I want to further explore the concept of interference, because it plays such a crucial role in our health. Over the past 40+ years of combined experience in our health and transformational growth practices, my wife and I have worked with more than 50,000 patients. We have observed a theme that is common to every one of these people: interference is at the root of all their disease. That last sentence is worthy of being repeated so that it gets etched into the rolodex of your brain. Interference is at the root of all disease! I had previously blogged about how there are different kinds of interference that can affect us, and that these interferences vary from person to person as well as from one chapter in our lives to another. I saw a patient in my clinic today who presented with extreme fatigue. I will mention more about her momentarily, but her situation emphasizes a specific type of interference that I want to add to this discussion. Furthermore, her particular type of interference seems to be an epidemic, at least amongst the patient population that I see. My patient is suffering from decades of insomnia. Sleep deprivation is the new epidemic, and I would estimate that it affects approximately one third of all my patients.
How important is sleep to our health? Let me put it this way…I seriously doubt that anyone would argue against how valuable nutrition is to our health. Similarly, most (if not all) experts will agree that exercise plays a critical role. Even though nutrition and exercise are absolutely essential for our well-being, sleep trumps both of these categories. Sleep is the overarching, undergirding foundational component to disease prevention and health promotion. In fact, we simply cannot thrive without experiencing consistently optimized sleep. Many of my patients report on their new patient paperwork that they either have difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or difficulty with both. The severely fatigued elderly women whom I saw earlier today said she sleeps 6 hours every night. However, when I asked her for more details about the quality of her sleep, she admitted to waking up an average of 5 to 6 times every night. This means that her body is unable to reap the rewards of continuous restorative sleep. Moreover, her lack of proper sleep is having a cumulative degenerative effect on her overall health. She is now at a point where if she does just 10 minutes of walking in the morning, it drains all her energy reserves for the rest of the day.
There is also a different kind of challenge that some people are having with their sleep. A significant percentage of my patients who truly are able to fall asleep and stay asleep still report that they do not wake up feeling rested. We could debate about which is worse, getting disjointed sleep every night, or waking unrested, but both are worrisome. When someone repeatedly wakes unrested, this is a clue for me that there is some kind of interference, at a core level, that is blocking these patients from sufficiently achieving a proper depth to their sleep. It is during these levels of sleep when our body repairs itself. Our nervous system unwinds, our mind processes the events of that day, and our brain does most of its detoxification at that time.
In regard to insomnia, the most common complaint I hear patients say is that they cannot shut off their mind at night. They keep thinking repeated thoughts but cannot stop it from happening despite their best attempts. For these folks, the part of the brain called the locus ceruleus has become compromised. For many, the right ratio of certain amino acids can interrupt this pattern and help them fall asleep. But I suspect the real issue is that these people are struggling with finding meaning in their lives, and this is the true interference that needs to be dealt with. Their diagnosis could be called “soulalgia,” which is something to the effect of “disturbance of the soul.”
Can you related to any of the above challenges with your own sleep? I recall several occasions in college when I intentionally denied my body sleep in my thinly-veiled attempt to study for an exam or to finish writing a paper. These “all-nighters” definitely had their adverse effects. I always felt groggy the next day, I usually performed poorly on those tests, my papers were riddled with awkward sentences, incomplete thoughts, and grammatical mistakes, my digestion was all out of whack, and I occasionally noticed flu-like symptoms. Sleep deprivation has deleterious effects across all walks of life. One extreme example of the side effects of chronic sleep deprivation is seen in the medical world. Medical residents are often barely functioning on very little sleep due to being ridiculously overworked. As a result, they make more medical errors. Because of this, new laws were enacted that limit the amount of hours a resident can work per week. The airlines industry has long since recognized that pilots were prone to making mistakes when they were tired, so the industry has strict requirements for the amount of sleep pilots need to get. This all begs the question whether we can catch up on lost sleep. There are some sleep experts who do not believe we can do so, but I disagree based on personal experience. Sleep is like a bank savings account, and we can deposit credits into our sleep vault. I’m not sure what the current interest rate is, but I do know that when it comes to our health, sleep is the best investment you can make.
When was the last time you experienced a profoundly restful night of sleep? Maybe it was so rejuvenating that you woke up ready to conquer the world. I am curious how many of you are regularly getting fabulous sleep? Please let me know in the comments section below.
Dr.Mark Carney, RND, LAc