Sleep. Your life depends on it.

I’ve noticed a trend in many of my patients:  There is a desire to eke out every bit of the day, and that means staying up late.  Just one more episode of the latest binge.  A little more quiet time without the kids.  A bit more time with their spouse or friends.

But what this means is that the alarm still goes off at the same time the next morning and work starts at the same time regardless.  What gives is sleep.  

Americans are sleeping on average 40% less than they did in the 1940’s.  And 40% are getting 6 hours or less a night.  What suffers with lack of sleep? Your health and how you function both at work and at home. 

What gives when you’re sleep deprived?

  • Weight.  There is a clear connection to weight gain and lack of sleep.
  • High blood pressure.  This is actually the number one cause of death in the world, and too little sleep is a contributor to developing elevated blood pressure.
  • Heart disease.  Nearly 2/3’s of us in the US will die of a heart attack or stroke.  One step towards healthier arteries?  Sleep.
  • Diabetes and insulin resistance.   Lack of sleep worsens our metabolism and contributes to the development of pre-diabetes and diabetes.
  • Cognitive function.  This is apparent in work and school performance.  But, in one recent study, that lack of sleep was shown to increase your risk of Alzheimer’s dementia. 
  • Mood. Most of us have experienced the irritability that comes with a poor night’s sleep.  But is also increases the risk of depression and anxiety.  So unfortunately, anxiety can keep you up and lack of sleep can cause anxiety.
  • Immune system.  This is weakened with lack of sleep, making you more vulnerable to infections, including colds and flu, as well as other more serious infections.
  • Ability to drive.  Hand-eye coordination suffers with lack of sleep and can be as dangerous as driving drunk.
  • Energy.  Fatigue increases with lack of sleep.
  • Libido and fertility.

All of this adds up to not just misery, but to a shortened life expectancy.

So how much sleep do you need?  That depends on your age and how sleep deprived you are.  For most adults, we need between 7 and 9 hours a night.

The most common complaint that patients come to me with is fatigue and the first place to start is looking at their sleep, both for quantity and quality.  Worry and interrupted sleep are 2 big reasons that I see that effect sleep, besides not making enough time for sleep a priority.

Here’s a start to improving the quantity and quality of sleep:

  • Make sure that you give yourself enough time in bed to get enough sleep.  Include in that time space to wind down and do your night time rituals.  This is key and may take some change in your habits.
  • Decrease interruptions.  These often come from a full bladder, a snoring or moving spouse, or pets or children in bed.  Limit the amount of fluid that you drink after dinner so that you are less likely to have to get up to pee.  Put children in their own bed and kick pets out of your bed.  Sometimes mattresses that don’t translate motion across them can be helpful.
  • Make sure that your bed is comfortable and that your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool.
  • Limit caffeine during the day.  Yes, it can help you make it through with less sleep, but caffeine, with a half life of 6-7 hours, for most of us hangs out in our systems.  This means that you have 1/4 of the caffeine that you had for the morning at bedtime, and might be just enough to add to being awake in the middle of the night.
  • Sleep at regular times, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.  Our bodies crave regularity and habit.  Focusing on being as consistent as possible, even on the weekends, can go a long way to improving sleep.  Staying up late over the weekend is a big contributor to feeling like Mondays are, well, Mondays.  This is known as social jet lag and takes a couple of days to recover from.
  • Manage your anxiety.  Relaxation recordings, yoga nidra, hypnosis, mediation, and personal biofeedback (like HeartMath) are just some of the ways to help you wind down and go to sleep.
  • Limit alcohol.  Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it often is a big contributor to awakening in the middle of the night.  Try a period of not drinking, I suggest 3-4 weeks, and see how this effects your sleep.

If you would like to know more about how the new medicine of integrative and functional medicine can help you to optimize your health, schedule a free 15 minute discovery phone call with me.

Schedule Free Discovery Phone Call

Detox Advanced Practice Module

I’m off once again to an Institute of Functional Medicine conference, this time on detox, “Understanding Biotransformation and Recognizing Toxicity: Evaluation and Treatment in the Functional Medicine Model.” Certainly “detox” is quite a buzz word now and the band wagon is full of detox products and protocols. Sorting out what is needed for an individual is key – our bodies are constantly in the process of eliminating toxic substances that we absorb and some do this better than others, and some used to do it better than they do now. Figuring this out, how and when to support one’s detox systems, can make a huge difference to our health as we all now live in the toxic swamp that is modern life.

The office will be closed from July 13th through the 15th, reopening on Thursday the 16th. As always, I will be available for urgent calls and by email while I’m in Chicago for this conference.

Immune Advanced Practice Module, Institute of Functional Medicine

The office will be closed March 5th and 6th while I attend the IFM conference on the immune system. This is another exciting course in Functional Medicine, and looks at one of the foundational causes of disease, the dysfunction our immune system. This has wide reaching implications for treatment and prevention. For example, inflammation is a root cause of heart disease and a dysfunctional immune system is a root cause of cancer. There is also the possibility of modulating an immune system gone haywire, such as in rheumatoid arthritis. As always, I am delighted to bring back more advanced skills to my practice of medicine.

Asparagus is Here!

I love asparagus season. Every year, starting in March there’s a trickling of expensive asparagus, usually from Mexico, and then around April the farmer’s market fills up with the local, sweetest stalks of the year.

A native of Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia, asparagus is in the Lilly family, a cousin of the onion. Many of us know that promptly after eating asparagus, our urine has a distinctive odor. But it seems that only about 50% of Americans can detect this smell, whereas 100% of the French can, and almost no Chinese. There is debate as to whether this difference is because of one’s ability to metabolize what’s in asparagus into the stinky sulfur containing compounds, or is it the actual ability to smell them. It may be a combination of both, but the group 23andme did a population based study and may have found the autosomal dominant gene that allows us to smell that asparagus pee smell.

Its health benefits have been known for millennia throughout Europe and Asia and include cancer prevention and the treatment of heart disease, gout, joint pains, and constipation. It is a diuretic and may help prevent kidney stones and urinary tract infections. Given its high folic acid content, regular consumption can prevent neural tube birth defects. Asparagine, a “non-essential” amino acid (originally isolated from asparagus), is essential to nerve and brain function and has been used as a nerve tonic among herbalists. Asparagus is loaded with antioxidants and many vitamins including vitamins C, A, E and K, folic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, rutin, niacin, and the minerals potassium, iron, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and chromium.

I always enjoy simply steaming or boiling asparagus briefly (2-4 minutes depending on the size) and adding a little olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper. This year, I’ve also been eating it raw, sliced very thinly in salads with radishes, herbs, and little gem lettuce.

Asparagus scramble:
1 bunch medium sized asparagus, sliced at a diagonal
2 medium red spring onions, coarsely diced
2 tsp Dijon mustard
6 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the asparagus and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes until it turns bright green. Add a pinch of salt. Meanwhile, scramble the eggs, adding the mustard to the eggs until mixed well. Add the eggs to the pan with the onion and asparagus. Cook as you would scrambled eggs. Serve with fresh fruit or a small salad and garnish with chopped parsley or tarragon.