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By Dr. Sharon Gurm

We all know that inadequate sleep makes you tired, moody and unfocused but many do not realize the long-term impact of non-restorative sleep on health. Restorative sleep consists of 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night and is a powerful tool for disease prevention!

Research proves that adequate sleep is crucial for maintaining a healthy immune system and to heal from injury. More recent studies reveal that restorative sleep promotes healthy weight loss, improves memory, helps manage and prevent many chronic diseases and has tremendous impact on our mood and how we cope with stress!
Sleep is extremely fascinating and the reason behind why we spend nearly a third of our lives cycling through its 5 stages still eludes scientists. What we do know is:

Poor Sleep = Poor Health

The first 4 stages of sleep are marked by a synchronization of our brain cells, with patterns of increasing wavelengths. The last stage we reach is called the Rapid-Eye-movement (REM) stage in which brainwave patterns resemble that of our awake brain and is named because our eyes are rapidly darting under our eyelids. We know REM is really important but the exact function of is still unknown. Although, it is speculated that the pattern of brain cell activation mimics patterns they fired at during the day, replaying events and therefore forming our memories! This coincides with activation in our hippocampus, the memory centre of our brain. You know those crazy dreams you recall when you wake up that were a smattering of random events, well those dreams are occurring during REM sleep!

Not only do our brain waves cycle throughout the night, but this is correlated with hormonal, metabolic, genetic and temperature cycles – do you see where I am going with this? If we disrupt these cycles we are disrupting our body’s critical state of homeostasis (internal balance), which mounting research links to chronic illnesses.

Some things to know about sleep and our health:

  1. During sleep our temperature and metabolism are decreased: So our body cannot cope with processing food and will not burn, but store it, leading to weight gain
  2. Lack of sleep throws our ghrelin/leptin hormone balance out of whack – these hormones are associated with weight management and weight loss resistance
  3. Lack of sleep can cause cravings of sweets and high caloric foods that can lead to weight gain due to the imbalance of Ghrelin and Leptin as these hormones signal to our brain that we are full after meals, also known as the satiation signal
  4. Melatonin a hormone crucial to our circadian rhythm, peaks at night and stimulates the release of growth hormone (an anti-aging hormone critical for repair), and testosterone production, and helps balance cortisol levels
  5. Cortisol (our stress Hormone) is decreased during the night. When the body is unbalanced, cortisol levels are increased and contribute to chronic disease
  6. Chronic deprivation has been correlated with risk for Alzheimer’s and Dementia and has been shown to increase risk of high blood pressure and other cardiovascular conditions
  7. Lack of sleep for one evening disrupts mood and chronic lack can lead to mood disorders: increased anxiety, depression, mental distress
  8. Grey matter (that stuff that lets you think), decreases with lack of sleep resulting in reduced memory, lack of focus and poor decision making

Contrary to popular belief, it is not ‘normal’ to be waking up during the night. Non-restorative sleep and patterns of insomnia should be one of the first health issues addressed by a patient and physician. Identifying the cause of the disordered sleep will help resolve the problem without dependence on pharmaceutical sleep aids. This can be achieved by balancing neurotransmitter levels and hormones. Sleeping pills on the other hand, can be extremely habit forming and can result in disruption of the body’s normal production of neurotransmitters and other signal molecules (like hormones), preventing the body from achieving the internal balance required to restore sleep and balance the various systems in the body.

Here are some tips to help you get started on the path to healthy sleep. Be patient and diligent, as it will take time to restore balance:

  1. Avoid eating and drinking fluids ate at night
  2. Don’t work or study where you sleep – make your bedroom
  3. a sanctuary

  4. Give yourself time to decompress and relax before bed
  5. Get some exercise! But not too close to bed, or the adrenaline will keep you awake
  6. Keep a notebook to hold all those tasks to the bedside table and not running through your brain
  7. Keep your room quit, cool and COMPLETELY DARK!
  8. Turn off your phone and other electronics as the frequencies emitted can disrupt brain function
  9. Avoid alcohol – it may knock you out, but it’s a temporary sedative and disrupts REM sleep, preventing restorative sleep and increasing the likelihood that you’ll wake up at night
  10. Use sedative and calming essential oils (like lavender )
  11. Avoid napping

In addition, it’s critical to follow a low-glycemic diet in order to balance blood sugar levels and optimize hormones. For information on nutritional and dietary guidance, book an appointment with one of our expert naturopathic physicians. Sleep disorders compromise quality of life and are a major contributor to chronic disease and premature aging. There is no reason why anyone should have to suffer when there are permanent and effective natural solutions. Call us today at (604) 949-0077 and get started on the path to better living!

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Kondracki N L.The Link Between Sleep and Weight Gain — Research Shows Poor Sleep Quality Raises Obesity and Chronic Disease Risk. Today’s Dietitian, 2011; (14) 48

National Institute of Health. Your Guide To Healthy Sleep. US Department of Health and Human Services, 2011

Sleep and Disease Risk — Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School