For years I prioritized getting enough sleep. Then a few months ago, I became a parent. Now I’m intimately more familiar with sleep deprivation, and the immediate effects: I’m having difficulty finding words, my conversational skills are plummeting, and my concentration isn’t what it was before. I wanted to know how much it was impacting my long-term health, so I looked into it, and sleep is even more important than I imagined. In medical school they taught us this pearl, “In complicated cases - when you don't know where to start - focus on two things: get your patient sleeping, and pooping.” We’ll leave the discussion on the importance of pooping for another day - today we’ll focus on the effects of lost sleep.
According to Dr. Matt Walker, the Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at UC Berkeley, sleep is critical to our health. In a recent interview, Dr. Walker called sleep "The Swiss Army Knife of Health,” and said even the smallest amount of sleep deprivation can have serious health consequences. According to him, there’s an ongoing sleep experiment with billions of participants, and it happens twice a year. It called Daylight Savings Time. When we “spring forward,” and lose an hour, there is a 24% increase in heart attacks, and when we “fall backward,” gaining an hour, we see a 21% decrease! Feel free to read that again.
He went on to say one night of poor sleep (4-5 hours) can cause a 70% drop in NK cells, your body's natural defenses against infections and cancer. The World Health Organization is now considering sleep deprivation carcinogenic (cancer causing), citing studies in shift workers linked to breast and colorectal cancer.
If you're reading this I know you are looking for ways to live healthier, prevent disease, and reduce your reliance on medication. I discuss sleep with every patient, and a few years ago I even wrote an article about the five most common reasons I see for insomnia, along with the solutions. I'm hopeful that once our baby can sleep through the night, we can get back to our schedule, and once again enjoy the benefits of regular adequate sleep. Until then, I'm relying on vitamins, and herbs to help me stay sharp, and have the energy to get through the day.
If you're struggling with sleep, please come in for a visit, so we can get to the bottom of your problem and get you sleeping again! It might just save your life.
Michael Stanclift, ND
Naturopathic Doctor in Carlsbad, California