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Sleep - The Unconscious Workout

May 16th, 2016

The equivalent of not sleeping well is like running in the same place but not going anywhere. Oh no wait, I just described a treadmill. Welcome to the workout that doesn't require any squats, weight lifting, or burpees. Besides if you can't sleep, then you don't get all the benefits of that hard work anyway.

Last week I attended the Annual Institute for Functional Medicine Conference in San Diego, California. This year's theme wasn't fancy or complicated. There was no focus on the human genome or the biochemistry of a tomato. Even a non-medical person could have attended and found lifestyle gems to apply to their own life.

It was about going back to the basics. The foundation of what it truly means to live a healthy life. Movement. Fitness. Sleep. Restoration. And how to balance it all. Functional medicine is about getting to the root of disease and to heal from within. This approach to medicine can sometimes get a bad rap due to cost. The high cost of lab tests, office visits, and supplements which insurance doesn’t often cover. It is easy to get caught up in the newest fancy test to determine whether you have leaky gut syndrome or heart disease. While I find these tests to be extremely valuable when I work with patients, when I go to sleep at night I think about the millions of other people who are still suffering.

I believe the day will come when functional medicine is just plain medicine. That it will be accessible to anyone with health insurance and not just those that can afford to pay out of pocket. Until that day comes though, I was reminded this weekend that we already have all the tools and knowledge we need to start living a healthier life. Today.

I usually attend these conferences with a notebook full of new insights to help heal my patients. This time I found myself taking notes just as much for myself. I kept asking these questions. Do I sleep enough? Do I move enough? And if not, why? Intellectually I know all the statistics about why I should eat healthy, sleep well, and move often. That poor sleep increases my risk of heart disease and increased weight around my middle. But how often do I truly practice what I preach?

Most of the time I do the right thing. But I am human. And like you, I too fall off the wagon. I often run into my patients when I’m at the grocery store. While usually my cart is filled with vegetables and lean protein, sometimes a bag of salt-and-vinegar potato chips sneaks in there and I literally shield my cart with body lest I be judged.

One of my biggest downfalls is not getting enough sleep on a consistent basis. I decided to be my own doctor and write myself a personalized sleep prescription. To recommit to myself that sleep is a top priority.  To commit to making sleep a restorative and healing ritual at the end of the day instead of falling into bed exhausted.

I physically wrote out my top 3 priorities on my personal prescription pad that I use to prescribe medications to my patients. I taped it to the wall above my nightstand as soon as I got home from the conference. Having it front and center will make me more accountable to stick to my plan.

 
 

When you see a doctor, they usually check your temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, and weight. Sleep is just as critical to your health. If we don't get enough sleep, studies have shown we can go clinically insane.

This sleep prescription is universal. Among the top complaints I hear from people is that they don’t sleep well or are always tired. You may need to be looked at more closely by a functional medicine doctor. However, you can start sleeping better tonight with a few simple tips.

 

Your Homework. At your next doctor’s appointment, ask them to write down a personalized sleep prescription for you on their prescription pad. It is important that it is an actual prescription versus some random piece of paper that could get lost in the shuffle of your life. Force your doctor to be specific. For example, adjust settings on your iPad or computer to decrease blue light emissions at night which can suppress melatonin. 

If your doctor "doesn't have time" or doesn't know, I highly suggest to run (not walk) to your nearest functional medicine doctor.