Sleep is the Foundation of Health
On this episode, I had a chat with Shawna Curry, a registered nurse and health expert. We talked about how sleep is the foundation of health.
Our Recent Guest - Shawna Curry, Health Expert
Shawna has made her mark in the health and wellness space as an Amazon best selling author, International speaker, through podcast appearances, corporate wellness programs and personalized health coaching.
This variety of experience has built a community of clients who benefit from her intimate and inspiring health and wellness information. Her writing has been published in Forbes, Inc., Impact and Bloom Magazines.
Her company, Health Redesigned, has been dedicated to total-health solutions and all of the aspects of healthy living including fitness, sleep, nutrition, self-help and overall lifestyle strategies.
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Important Discussion Points
Sleep is the Foundation of Health | Question 1 - One of the things that plagues us is we are very, very we're not very proactive. We don't think about the future we think about them now right. You mentioned there are major long-term implications of not getting enough sleep. What are some examples of those long-term implications?
Yeah so, most of us know the short-term stuff like it's pretty easy to be like “oh I'm tired I'm grumpy, I'm irritable”. But the long-term stuff is really connected to our chronic diseases. So, we're looking at things like high blood pressure. You're not gonna get high blood pressure from one night of not sleeping or even from in a week, maybe a couple nights of not sleeping. Like you've got a cold or you've got a pain and so you don't sleep very good. Like you're not just all of a sudden gonna have high blood pressure. Those things take time to accumulate. So I mean, blood pressure is a big one, cholesterol can indirectly be affected because of some of the stress hormones that go through your body. Diabetes is a big one, obesity is a big one, cardiovascular disease and stroke.
So, the risk of having heart attacks goes up the more sleep impaired we are. And so, it's these longer-term things that we're gonna see in six months, or a year, or even a couple years down the road. We're not gonna see that right away and especially when we're young and we're in our 20s, we think oh I'm invincible like, I don't need to sleep I can get away with it and we really like to push our bodies and you alluded to the idea of we're not as proactive and preventive, like we don't necessarily have that buy-in.
So, we don't even think about what's happening down the road.
Sleep is the Foundation of Health | Question 2 - "Sleeping enough" seems to be a little bit subjective or the answer is very muddy. So when you're a teenager, it says that you should sleep anywhere from seven to nine, or when you're an adult five is enough, or six to eight. The numbers are everywhere. They tend to range between five and nine, maybe even ten. But where is optimal?
So it does, you're right. It does change over time which makes it a little bit more complicated. So when we're kids, we understand that kids need more sleep, like that's a known fact. And then, we kind of hit our teenage years and an interesting phenomenon happens. When we're in our teen years we still have sleep requirements, but your circadian rhythm actually shifts and so you actually tend to sleep later. So you go to bed later and then you need to sleep later in the day. And then, when we're adults, that kind of switches back to more a normal circadian rhythm; where most people operate in society. And then when we get older, it tends to shift again.
So in our older years we tend to wake up earlier, and then need to go to bed earlier as well. But generally speaking for adults, we're looking between that seven to nine hours of sleep every single night. And what's almost more important than the amount of sleep that you get, is that it's consistent.
So if you're gonna get seven hours of sleep, you're getting seven hours every night instead of seven hours one night, nine hours the next night, six and a half the next night. We want it to be pretty consistent.
And then it's a balance between quality versus quantity.
Sleep is the Foundation of Health | Question 3 - Let's go back to the quantity versus quality. I'm sure there is some science behind this, but I've always had a philosophy that if I sleep for five, six hours but I'm sound asleep (I'm getting high quality sleep) that would be more effective or more refreshing than getting eight to nine hours but I'm tossing and turning all night. Is that true?
Yes, absolutely. There's a piece of... what we're trying to do is find our sweet spot. So it's this balance of slowly trying to increase your sleep as much as you can until it starts to fall apart. So that's the quality, quantity balance. So, think of this like a teeter totter that's constantly shifting back and forth and so if quality is on one side, quantity is on the other, we're gonna try to find that spot where they equal each other, right in the middle. And so, for some people, what you're gonna do is really look for are slow increments of change. So rather than saying, well I slept seven and a half hours last night, I did good, now I'm gonna try to sleep eight hours and then eight and a half and then nine. For a lot of people, that's too big of a jump. And so what's gonna happen is you're not gonna sleep very well because you're not used to that big change.
