Better than counting sheep

A Guided Meditation for Better Sleep

Isn't it funny that with all our advances in medical science, we still don't know exactly why we need to sleep?  Although sleep is something we all (should) do for about 1/3 of the time we are alive, we still know surprisingly little about it.  We do know that it probably has something to do with brain metabolite clearance, energy conservation, neuroplasticity, memory and learning, among other things.  We also know that if we don't sleep enough, learning is impaired, the immune system is affected, the rate of chronic diseases and obesity goes up.  

To me, the real question is not why we need to sleep adequately.  As physicians, we already know enough to know we need to sleep at least 7 hours to function maximally.  Will knowing more information be the real motivator for lasting habit change?  Maybe, but most likely not.  The real question for me is WHY WE DON'T sleep more and why we, as medical professionals, don't practice what we preach to live healthier lives.  In my opinion, figuring out what is stopping us from deep self-care and then working from the roots to affect lasting change is the real work within any wellness program worth it's salt.  

That said, for you information junkies like me out there, here are some quick points you may have missed in the past or forgotten.

Inadequate Sleep

  • Increases pro-inflammatory cytokines, CRP, LDL (shown in just 3 consecutive nights of inadequate sleep) 
  • Increases susceptibility to infections, seen in increased rate of common cold
  • Weight gain due to insulin resistance and altered dopamine receptor pattern (food and reward)

Food

  • Eating too close to bedtime could affect sleep quality because swings in blood sugar affects both melatonin and cortisol levels
  • Long-chain omega-3 (abundant in some seafood) can help regulate cortisol level in stress response and therefore improve sleep

Exercise

  • Inactivity can cause poor sleep but exercising too intensely and too late in the day can increase cortisol level and affect sleep

Caffeine

  • Habitual caffeine use can exaggerate cortisol response to stress
  • Disrupts circadian rhythm especially if you consume caffeine late into the day (past noon)

Melatonin

  • Studies are inconclusive
  • Appears great for readjusting circadian clocks but not useful as a long-term sleep-aid, so it could work for jetlag and shift work (I use it when I switch from night shifts to a day schedule)
  • Avoid slow-release capsules as they don't replicate the spike of melatonin your body produces

If your problem is falling asleep after an eventful day (particularly an eventful work day), this meditation can help.  

Instructions: Before you begin, get ready for bed completely.  Brush your teeth and do all your nightly rituals, put on your PJs, set your alarm, turn your phone's ringer off, get into bed and get comfortable.