Back to articles

A Pillar of Health

Jeremy Clay, MD, MPH News

If we had a pill that could boost our immune system, improve our memory, reduce stress, increase our attention spans, support weight loss, reduce the risk of chronic disease, and enhance creativity without side effects; most people would jump at a chance to try it. What if I told you such a thing existed? It doesn’t come in a pill. What I am talking about is adequate consistent sleep, which escapes as many as 70% of Americans on a regular basis and 11% nearly every night.

As we progress through our stages of sleep each night, our bodies kick into high gear to “clean house”, jumping into high gear with DNA repair, enhanced protein building machinery, and changes to epigenetics which can decrease insulin resistance. In addition, a system in our brain called glymphatics goes to work to clear out toxins.

While a plethora of medications exist to help with sleep, none are intended for long term use and many carry significant risk of side effects and dependence.

The combination of constant stress, bright lights at night, television, computers, cellphones and culture all play a part in our chronic insomnia, throwing off body clocks so that we feel tired at the wrong times. It is possible to reset our circadian rhythms and restore healthy sleep with a few of the following:

  • Get daytime sunlight
  • Use the bed for sleep only
  • Establish a regular sleep schedule 7 days a week (same sleep and wake up times)
  • Minimize bedroom noise and lights
  • Front load your calories earlier in the day, hold off on late night snacking
  • Exercise regularly
  • Turn down the lights and avoid blue lights from computer, phone, and television screens 2 hours before bed
  • Try mindfulness to aid in stress management
  • Ask your doctor about a referral to CBT-I (cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia)

Sleep plays a large role in the management of chronic conditions through epigenetics (amongst others). As an example, a single night of sleep can change a gene that sets our body clock for good or bad with effects on blood sugar. Bad nights can lead to insulin resistance which raises the risk of diabetes, while good nights can decrease insulin resistance. Simple habits can lead to health or disease.

Imagine taking control of your chronic conditions with good sleep habits as a tool in optimizing your overall health. It’s never too late to make a positive change.