Sleep: Are you getting enough? Part 1


Are you getting a good night’s sleep? Our Toronto naturopaths get lots of questions about sleep and insomnia, so we thought we’d address them in a post. In this two part blog series we want to discuss the fundamentals of sleep: why we need it, what is enough, and tips to help us have a restful sleep. 

Why We Need Sleep

I’m sure it goes without saying that when we don’t get a proper night’s rest we are not our happiest, energetic, productive selves.  This is because lack of sleep affects our moods, energy levels and concentration.  But did you know that it can also affect our ability to cope with stress, our immunity against colds and infections, our memory, our weight, and can put us at risk for diabetes?   Being sleep deprived is also  linked to sugar cravings and overeating.  This is because the hormone that regulates our appetite is over-stimulated trying to find fuel to keep us running, and the hormone that shuts down our appetite is decreased.

When we sleep, although our body is resting, our brain is still active conducting a biological “tune-up that helps to keep us in peak performance physically, emotionally and mentally.  This is a time for your body to heal and restore.  We also produce a hormone at night called Melatonin which has many benefits for the body that affect our digestion and immunity.  Melatonin is the body’s natural anti-cancer protection.  There really is no replacement for lost sleep! 

What’s a Good Night’s Sleep?

While some may say they are fine with 5 hours or less, a huge body of research has shown that time and time again adults (18+) need at least 7.5-9 hours of sleep each night.  And children require even more sleep, depending upon their age.  This does not include time in bed while you fall asleep.  Research shows us our sleep cycles are 90 minutes long, and we need 5 uninterrupted sleep cycles for a full night’s sleep.  That is how we end up with the magic number of 7.5 hours needed for sleep.  It’s good to plan when you wake up based on this sleep cycle, because if you wake up in the middle of a cycle you will feel more tired. For example, getting a little bit more than 8 hours sleep is not as good as getting 7.5 hours sleep because you’ve woken up in the middle of a cycle.

However, the number of hours we sleep is not as important as the quality of sleep that we get.  We have four stages of sleep that we should go through each night – transition sleep, light sleep, deep sleep and then REM (rapid eye movement) sleep or dream sleep.  The deep sleep stage is when our body repairs itself.  This stage also has the biggest impact on the quality of our health, and our energy level for the next day.  Any disruption to this stage of sleep is when we will experience symptoms from sleep deprivation mentioned above, so it is paramount to ensure you are sleeping soundly throughout the night. 

Stay tuned for next week’s blog post with tips from our naturopathic doctor to get a good night’s sleep!

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