Lana Camiel
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Practical lessons from the latest sleep research

If I recommended you one thing that would help you to be calmer, more relaxed and focused, would you try it?

What if it also helped you to control your weight, make your heart healthier and boosted your immune system?  

What if in the process you became more grounded and had better relationships with the people you love? If your answer is yes, you want to read on.

Last year I asked over 200 of my students, and more than a half said they have trouble falling asleep.

Another third struggled staying asleep.  Unfortunately, these are growing numbers.

In 2014 an article on bedtime procrastination caught my attention.

If you are wondering, yes, I am a bedtime procrastinator.

It amazes and frustrates me how often I feel ready for bed.  Yet, I sit and watch mindless TV.  Or click on a Facebook link even if I am tired. Has it ever happened to you? Some time ago I’ve decided to learn more about sleep, so I can break my bad habit.

Guess what? Nothing persuades me better than research.

And the science of sleep is a large and growing area. Let’s look at 4 main categories of sleep discoveries from 2015.

1. Sleep is connected to obesity/weight gain and the food choices you make.

In two studies young male college students and healthy volunteers who experienced lack of sleep, ended up gaining weight.  

One of the studies clearly shows that people were choosing to eat more junk food if they were not sleeping enough.

Another study found that if you’re already sleep deprived, eating less at night may help to be more focused and alert.

2. Sleep has a connection to your emotions and your immune system.

I thought this was a big one.  In an animal research scientists found that our brain uses a lymphatic system (something they could not clearly explain before).  

During sleep, just like a good janitor, lymphatic system removes the waste products from the brain to prepare us to think clearly and function well the next day.   

This study also showed that our brain and immune system are connected.  Now you understand why you more likely to get a cold or flu if you are not sleeping well.

Another study showed a connection between our emotions and prolonged lack of sleep.  So, if you want to be happier and less cranky, you have to sleep!

3. Sleep duration and cycles are important to understand.

‘Social jet lag’ is a trend scientists studied where you get more sleep on the weekends. Does that describe you?  Well, they found that it’s not actually good for you.  The risk of diabetes and heart disease go up in people that do that.

Hopefully, by now you are convinced that sleep is important for you, but this study actually compares sleep quality with its’ quantity.  

Frequent sleep interruptions are actually worse for you than getting less sleep. What might surprise you at this point, is that getting too much sleep is not good either.  

Researchers believe that longer sleep could be connected to increased risk of stroke in healthy people.

At last, if you like to add a bit more sleep through napping (I personally struggle with that), recent discoveries suggest that naps can help you to be less frustrated and impulsive.

4. There are research-proven ways to improve your sleep.

If you are a parent, you probably know this.  Kids do well with smart routines, and bedtime is no exception.  Recent findings support that. If you are thinking that adults who have trouble sleeping should give these bedtime routines a try, I am with you on that.

It also looks like adults who try mindfulness meditation can improve the quality of their sleep, and even attention and focus for days when you are sleep deprived.

In another post, I shared with you herbs and foods that work well for bedtime rituals.


Questions: Have you noticed how the lack of sleep affects you? Do you have a successful bedtime routine? If you are a bedtime procrastinator, what works well for you?

About the Author Lana Camiel

I'm a college professor, drug information pharmacist and herbalist. I teach young professionals and students how to be less stressed and more focused with the right herbs and food.

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  • Dr. Vin LoPresti says:

    It astonishes me that anyone in the biomedical field would not recognize that the immune system & brain are, of course, intricately and reciprocally interconnected. First of all, it’s ALL CONNECTED. Biological science has 2 facets: an organism is:
    1] An energy transforming system that continually re-creates itself based on onboard-bioinformation (“autopoiesis”); and 2] a hierarachy of information-processing NETWORKS starting at the nanoscale with the genetic networks — cell biochemistry (metabolism/nanoscale protein networks) — signal-transducing systems (receptors and their ligands) networking in a single cell — trans-cellular signalling networks interfacing all organismal tissues (Neurons and immune cells; now at the microscale) — and, finally, trans-organismal signaling (ecological communities, at the macroscale). Biology is above-all the science of information processing!! I have a 1970s book “Psychoimmunology” which describes, among other things, many experiments about the behavioral conditioning of immune responses in rodents, and lots of other evidence for this close integration of the two networks, the “solid brain” and the “liquid brain.”

    • Lana Dvorkin Camiel says:

      Thank you very much for sharing and reminding that it is all about processing the information! I always loved your classes and your ability to fascinate your students.

