The need for adequate sleep

By Dr. Walter Vermeulen. 20 November 2022, 4:00PM

We focus in this column on one more lifestyle change that is necessary to maintain or regain health: the need for adequate sleep. There is no recognised objective test for how much sleep a person needs. However, on average, it is observed that a person needs seven to eight hours of sleep per day, although there is a considerable range of subjective sleep need among individuals. 

People’s attitude to sleep depends on their culture. For example, people in all Blue Zones (areas in the world where there is an unusual amount of centenarians) regularly sleep a solid 7 to 8 hours a night. But in the USA, where many look upon sleep as ‘wasted’ time, 20 per cent of the population sleeps less than 6 hours per night. 

What is sure is that on average humans spend more or less 1/3 of their life sleeping! Our bodies are regulated to start feeling sleepy when it is dark through a complicated mechanism called the circadian rhythm, which can be likened to the body’s ‘internal clock’ and which is regulated by central and peripheral ‘oscillators’ located in the brain and every major organ in the body. 

In this way, the wakefulness-sleep cycle is synchronized (or ‘entrained’) by the solar light-dark cycle. Sleep is necessary for optimal health and well-being as research repeatedly shows us. Healthy sleep and duration allows you to wake up feeling rested, and have plenty of energy throughout the day.

On the other hand, lack of sleep not only increases one’s risk of health problems, including obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease but it can also lead to impaired judgment and risky decision-making. So, what should be supportive bedtime routines to ensure a good night sleep?

Food intake should be reduced in the evening, and one should follow the age-old wisdom ‘Eat like a king at breakfast, like a prince at lunch and like a pauper at supper’. Have a light supper at least three hours before bedtime. Reduce your fluid intake in the evening to prevent being woken up with a full bladder. Bedrooms should be quiet and dark: a sanctuary for sleep. 

There is no place for using computers, televisions or i-phones in the bedroom. The short wave-length blue light emitted by these items suppresses melatonin release, the sleep hormone secreted by the pineal gland located inside the brain. 

Taking a warm bath before going to bed will hasten the onset of sleep as one of the features of sound sleep is increased peripheral temperature. (It is well known to mothers that often when giving a warm bath to their baby; it will fall asleep shortly after the bath is finished!). This why it is important to be covered with an extra sheet or blanket to keep the body warm during cool nights. 

A frequent cause of poor sleep is sleep apnea, so common among our people because of the high incidence of obesity, estimated at 65% of the adult population. Sleep apnea is characterised by repeated snoring and periods of shallow or obstructed breathing lasting 10 seconds to one minute. A major contributing factor is when people sleep on their back, which causes the tongue to slide backwards and so, partially obstructing the airways. 

A sleep study allows the severity of sleep apnea to be graded by determining the frequency of apnea (absence of breathing) or hypopnea (shallow breathing). In the majority of cases, sleep apnea can be treated conservatively. The person affected should learn to sleeping on their side (allowing the tongue to fall on the side, thereby unblocking the airways). 

Two thirds of cases of sleep apnea associated with obesity can be successfully treated by the affected persons strictly following the whole food plant based diet leading to a gradual loss of weight.  

A final observation: if you have had a poor night sleep, take a ‘power nap’ during the day. Napping can help you feel relaxed, reduce fatigue, increase alertness, and improve your mood as well as your performance, such as by increasing your reaction time and memory. 

Power naps especially help people with jobs requiring high vigilance (for example, drivers and pilots) to recharge, thus reducing the risk of accidents and errors due to drowsiness. Napping can also boost the immune system and reduce stress. And if you needed another excuse for a midday break: Naps may keep your heart healthy:  recent research has found that participants who napped once or twice a week had a lower risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event!

In the meantime, we invite you to visit METI’s Healthy Living Clinic at House No. 51 at Motootua (across from the Kokobanana Restaurant) and become acquainted with METI’s whole food plant based diet and Lifestyle Change program. Or call us at 30550. Learning how to follow these Programs might be your ‘game changer’! 

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Health
By Dr. Walter Vermeulen. 20 November 2022, 4:00PM
Samoa Observer

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