Plant-based Lifestyle

How Can I Achieve Optimal Health?

Secret #7 - Rest

This is Secret #7 in a series on NEWSTART, the 8 secrets for optimal health. If you haven’t yet read the article on Essentials, you might want to hop over there and read that before continuing with this installment of How to Achieve Optimal health. You can catch that right HERE.

The Problem

I live in America. We are a tired nation. Scientists tell us that average sleep time has declined 20% in the 20th century. We live in a society that is rushed, fast-paced, exciting—and exhausting. Fatigue is one of the most common of the complaints that propel people to the doctor. Did you know that some 70 million people have too little or very disturbed sleep every night? More importantly, why do you feel tired? There are a variety of reasons that your may be feeling tired. Being ill, experiencing depression, working a sedentary but high stress job are all causes for fatigue that is made even worse through the habitual use of caffeinated beverages for a quick spike in energy. In one survey, 51% of men and 42% of women said they would go to sleep earlier if they didn’t have TV or Internet access. Being wired might make you tired! Chronic fatigue is characterized by tiredness and lack of energy, an increase in irritability, short tempers, and needing to exert more and more effort for same output. Fatigue sabotages creativity and even more seriously, compromises judgement and efficiency. Did you know that being up for 14 straight hours impairs the function of the frontal lobe as much as two beers?

Inadequate sleep even affects your genetics. One study carried out in the UK found that just one week of getting less than six hours of sleep each night significantly altered 711 genes, dramatically increasing inflammation. Inflammation is strongly tied to the development of disease. In fact, even if you exercise every day, eat right, and follow are the other Secrets to Optimal Health, if you are not getting enough sleep, that alone will increase inflammation. Sleep deprivation depresses immunity, and causes stress to become chronic, and triggers metabolic problems.

In recent years something called the glymphatic system has been discovered which is your brain’s personal detoxifier, pumping cerebral spinal fluid through the brain at night and flushing toxins into the circulatory system. But inadequate sleep means that your brain isn’t getting this cleansing done as it should and this is thought to be related to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Solution

Rest is your body’s chance to renew itself. While you sleep your body can remove waste products, take care of needed repairs, replenish enzymes, and restore your energy. Rest also aids in the healing of injuries, infections, and other assaults on your body, including stress and emotional traumas. Rest strengthens you body’s immune system, helping to protect you from disease. Rest can even add length to your life. The Alameda County health study found that people who regularly sleep seven to eight hours each night had lower death rates than those who averaged either less than seven hours or who slept longer than eight hours.

How Much Rest Do You Need?

Turns out that people need different amounts and kinds of rest. Babies need 16-20 hours. Young children need 10-12 hours a night. Teenagers need an average of nine hours sleep, but most don’t get that much. Most adults need seven to eight hours for best results. You might be thinking, “well, I know I don’t need that much. I do just fine on six hours a night.” There was actually a study designed to see if that was true. So they took a group of people that all reported “needing” different amounts of sleep, from five hours a night to 10 hours a night. They put these people into a totally dark environment for several weeks. After about one week, all the participants were sleeping an average of eight hours per night.

Timing is also important to good sleep. It is closely tied to our Circadian rhythm. When this is upset by going to bed late, or keeping irregular hours, it actually disrupts our internal clock gene which then impairs our ability to deal with oxidative stress. So it turns out that sleep might be the most important antioxidant you have access to help you resist the development of cancer, autoimmune problems, heart disease, and accelerated aging. When scientists were looking at things that increase people’s risk of cancer, they listed working the night shift just below exposure to known carcinogens (like asbestos) as a cause of cancer. A wise person once wrote, “Sleep is worth far more before than after midnight. Two hours’ good sleep before twelve o’clock is worth more than four hours after twelve o’clock.” Science bears this out.

Sleep Aids

Many people rely on artificial sleep aids like pills to get to sleep at night. Although they may render you unconscious, they all interfere with normal sleep patterns that you need to go through in order to feel refreshed. Continued use may contribute to chronic fatigue and even addiction. Natural sleep aids are a much better option for getting good quality rest. You body makes melatonin which is important for good sleep. Morning sunshine and sleeping in a very dark environment at night are a couple of ways to increase your natural production of this important. In order for you body to produce melatonin, the pineal gland (located in your brain) pulls tryptophan, an amino acid, from the blood. Then the tryptophan is converted to serotonin in the pineal gland. This serotonin is then converted to melatonin.   (For more details on how this works, check out Secret #4 HERE.)

Another way to improve your sleep quality is to make sure your stomach is resting when you are. That means that you should not consume food less than three hours before heading to bed and if you have an evening meal it should be very light and easy to digest. A piece of fruit or toast would be something light, or a bowl of vegetable soup with no added fat. In fact, if your digestive system is not busy digesting food, your intestines will actually kick in and increase your overall melatonin production. Another way to improve your sleep quality is to make sure you are getting regular exercise during the day so that you are physically tired. Practicing all the other Seven Secrets will also contribute to restful sleep.

For many of us, getting to sleep isn’t the problem — making time for it is. Busy schedules, bolstered by strong coffee, cut into the hours needed for sleep. Your body is your most valuable possession. It may be tempting to skip sleep, but in the long run that only counterproductive. Think about it…Rest is an integral part of all life.

  • Your eye rests with every blink
  • Your heart rests between each beat
  • Your stomach needs to rest between each meal
  • Your brain and body need to rest every night before starting a new day
  • A full life requires a day of rest each week.

Let’s take our body Designer’s advice found in Matthew 11:28  – Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.


Proof Positive, by Dr. Neil Nedley

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