How to sleep like a baby: Part 1

Do you have a hard time getting a good night’s sleep? With one-third of our lifetime spent with our eyes shut, why do we lose our ability to “sleep like a baby” in our adult years? We will discuss the first 5 of 10 powerful (and drug-free) methods that can potentially offer significant improvements for your sleep quality.

From an economic perspective, sleep disorders cost our Australian economy more than $5 billion dollars per year! The majority of which is loss of productivity in the workplace, and sleep-loss related accidents. Only $1 billion of this expenditure on sleep disorders is actually direct health care costs.

Are you suffering Shift Work Disorder?

Approximately, 1.5 million Australians are engaged in shift work, and are subject to reduced health, performance and safety issues. This condition even has a label: “Shift work disorder”. Disruption of the normal sleep-wake cycle, insomnia and insufficient sleep are common problems for these workers and left untreated has detrimental effects in the longer term.

Without sounding “too alarmist”, most research on shift workers now confirms they are more likely to suffer with many medical problems. Here are just five:

1) Cardiovascular disease including heart attacks

2) Development of diabetes and “metabolic syndrome”

3) Obesity: From lower levels of the hunger-satisfying hormone “leptin”.

4) Depression and mood disorders: Possibly from reduced levels of serotonin, the brain’s “feel good” hormone.

5) Serious Gastrointestinal problems: This includes peptic ulcers, diarrhea, constipation and chronic heartburn.

If you are feeling rather dejected right now with all these sobering statistics then its time to take action and follow the steps below to help you get a better nights sleep!

Step 1: Stop your snoring and sleep apnea.

The most common sleep disorder is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), that, according to the 2013 Medical Journal of Australia report, affects 25 % of adult males and 10% of females. My personal experience is that this figure is quite low as most people do not complain of daytime sleepiness and the majority are undiagnosed.

The long-term effects of untreated sleep apnea have been well proven over the past 2 decades. These health effects include an increased risk of:

1) Irregular heart beat (called arrhythmia)

2) Heart failure and stroke

3) High blood pressure

What is common to the above 3 complications is that poor breathing at night does NOT release the health-promoting molecule known as “nitric oxide”. This chemical is essential to relax your blood vessels at night and also to reduce the pressure on your bladder. In a previous blog we mentioned the strong link between bed-wetting and poor night-time breathing in children.

In my personal experience, many patients who have told me that they “sleep absolutely fine”, realize the profound improvement to their sleep quality, moods and energy levels when their breathing us improved. From a dental perspective, this was achieved by providing them a custom-made dental appliances to relax their jaw and improve their breathing.

Step 2: Wake up to the Morning Hour Miracle

You may not be a “morning person”, but what you do in your first waking hour of the day has a profound and life-changing impact on the rest of your day. To quote self-help guru, Anthony Robbins:

“To make profound changes in your life, you need either inspiration or desperation”.

We have been conditioned to search out the “magic pill” or the weekend seminar that will transform our lives. Sorry to disappoint, but history tells us that in our personal lives, repetitious and focused change in our behaviour (provided it is consistent, irrespective of the size of the change) will result in massive dividends in the long-term.

On the need to make a life-change in your life, Hal Elrod, a US motivational speaker picked up his life after critical car injuries and developed the Miracle Morning.

There are also many benefits to being outdoors for at least 20 minutes in the early morning:

1) It resets your body sleep-wake cycle (called your ‘Circadian rhythm’)

2) It speeds up your metabolism (helping you to stay lean).

3) Dawn sunlight gives you more energy: The infra—red light from the sun stimulates the energy cells in your body (called mitochondria). It actually dawned whilst I was writing this blog that our mitochondria are actually “rechargeable batteries” with our skin acting like solar panels!

Step 3: Boost your nutrition

Do you know who well your body performs? The reality is that the majority of our food supply is loaded with chemicals and toxins. Because of the way agriculture in this country is governed, we receive very few vitamins and minerals from the fruits and vegetables we consume.

The following top 5 vitamins or supplements are known to be essential or highly effective in improving sleep quality:

1) Vitamin D: A deficiency leads to sleep disorders. It is best taken in the morning as it suppresses the sleep hormone, melatonin. It also promotes stronger bones and improves your moods.

2) Vitamin B: Activated vitamin B complex is essential to reduce your cortisol (stress levels) whilst increasing melatonin (which helps your body sleep).

3) Calcium intake: Also important for producing melatonin and plays an important role in muscle health.

4) Magnesium: Magnesium citrate is effective in reducing muscle cramps, anxiety and fighting insomnia.

5) Vitamin E: This powerful anti-oxidant improves your blood circulation reducing your cholesterol and strengthens your blood vessels. Researchers in a 2012 reported that Vitamin E, taken by sleep deprived individuals, actually helped stop them suffering memory impairment!

Step 4: Manage your stress levels

Dr James Wilson in 1998 was the first to coin the phrase “Adrenal fatigue” as a common finding in western society. This phenomenon is a result of our stress hormones working overtime that they become depleted. The result is that your body’s energy levels plummet rapidly as they can no longer function. For some people even just standing up quickly makes them feel dizzy from a drop in their blood pressure!

Your cortisol levels are meant to be at their highest in the early morning and gradually decrease before bedtime. It regulates your metabolism, and acts as an anti-inflammatory. Too much cortisol and you may gain weight, high blood pressure, severe mood swings and anxiety. If your cortisol levels drop too low then you may experience dizziness, fatigue or weight loss.

A reliable 24 hour saliva test may be performed by a doctor to determine your cortisol levels over a 24 hour period. If your cortisol levels are high at night then you will almost certainly have trouble staying asleep – your body thinks its daytime!

Step 5: Are your teeth affecting your sleep?

The final step to be discussed in Part 1 of this blog are your teeth. Did you know that your teeth can affect your levels of pain and even your brain’s sleep function?

I have become acutely aware of the close relationship over the past two decades. Let me illustrate this by giving you two real-life examples:

1) A middle-aged male patient with moderate left-hand side jaw pain and requiring daily pain-killers. Most of his pain was “referred pain” from tender jaw muscles. The cause of the tenderness was an uneven “jaw bite” that resulted in muscle pain and spasm. After his dental bite was checked and adjusted he reported that his “toothache pain” has completely disappeared and no longer on pain medication.

2) A 36 year old female patient is mid-way through dental aligner therapy (used to straighten her teeth). The patient reports that she is starting to wake up at 2 am every morning and cannot get back to sleep. The surface of the aligners are adjusted to stop the aligners from “jamming” her jaw. The next day she reports that she nows wakes up at 5 am instead!

In the second part of this blog we will discuss 5 more strategies to help you sleep like a baby.