So that's kind of the same idea is, sleeping in for an extra half hour or an hour, you want to do really small incremental changes. So, for some people it's even as slow as five minutes every week. So, I'm gonna wake up let's say 7 o'clock this week, next week I'm gonna wake up at 7:05 every day, the next week I'm gonna wake up at 7:10 every day. And so, slowly increasing the sleep that way versus trying to go you know 5 or 10 minutes every day, that's too quick of a jump for some people. Especially if you've had years and years of sleep problems. So we're gonna play with that balance to see where is that little sweet spot and where do things start to fall apart.
Sleep is the Foundation of Health | Question 4 - I feel like I'm firing on all cylinders after five or six hours. But there are days where, I don't know circumstances, I sleep in for an extra hour. So seven hours. I do not feel good those days. Why do you think that is?
That's a pretty normal response. So typically, what's happening is you're feeling really good in that five six hour mark because your body's firing on adrenaline and it's running off of cortisol. It's running off of adrenaline and those are things that your body is not supposed to run off of all day. So think of the idea of this fight-or-flight mode all day long and your body's like, alright let's go! And so, you're constantly being chased by a lion. And I know I used to run off of that too and I was so fired up. Like I couldn't slow down. For me to sit down and to not do anything for five or ten minutes was pretty much impossible. My mind was always going, like, I could not sit still. It's learning that that's not a normal state. Our bodies are actually meant to slow down and we have natural rhythms that go through the day, that have higher energy or lower energy as we shift through the day. And realizing there are periods that we have lower energy and that's very normal. That's not you being tired, that's not you needing a cup of coffee. That's not the afternoon fatigue where you're like, oh it's just the afternoon blues.
It's a normal cycle that happens. It's nothing to do with something that you've done wrong or that you need to push through.
Sleep is the Foundation of Health | Question 5 - One of the things that's always said it's you need to sleep because you repair you recover in your sleep. What is actually happening when you're sleeping?
Truthfully, there's a lot of stuff that happens in our sleep that we actually don't even know and don't even understand. What we do know is that, you're absolutely right, like that's when we clear out stuff in our brain. So chemicals, neurotoxins, not neurotoxins, sorry neural chemicals build up in their brain during the day and then at night time, what happens is... think of it just like a cleaning cycle, stuff comes through, washes all that stuff out so it can be fresh for the next day. We consolidate memories from the day, that's where we process our learning. Your tissues repair, your immune system repairs itself like, and again, there's normal hormonal cycles that certain hormones and things within the body are supposed to be higher during the day, some are higher at night. And so, it allows that normal process of things to go up and to go down as opposed to when we're sleeping. And if you're maybe just resting at nighttime, it doesn't give you that same level of repair that it does when you're actually sleeping.
Sleep is the Foundation of Health | Question 6 - How do you take control? How do you put best put yourself in an environment that is conducive to good quality sleep?
So, it's kind of chipping away at some of the environmental pieces while we chip away at the behavioral pieces and the subconscious stuff that's going on inside the mind. So typically what I say is to start chipping away at some simple things that you can. So, trying to sleep in the same spot every night. So, if your couch surfing, you're somewhere one night and then somewhere different the next night. Like that makes it really difficult for you to get consistent sleep. So finding a safe place that you can sleep every night, having the same type of routine before bed is really important, but making sure the environment that you're in, trying to do the things related to - we call it sleep hygiene. Having this routine every night.
Make your bedroom as dark as possible, like that is such a big environmental tool. And so, if you're staying in hotel rooms, I've heard of people that literally bring electrical tape with them and they'll put it on like the light on the ceiling where the smoke detector is and on the light on the TV, and like tape you know below the door. The darker you can make that space, the better and the deeper your sleep is. So, if you think that little crack in your room isn't really making a big deal, it absolutely is. As soon as that's touching your skin it's making an impact on your sleep.
So, if you can sleep in a dark cave that's kind of the number one for sleep, and then keeping your room pretty much as simple and as clean as you can. So like think minimalistic lifestyle. Like getting rid of all the extra stuff.
