The Power of Sleep

By Carolyn Suerth Hudson, RDN, LD
July 17, 2018

Sleep.jpgWho wouldn’t want to know about a “revolutionary way of being more clever, more attractive, slimmer, happier, healthier, and a way to ward off cancer?” The secret? SLEEP! This is the way a British newspaper described the book Why We Sleep by Dr. Matthew Walker. Startlingly, two thirds of adults fail to get the recommended eight hours of sleep. Even more startling is that a lack of sleep weakens your immune system, more than doubles your risk of cancer, and increases your risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity and depression. The statistics that Dr. Walker shared in his book are astounding. For instance, sleep can slow the onset of Alzheimer’s by 5 to 10 years. A group of male workers sleeping six hours or less were followed for 14 years, and the findings showed that these men were 400 – 500 % more likely to suffer one or more cardiac arrests than those who slept more than six hours. Even our immune system is weakened. Those who sleep less than five hours a night on average caught 50% more infections.

Another finding was that a lack of sleep slows your metabolism and causes your body to lose muscle mass rather than fat. Maybe we should be rethinking our 6:00 AM workouts and stay in bed for an extra hour or two?

How to Get More Sleep

Those are pretty convincing statistics, but getting that much sleep can be hard, due to busyness or problems getting to sleep or staying asleep.  If you aren’t getting good quality 7 ½ - 9 hours of sleep every night, here are the tips we share with nutrition counseling clients that could help.

  • GettyImages-687483966.jpgTry adding a small healthy bedtime snack to help maintain your blood sugar throughout the night. Without it, l unbeknownst to you, low blood sugar could cause you to wake up. A small apple and natural peanut butter could help you sleep through the night.
  • Add 400 – 600 mg of magnesium glycinate before bed. Taking magnesium at bedtime relaxes your entire body and can help you fall and stay asleep.
  • Decrease or eliminate caffeine in all forms.
  • Create better sleep habits:
     - Have a consistent sleep schedule
     - Go to bed early enough to get 7-9 hours of sleep
     - Turn down the thermostat
     - Take a bath
     - Turn off electronics at least an hour prior to bed

Getting a good night’s sleep may not sound revolutionary, but given the risks of being chronically sleep deprived, carving out time for sleep may be the single most important thing you can do for your health.

To learn more about sleep, listen to recent Dishing Up Nutrition podcasts entitled Why We Sleep Book Reviewor Why Am I Tired All The Time? For more help, consider making an appointment in-person or by phone with one of our nutritionists to learn how you can get a good night’s sleep. To hear Dr. Walker himself, here's a great segment from WHYY's Fresh Air program, Sleep Scientist Warms Against Walking Through Life 'In An Underslept State.'

About the author

Carolyn understands the impact nutrition has on health and well-being both professionally and personally. Working in a remote town in northern Canada, she saw the impact poor nutrition had on the health of people there. She then became committed to learning more and decided to pursue a degree in nutrition. Carolyn is a registered and licensed dietitian through the Minnesota Board of Nutrition and Dietetics. She received her BASc in Nutrition from Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and completed her internship at Toronto General Hospital. Carolyn is a past president of the Minnesota Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and past director on the board of the Dietitians of Canada.

View all posts by Carolyn Suerth Hudson, RDN, LD

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