Doc's Note: Earlier this week, I introduced you to Param Dedhia, MD. He's the Weight Loss Program leader and the director of Sleep Medicine at Canyon Ranch, a wellness retreat in Tucson, Arizona. Param also spent years here in Baltimore working at Johns Hopkins. He's traveled the world learning from medical professionals everywhere.
Param is a great speaker. He's given TED talks (like this one) to hundreds of folks. One topic that he loves to talk about is sleep. As you know, getting quality sleep has always been one of my top tips for improving your health. So I support Param's ideas and have asked him to share his insights with you today. If you want to learn more, look for us at the Stansberry Conference and Alliance Meeting next week – Param will be in a breakout session with me and Steve Sjuggerud on Tuesday.
What will kill you more quickly – food deprivation or sleep deprivation?
I (Param) ask this question all the time when I speak to people around the world. Many are surprised when I reveal that sleep deprivation will kill you faster.
When I was in medical school, we didn't study the importance of sleep. Those who practiced "modern" medicine laughed at the idea it could significantly change our health.
That's funny, too, since medical students are so familiar with sleep deprivation. If I stayed up later and got up earlier, I thought I could get more done. I tricked myself into thinking I was more productive. Instead, I was sleepier during the most important hours of the day.
And what happens when you're sleepy? You make more mistakes. How many mistakes is it okay for a doctor to make? I think you know where this is going...
I realized quickly how much I neglected my sleep. I've come to understand it's not a badge of honor to forgo sleep in the name of productivity. Sleep deprivation not only kills our productivity... It kills us, too.
Getting enough quality sleep will change your life. It will improve your physical, mental, and emotional health. If you start to make sleep a priority, you'll actually get more done during the day. With good sleep, you'll...
• Feel healthier and happier
• Finish your challenging workouts
• Clear negative thoughts
• Improve memory
• Solve problems more easily and effectively
Before we talk about how to get better sleep, we need to look at what happens when we sleep. Most of us need about seven to nine hours (we'll call it eight for averaging purposes). Here's what happens in our brains when we get that much sleep:
You can see there are two types of sleep – non-REM "deep sleep" and REM "dream sleep." (REM stands for "rapid eye movement.")
Deep sleep happens during the first half of your sleep. And it's during this time of rest when your body repairs itself. Your body releases growth hormones and repair proteins – this is why your workout continues after you sleep. Your body repairs and regenerates your muscles as you sleep. Sleep is just as important for building muscle as weight-bearing exercise.
Deep sleep is also when we start to build memory. This type of sleep helps your brain transfer memories from the short-term storage area in your hippocampus to the long-term storage area of your cortex. You need sleep to form these memories.
The other half of the night is spent in dream sleep. Dream sleep triggers the limbic system. This system rules your emotions. It contains structures like the amygdala, the center of fear and anxiety. Dream sleep helps your brain clear out negative thoughts and emotions. Just as deep sleep repairs you physically, dream sleep repairs you emotionally.
Getting enough deep and dream sleep keeps us feeling great physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Now that we understand the principle, let's get to the method... The "how" of getting better sleep.
I said above that it's not just duration – it's quality of sleep that matters. If you said that you needed 10 or 11 hours of sleep, I'd be really curious about why you thought that was necessary. Something tells me that there may be something wrong, since the vast majority of adults don't require this much sleep. Instead, you may be having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
For better sleep, you need to focus on the other 16 hours of your day.
My friends, sleep is my passion. I run sleep clinics, teach people around the world the principles of good sleep, and have given TED talks on the subject. I could write a book on it, but for today, I want to distill it down to three basic points...
1. Eat to burn energy. Sleepiness makes us crave terrible foods with lots of fat and sugar. They're tasty, but they don't provide sustained energy. You'll just crash. You want to eat to burn energy during the day so you can sleep better at night.
2. Move, move, move. The more you move during the day, the more energy you burn. The more energy you use during the day, the better you will sleep at night. It really is that simple. Eating right and moving during the day sets you up for restful, restorative deep sleep.
3. Honor your stress. We all deal with stress, both good and bad. It's a part of our lives. But we need to stop ignoring that stress and stop suppressing it... or it will come back and attack us during our sleep. Take time during the day to acknowledge your stress and practice relaxation techniques. Meditating is a wonderful way to relax. You can try focusing on your breath, reciting a poem or prayer, or practicing progressive muscle relaxation. Starting with the toes, curl and squeeze them for several seconds and then slowly relax. Next, contract and relax your calf muscles and repeat for other muscle groups up the body.
And when you go to bed, create a peaceful bedtime routine. It will act as a buffer against the day's stress. Recognizing and dealing with your stress will help your dream sleep.
As I said, these three tenets are just the beginning of your journey to better sleep. I hope to share more of my insights with you in the future.
All the best,
Param Dedhia, MD