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Sleep Becomes You: How Important Those Unconscious Hours Really Are

How long does it take you to get to sleep at night? One of the most common complaints I receive from my patients is that — along with all the other issues they have going on with their health — as they’ve gotten older they don’t get to sleep as fast, stay asleep as long or sleep as deeply as they’d like. 

Women suffer from insomnia at nearly twice the rate of men. This may in part be due to social and psychological factors, but it is also no doubt also due to the physiology of female hormones. For women who have hormonal imbalances, some of their frustrations stem from night sweats, which wake them, make them restless, and rob them of the kind of dream-state sleep they recall enjoying when they were younger. Lots of studies have been published outlining the importance of sleep, but what many of my patients don’t know is that there is a huge difference between getting just 5-6 hours of good sleep instead of the 7-8 that is recommended by the medical community. Without quality sleep, it is difficult to regulate appetite, to burn fat, to feel good, and to be happy and calm. Poor sleep can cause inflammation, poor blood sugar control, depression, anxiety, and a whole host of other issues.

You may not realize it happening, but if you are sleep deficient, you tend to be less productive at work as well as at school. And while you rarely would compare how quickly you complete a task during the day, if measured and observed the result would show that it takes you longer to finish tasks. You also have a slower reaction time, and you make more mistakes.

Did you know that even a loss of just 1–2 hours per night of sleep affects your ability the same as if you haven't slept at all for a day or two? And then there are those gaps. You know — the ones you are probably never aware of, but if you think back you might recall “zoning out” during times of your day.  Have you ever driven somewhere and then not remembered part of the trip? How about attending a lecture and realizing afterward that you missed a lot of the information? 

Think about this: Driving drowsy can be as bad if not worse than driving drunk. Studies show that sleep deficiency harms your driving ability as much as, or more than having alcohol on board. A Harvard study done on college-age kids tested out this premise. For several nights in a row, researchers tested individuals at various levels of sleep deprivation. Some got the full 8 hours of sleep, others six hours, others 3 and still others pulled all-nighters. Then they put them behind the wheel of a car.

With each increment of sleep robbed, reaction times and judgement were increasingly affected.  Those awake for 22 hours straight had reaction times that equalled what four alcoholic drinks would do to them. The interesting thing about the study, however, was that few of the subjects believed their reaction times to be any different than if they had gotten the full 8 hours. They were not conscious of the deficiency that was wreaking havoc on their senses.

When we first sat across from one another in my office, you may recall all the circles and arrows I drew for you, talking about how all your systems work together.  In particular, cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain's use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. It also curbs functions that would be nonessential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with regions of your brain that control mood, motivation and fear. And guess what? Cortisol levels are affected by SLEEP. 

Good cortisol levels include seeing them high during your productive hours, giving you energy to get through the day, but settling down to a low hum when you sleep. That means they should decrease throughout the day until you are ready to hit the sack. And that’s when it gets tricky. Do you have frequent times when your brain simply can NOT settle down? The culprit may partly be your cortisol levels, because your stress response is triggered and your cortisol levels are not dropping down. A simple saliva test will show where your cortisol levels are at certain times of the day.

But here is something to ponder. Just because you are USED to sleeping only 5-6 hours doesn’t mean your body likes it and that it’s not messing with all kinds of other things in your life you may not even consider. For more information on how bio-identical supplements and natural hormone replacement therapy can offer you the gift of deep, satisfying sleep, call me at (916) 781-4300 or email me at and let’s get together and assess what’s going on with you. You’ll be glad you did.

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