also be helpful to know how yourself specifically metabolizes caffeine, while the accuracy of data provided by DNA testing can be debatable, if you’re a slow metabolizer, you may be more sensitive to effects of caffeine.

Understanding your own specific needs around sleep and to know how long of a rest would be ideal for you – While the standard “8 hours of sleep a night” is an average, the ideal amount of sleep for any given individual falls between 5 and 8 hours of sleep.

Evening and sleep environment – Blue light from our devices and TVs can be signalling to be brain that the eyes are taking in daylight and may keep you from feeling that you’re ready to get to bed. It’s good to minimize blue light after nightfall. And once in bed, it can be helpful to ensure that you have the most comfortable sleeping environment possible for you, including temperature, the comfort of your bed and trying to either control the kind of noise/sounds that would be your preference and to try to keep it as dark as possible in the room when you’re getting to sleep.

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