By Dr. Rhea Abbott, ND          

Imagine your doctor hands you a prescription for something that will enhance both your mental and physical performance. Did you picture a supplement that will give you more energy? Faster reflexes? Something to improve concentration? Bet you didn’t imagine the script said “get more sleep!”

guy restingLots of people experience chronic partial sleep restriction including difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakening, or waking too early. Sleep is often the first activity sacrificed when our plates get too full, but chronic poor sleep impairs our attention span, reflexes, our working and long-term memory, and decision-making. A study out of Australia showed that subjects who had been awake for 18 hours (wake up at 6am, go to sleep at midnight) had driving performance equal to having a blood alcohol level of 0.06 – close to the legal limit! And that was only one night of shortened sleep.

It’s important to understand that sleep isn’t just wasted time. Our bodies are busy while we’re dreaming – calibrating our temperature and metabolism, consolidating our memories into recognizable patterns and lessons, repairing and building tissues, and sleep time is when your immune system is most active (it’s why rest is so important when you’re sick!).

Sleep loss activates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) which causes an increase in cortisol, suppression of the immune system, and insulin resistance. As sleep deprivation continues, our attention is fragmented by “microsleeps” we don’t even notice, which make it hard to keep track of our surroundings and slows our response time.

Age and gender matter too. Older people get less deep sleep and wake up more often, but seem to be more resistant to the affects of short sleep than younger people. Men suffer greater deficits than women, but women take longer to recover.

Rhea familyEach hour of sleep you miss adds up to your “sleep debt”. It’s tempting to think that after a week of staying up late, we can just sleep in on the weekend to make up for it. Not true! Recovery sleep is different than normal sleep.  It takes more than two nights of 10 hours sleep to return to baseline after a week of 5-hour sleep nights.  They call it “sleep debt” because it’s not just a 1-to-1 ratio, there is “interest” accruing.

So if you’re looking to improve your performance, don’t forget to address your sleep. How?
Below are some helpful tips and Dr. Abbott is happy to help as AIM’s on-site sleep specialist!
·         Maintain consistent sleep and wake times.

·         Have a “getting ready for bed” routine to relax and prepare your body for sleep.

·         Avoid taking naps if you have trouble sleeping at night.

·         Reserve the bed for sleep and sex only.

·         Your sleeping environment should be quiet, cool and comfortable.

·         No screens before bed and no ambient light at night (including clocks and electronic “on” indicators)

·         Exercise regularly, but not after 5pm.

·         Exposure to sunlight early in the morning supports a healthy circadian rhythm

·         Prevent middle-of-the-night awakenings by eating a small protein snack just before bed to  ensure consistent blood sugar levels throughout the night.

·         Improving overall health will improve the quality of your sleep.

Warm baths, meditation, breathing exercises, special acoustic recordings called “biurnal beats”, botanicals treatments, aromatherapy using herbs and their essential oils, calcium and magnesium supplementation.

Alcohol, caffeine (present in coffee, green tea, black tea, chocolate and some medications), nicotine, sleeping pills (decrease deep sleep and only increase light sleep), B-vitamin supplements, a very full stomach, sleep apnea, pets, snoring partners, racing thoughts, restless leg syndrome, misuse of melatonin, and imbalance of chemical messengers in the brain.


Citation: Alhola P, Polo-Kantola P. Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance.Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2007;3(5):553-567.


Call today to book with Dr. Abbott and recapture the restfulness in your nights!