Sleep is the Foundation of Health | Question 7 - What about screen time before bed myth or fact?
Fact, that is definitely a fact. There is a huge connection between light exposure and its impact on sleep. So we talked a little bit about the idea of melatonin, like that's what's telling your body go to sleep. So when we're exposed to light, that can be your cell phone, it can be your computer, your TV, it can be the lights in your house. If you've got all the lights turned up really bright, reducing that light as much as possible before you go to bed, and really we're looking 60 to 90 minutes before bedtime.
So, the other thing to include in that are your Kobo, Kindle, your e-reader. Even those are gonna have an impact on your sleep.
Even with the blue lights setting there is still an impact on your sleep. And so, if you think well, I've got the blue light setting on my phone or I've got it on my reading device, it's still gonna have an impact on you, perhaps a little bit less with the blue lighting on there.
Sleep is the Foundation of Health | Question 8 - So, I want to ask you about a phenomenon that a lot of people suffer, where they push themselves through the day and they're absolutely exhausted and they're fully expecting that, by the time they hit their pillow, they're out like a light, they're gonna fall asleep. But the opposite happens... they cannot get to sleep. Why does that happen?
So that's called tired but wired. That is where you are so exhausted, you can barely keep your eyes open and you're ready to go to sleep. You do your routine, you're like barely conscious, you lay down, and then it's like "ding". And this alarm clock goes off in your head and you are unable to sleep. Then the brain starts going and you just feel like you cannot turn it off. That happens all the time, and so part of that is related to hormones and part of that is related to having a lack of routine before going to bed. And so, it's working on shifting that sleep routine so that you always do the exact same thing before bed. So I wash my face, I brush my teeth you know, I read for 20 minutes and then go to bed. You do that every single night, in that same order.
So, back to your brain. It's telling your body, hey, when these things happen in this order, the next thing that happens is we go to sleep. So then, we're giving ourselves these cues and these clues that are reminders to your brain and your body to be like, oh wait I've recognized this before. I see this now, I know that sleep is coming. So by giving ourselves that repeatable pattern to say, hey this is what's gonna happen next, then our system can get used to that routine and then what happens is over time, we can reduce the impact of that tired but wired syndrome.
Sleep is the Foundation of Health | Question 9 - Since you've mentioned coffee. I am sure it affects everybody differently, but what is an optimal cutoff time for stimulants like coffee?
Yeah so, coffee has a really long half-life and I can't remember the exact time, but I feel like it's 12 hours. So half-life is basically meaning that if I have let's say 30 milligrams of caffeine, in 12 hours I'm gonna have half of that left in my system. So I'm still gonna have 15 grams of caffeine in my system. And so, because it takes so long to metabolize it, it sits around for a long time. So if you're the kind of person who says I can drink a cup of coffee after dinner and I can still go to sleep, I'm not denying that. There are some people that metabolize and process caffeine quicker. So 50% of the population can metabolize, 50% can't. So they have a harder time processing it. I'm definitely on the side that can't.
My cutoff if I want to have a good night's sleep literally is noon. Someone who can metabolize it could probably get closer to 3 o'clock, something like that. But what's happening is it may not affect your ability to fall asleep or to stay asleep, but it is having an impact on your sleep architecture.
Sleep is the Foundation of Health | Question 10 - Say you get to bed, it's 10 o'clock 11 o'clock, and you're feeling wired. I know there are different trains of thought - do I just lay here until I fall asleep or do you get out and do something else? Same question for when you wake up in the middle of the night and you can't fall back asleep.
Yeah so, yes, there's kind of the ideal perfect world, we're gonna sleep for eight hours. But what happens is, you're right, we sometimes go to bed, we lay in bed, we toss we turn, we can't fall asleep or we fall asleep really easily and then throughout the night we wake up at some point and then we can't get back to sleep. So in both of those situations, ideally we don't want to stay in bed for any more than 20 minutes. So, we're really looking at patterning. So it's this conditioning that we associate our bed with sleep. And so, we've probably heard the this analogy that bed is for sleep and for sex only. Nothing else happens in your bed. So, you are not working on your computer on your bed.
And so then, you create this association that when I'm in my bed, it's one of these two things. And well, nothing's happening right now so it must be sleep time.