  • Heather says:

    It’s hard to shut off your mind sometimes while trying to fall asleep, especially through periods of stress. Two children under 5 and a full time job wear you down. I would love more information on relaxation methods.

  • Drilon says:

    Excellent post and very informative. It would make physiological sense that sleep would be important to maintain homeostasis/equilibrium however this specific research linking sleep deprivation to concrete adverse effects like obesity is alarming and the CNS lymphatic system is also interesting. I will certainly try to get more Zzzz. And yes, I hear you on the being exhausted yet looking at the smart phone: we have really become pathologically “connected”.

  • Larisa says:

    Very interesting topic! I have problem with sleeping especially in the middle of the night. I will definitely try some of your advice.

  • Hafiz Muhammad Umar Nisar says:

    Hi
    With the grace of almighty Allah, I have a successful bedtime in routine. I think the reason behind is following recommended Islamic procedures at night time.
    Your research is very good and seems to be practical and will surely help people.
    Thanks

  • Hafiz says:

    ‘One of the studies clearly shows that people were choosing to eat more junk food if they were not sleeping enough. ‘ This really hit the nail in the head. Besides I know some herbs induce sleep, like Valerian, which I will not tackle here and wait for the next posts.

    • Lana Dvorkin Camiel says:

      Yes, Hafiz, definitely planning to talk more about Valerian and other herbs. Thank you for your comment!

  • Steve P. says:

    Very thought provoking article. I tend to look for root causes of why people sleep procrastinate. Why is it about sleep is so “uninteresting” for sleep procrastinators? If people knew they would have vivid dreams throughout the night, do you think they would look forward to going to sleep? According the CDC, single women, tend to be most sleep deprived. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db230.pdf

    • Lana Dvorkin Camiel says:

      Thank you, Steve! I can’t speak about different sleep procrastinators, but I know I have a lot of vivid dreams and love dreaming, and yet, I still procrastinate. Very interesting statistics you are sharing – definitely something to keep in mind.

  • Jordan Diebolt says:

    I graduated from MCPHS University with my Doctor of Pharmacy degree in the spring of 2014 (I actually had Lana as a professor in my OTC and Herbal Supplements course during my fifth year!) Now, as someone who has personally struggled with “sleep procrastination” and insomnia all throughout college, I can say that I have tried just about everything under the sun in efforts to get better sleep.

    The following list is just to give you a rough idea of what I had tried in college to sleep better, however, I would like to preface this by saying that everything on this list was either prescribed directly by my doctor, or taken under their supervision. I cannot stress enough how important it is to tell your doctor and/or pharmacist EVERYTHING you take, even OTC products! Many OTC and herbal products can interact with prescription medications and lead to undesired outcomes, and no supplement is “too small” or insignificant to leave out of your medication history!

    OTC’s/Herbals:
    -Alteril™ (melatonin 4mg, glycine 50mg, GABA 100mg, humulus lupulus 20mg, L-tryptophan 666mg, valerian root extract 40mg, passion flower herb extract 20mg, skullcap extract 60mg, chamomile herb 20mg, soy†)
    -Benadryl™ (diphenhydramine 25mg)
    -Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Herbal Tea (chamomile, spearmint, west indian lemongrass, tilia flowers, blackberry leaves, orange blossoms, hawthorn and rosebuds†)
    -Melatonin (1mg, 3mg, 5mg, and 10mg all tried separately)
    -Nyquil™ (acetaminophen 650mg, dextromethorphan 30mg, doxylamine 12.5mg)
    -Tylenol PM™ (acetaminophen 500mg, diphenhydramine 25mg)
    -Unisom™ (diphenhydramine 25mg or doxylamine 25mg depending on which box I bought)
    -ZzzQuil™ (diphenhydramine 50mg)

    RX:
    -Ambien™ (zolpidem 5mg or 10mg)
    -Celexa™ (citalopram 10mg or 20mg)
    -Desyrel™ (trazodone 25mg or 50mg or 100mg)
    -Remeron™ (mirtazapine 15mg or 30mg)
    -Xanax™ (alprazolam 0.25mg or 0.5mg)

    While this list is probably not all inclusive of everything I have tried, you can see that I have essentially guinea pigged my way into trying to sleep better, all with little success. There are, however, a few things I would like to point out: First off, I tried many of these products prior to learning what exactly they are, what the ingredients were used for, and how much I should actually take. Perhaps something that sticks out to you is that several branded products I tried include the same ingredients (e.g. Benadryl, Unisom, ZzzQuil). This is not a coincidence. Manufacturing companies do this on purpose, maybe add in one or two additional “inactive ingredients” and market it as a new product and toss it in aisle 10 at your local CVS. What’s the difference between taking Benadryl vs. Unisom vs. ZzzQuil you ask? To put it simply, probably just the price. Oh, and Ray Lewis sleeping like a baby in the ZzzQuil commercial. Does that mean if you go spend $12 on 15 tablets of ZzzQuil you will sleep any better than spending $4 on Benadryl? Absolutely not, but that is the beauty of marketing.

