Sara H. is a 25-year-old teacher who lives and works in northern California. She contacted me in September 2013 for help with chronic headaches and bloating. I actually met Sara years earlier when she came to our fasting clinic to support her mom, who did a 3-week water-only fast to address hypertension and rheumatoid arthritis. When Sara reached out to me, I remembered how caring and unassuming she was as a teenager, so I was eager to offer support.
We spent about a week going back and forth with e-mails and phone calls. I was able to do everything with her that I would do in an initial meeting, save an actual physical evaluation. I found that she had long been mindful about avoiding dairy and gluten, and following a well-varied, nutrient-rich diet with plenty of vegetables, legumes, fresh fruits, and small amounts of clean animal foods like organic eggs and the occasional serving of cold-water fish.
In reading my article on the importance of ensuring optimal vitamin D status, she had her 25-hydroxy D level checked in 2011, and in finding that she was extremely deficient, she corrected her D status within five months with sensible sunlight exposure and daily supplementation with 3,000 IU of D-3.
Though work as a teacher at a private school was sometimes stressful, she found it fulfilling. She was living with her parents and managing her teacher’s salary quite well, so she didn’t feel any pressure financially. Having enjoyed a successful run as a college tennis player, she continued to enjoy the sport and stay fit. And in getting to know her better, I sensed that she was genuinely happy about her relationships with her parents, sister, and a few close friends.
Given all of this and confirmation through blood work that she was not experiencing anemia, liver distress, vitamin D deficiency, generalized inflammation, or even elevated homocysteine, initially, I couldn’t think of suggestions on what she might modify with her daily choices to overcome her symptoms of bloating and headaches.
I then remembered that we had not discussed her sleeping environment, and in questioning her on this, I was somewhat relieved to learn that her sleeping routine was far from ideal (it’s never a good feeling to not see an obvious potential root cause of health challenges). Like many teens and 20-somethings today, she slept with her phone by her side, and she acknowledged that texting and messaging via social media sites typically kept her up until about 12:30 am, and she would usually scroll through all of her apps after going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, which meant that she was typically awake from about 4 to 5:30, and then she would be jarred awake at 7 to get ready for work.
We went over the numbers; [I pointed] out that she was running on about 5 hours of sleep per night because of her tether to the web, and that physiologically, for optimal recovery and healing, she needs closer to 9 to 10 hours of sleep daily. She agreed to keep her phone and laptop downstairs for one month and observe the effects on her health.
You can probably guess how things went. In following up with Sara just before Christmas, I was delighted to learn that her headaches and bloating had dissipated within two weeks of her new routine and had not come back. She seemed almost embarrassed as she related how amazed she was to find how much better she felt with more uninterrupted sleep.
Before she completely unplugged herself from the web during sleep time, she was dependent on three cups of coffee to get through each day. And even with her coffee, she often started nodding off just after dinner, but felt stimulated to stay awake past midnight when she got on her phone and laptop. After committing to keeping her phone and laptop far removed from her bedroom, she was regularly sleeping from about 10 PM to 7 AM, and found that she didn’t need a regular intake of coffee to remain functional. She even joked about the joy of sleeping so deeply at times that when she woke up, she didn’t immediately know where she was — a goal that I had actually set for her right before she committed to unplugging at night.
I would guess that sub-optimal rest due to an addiction to the virtual world and texting has become a significant root cause of health deterioration and decreased performance for many. Getting quality sleep and feeling refreshed upon awakening is arguably more important than any other determinant of health. All of the major hormones that your body manufactures for healing and repair — growth hormones, erythropoietin, and testosterone — are produced and released into your bloodstream when your body is immersed in deeper stages of sleep.
Put another way, when you regularly crave more sleep, your body almost certainly is not creating enough healing hormones to keep you optimally healthy, which guarantees that at some point, you will begin to break down and have trouble recovering from macro and micro trauma that your tissues experience during everyday activities.
Good sleep hygiene, including unplugging from all sources of stimulation, is critically important to your performance and longevity. If you’re experiencing any health challenges or just feeling sluggish or [have] a lack of mental clarity, I encourage you to do what Sara did in committing to a test period of one month during which you keep your sleeping area free of anything that can tempt you to stay awake when you should be letting your body generate restorative hormones.
And if you ever find yourself compromising sleep time in the name of finding the right health product or treatment to cure what ails you, I hope you think about putting your search on pause and going to bed, as with restful sleep, your body can do so much more than just about any highly touted remedy out there. That’s right — whole food supplements, a water filtration or alkalizing system, enema kits, colon cleansing formulas, and detoxification programs won’t do as much good for your health as regular restful sleep will. You can count on this as a timeless truth!
Dr. Ben Kim is a chiropractor and acupuncturist who runs a residential fasting and chiropractic clinic in Ontario, Canada. Click here to read more of Dr. Ben Kim’s writings on health and wellness.