    Another thing I would like to point out is that just because a product says “nighttime” or “PM” on it does not mean that all products are the same (or safe!). For example, as a pharmacist who works for CVS, I have countless people ask me where the Tylenol PM is. Upon inquiring further, I would say that 90% of people who ask for it are simply trying to use it for sleep. What is the big deal you ask? These people do not have a fever, or any kind of pain. Why risk taking acetaminophen when you can just buy Benadryl and get the same diphenhydramine that is in Tylenol PM, without the analgesic/anti-pyretic? This is one of the reasons why patient counseling is so important. Rather than just rattling off drugs from memory, I like to inquire about why patients are looking for a particular product. Find out what their symptoms are; Have they had this drug before? Where did they hear about it? So many people come in and want something because “their friend/family member took it with great success.”

    Now, on to the whole point of my rambling. As you can tell, I have tried a plethora of sleeping aids. You’re probably waiting for the golden ticket: which product is the BEST for sleeping? The answer is….

    NONE OF THEM.

    Upon reading many research articles and pharmacy journals regarding insomnia treatments, the absolute best thing I can recommend is better “sleep hygiene.” What does that mean? Developing a bedtime routine:
    -Set a bedtime and stick to it. This doesn’t mean in bed by 10pm, maybe browse facebook on your phone until you drop it on your face, eventually falling asleep. If 10pm is your bedtime, plan to be ASLEEP by 10pm.
    -Set a wake time! Yes, even on your days off when you’d like to sleep until noon, I encourage you to still wake up at the same time each and every day.
    -Too much sleep is not great either. Shoot for 6-8 hours of sleep per night, but most of all, be consistent. The more consistent you make your sleep schedule, the more effective it will be and the better night of sleep you will have.
    -No heavy meals or strenuous exercise ~2-3 hours before your desired bedtime. As someone who works out daily, at first I thought exhausting myself then heading right to bed would be a great idea. In actuality, your metabolism is burning and your heart and muscles are working overtime to meet your metabolic demand, and you’ll soon find yourself staring at the ceiling wondering why you gave up at 9 reps instead of 10.
    -Put the technology away at least an hour before bed. Those emails can wait until the morning. Not just your eyes, but your mind also needs adequate time to wind down so you can sleep more soundly. Per Lana’s advice on a different article, I believe mediation is a phenomenal way to unwind at the end of the day and improve your quality of sleep.
    -Cut down on the booze. Many people think alcohol will help them sleep better because it tends to make us drowsy. In actuality, alcohol actually inhibits our ability to get REM sleep, and you will wake up feeling more groggy than when you went to bed.
    -To put it bluntly, bed is for two things: Sleep, and sex. If you are not doing either of these things, get out of bed! Research has shown that our bodies adapt to staying awake if we often do daily activities in bed. This means, if you constantly write your emails while laying on the bed, or paint your nails or what have you, your body will develop these things into a routine and this will delay your ability to go right to sleep when you want to.
    -If you lay down and notice it’s been awhile but you’re still awake, get out of bed. Go read a book (yes, a real book, old fashioned, paper pages book. Try to stay away from computer screens), or meditate. You will get sleepy shortly, THEN go lay in bed. Condition your body to SLEEP while in bed.

    If you give these things a try, I promise you will sleep better. It might take some time, but if you stick to a sleep schedule and develop a sleep hygiene plan, you will experience the same benefits that I do and sleep more soundly than ever. I’d love to hear any other suggestions or tips you have found that help you sleep more soundly. Feel free to comment!

    • Lana Dvorkin Camiel says:

      Jordan, thank you so much for sharing your story and an incredibly important message of sleep hygiene!!! Taking a medication or several is easier than creating a healthy routine and truly sticking to it, but I completely agree with you! Glad you found something that is working well. Thanks again!

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