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A Growing Cause of Sleep Deprivation and Chronic Illness

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, and in pointing 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 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 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 hormone, 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 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.


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This is the link for a great study on the possible evolutionary function of sleep.

I agree with everything you say about sleep, Dr. Kim! What a wonderful difference in my life --- physically, mentally, and spiritually --- a long, restful, good night's sleep has made! I, too, began leaving my cell phone in the kitchen, shut off the radio, and blocked all the light coming in to the bedroom. It took several months before it became such a habit that without 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night I'm simply less energy-filled the next day. I wasn't well when I began that new sleeping pattern, and now I don't experience anxiety attacks, headaches, body-aches, digestive problems --- I just feel wonderful most of the time.

My lifestyle and diet are fairly good, except for my lack of sleep. Typically I would get up about 5.30 am but have trouble getting to bed before midnight. Some days I am so tired I have a nap at about 2.00 pm. After reading this article I am going to try to get to bed earlier so I have more quality sleep.

Thank you for your article "Not To Be Overlooked," which is quite on-target and well-timed. I keep my cellphone by my bed "in case of emergency," but when my eyes fly open at 3 a.m., which they ordinarily do, I can never resist the urge to check my email or see if anything new is happening on Facebook. I am inspired by your article to try the one-month experiment. Right now I have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, headaches, IBS, exhaustion, and just general falling apart. I know that my sleep is horrible (maybe five hours a night in one- to three-hour spurts), but I have considered poor sleep as just another health issue, not as a cause of the others. This possibility makes sense to me, and I'll put my cellphone out of reach--hopefully, out of mind--starting this very night.

Another horrible practice that has persisted for years is listening to the radio at night. It seems that, when I wake up, my brain is racing around in total chaos, and the radio at least gives me something to focus my thinking on so that eventually I go back to sleep--for awhile. I seem to have this craving for constant brain stimulation and just don't know how to quiet my mind. After my month of iphone withdrawal, I think I'll work on radio addiction next.

Thank you so much for all of your wise, clear, and informative articles, which I have enjoyed and benefited from immensely over the past few years. I've never taken time to tell you how appreciative I am, so now I do!

Many studies show that the light emitted from our computer monitors, tablets and smart phones suppresses melatonin, so besides her addiction, I believe you killed this bird with the same stone.
there are many more...

I can't thank you enough Dr. Ben for such an informative article. In reading what you discussed about the young lady teacher, I noted my daughter (27 years of age) had similar issues with her health in regards to sleeping. Her lab tests were normal with the exception of a vitamin D deficiency. She is now on Vitamin D3, but she has not been tested for an elevated homocysteine as you discussed in your article. I thought that was extremely important and the way you explained how homocysteine is such a powerful marker for chronic diseases. I have emailed this article to my daughter including many friends and colleagues. I read your articles always as they are very informative and can easily be understood. I have also ordered your organic chocolate powder in addition to other products. Great products! Please keep America informed with such vital health information and certainly please keep my newsletters coming.

Thank you so much.

Dear Dr Kim
Thank you for that reminder regarding getting the proper sleep. I suffer from sleep apnea, which I never knew I had until I was on the recovery table after having my first baby. The pauses in my breathing alarmed the nurses tending to me and left them very concerned. Very scary because I would hear them calling out my name but because of the heavy anesthesia that was given to me, I could not make myself stay awake long enough to leave the recovery room. My husband never once said anything about my breathing until the day of the study. Thats Love (smile) As promised after I recovered from my C-section, I had a sleep study done which confirmed that I had sleep apnea. During the study, I had over 35 obstructions in an hour. That explains why I always had headaches in the morning and why I felt like someone beat the daylights out of me all night, and why I was always so tired even if I went to bed early. I am never a fan of medication so I just went through life suffering through the pain day to day. Once I got my cup of coffee my headache went away and eventually so did the body aches. I thought that was what made me feel better. That was 11 years ago. Although I am still embarrassed about using my C-PAP machine in front of my husband and children, I try to use it every night usually waiting for them to fall asleep before I put the machine on. At 46, I shouldn’t feel like I am 96 after sleeping all night. Thats how sleep apnea makes me feel
Thank you for the reminder how important it is to get a good nights sleep; turning off anything that hinders that from happening. What a difference a day makes after a good nights sleep.
Thank you Dr Kim

Very helpful, Dr. Ben....I know this is a problem with my husband and myself....not the gadgets, but just getting to bed in time and getting enough quality sleep.

This is a great reminder of how important sleep is. It is the time that body heals, repairs and rebuilds. Since we moved to a smaller place, I have my office in our bedroom which has a fax and lap top. Can't really move my office but tonight I am shutting everything down and keeping my phone(my alarm) on the other side of the room instead of by my bed. I feel pretty good during the day but do have arthritis. I eat well, take whole food supplements, meditate and keep stress at a minimum but not having a really good, deep nights sleep may be the missing factor to increasing my health. Thanks for reminding me Dr Kim. Your sincerity and intention to help is exceptional and I really appreciate it.

Ah Dr Ben you've done it again. How often am I embroiled in some health issue that's effecting me or one of my loved ones, and I open my emails and find your wise commentary on exactly that topic.

My teenage son, the apple of my and his mum's eyes, has been having a number of health issues for a while. His mum and I are both health practitioners, in my case retired, and we don't always see eye to eye on how to get compliance from our son, and he certainly takes what his parents say with the proverbial grain of Himalayan rock salt. But when I can show him what Dr Ben says on the subject, in such an authoritative and compelling way, it makes it much easier to sell something like taking his phone and games and laptop and DJ gear out of his bedroom.

Thank you Dr Ben - yours is by far the most helpful of the 10 health newsletters I'm subscribed to.

When I was in my 20's and even early 30's, I would complain to my mother of my fatigue and being out of sorts. Her recommendation was always the same, "You probably need more sleep." How true!

thank you, having known the best sleep and now, bereft, suffering, and trying desperately to enlighten my family members. best wishes

Hi Dr. Kim,

I love all your articles and find this one particularly poignant. For the last couple of months, I have had this nagging feeling that the electromagnetic waves from mobile phones are bad for me and I need to correct the situation. While I am not a person who sleeps with my cell phone, I do have to use one at work,in fact I have two, my iphone 5c which has all my calendars and most contacts on it and a samsung flip phone with push to talk feature to be in communication with campus police. Thesamsung needs to be on 24/7. I started to read how all the wifi waves and radiation in the air are contaminating us and that if you read the warnings that come with your cell phone, you are NOT supposed to put it to your ear to speak. I started looking for air tube ear buds and reflective material for my phones. I will no longer put my phone in my pocket so I am always carrying it. Whenever I can, I put it in airplane mode so it does not search for signal and send out microwaves. What I have found is frightening, there is little conclusive information on the extent of damage we are causing ourselves and it is worse for fetuses, pregnant women, infants, and children. At home, though I do not sleep with the phone, I charge it across the room. I realized I have my wifi router several feet from my bed so in effect, I am in between these dangerous objects. I am moving in two weeks so I am not going to change around my room but at my new place, I am going to address all these issues. So far, I have purchased a protective case and air tube earbuds for the phone. Did you know that regular earbuds actually send more radioactive waves directly to our ear canals? I also bought some crystals to neutralize the waves. I have not received them yet so I cannot report on them. So it is bad enough that we have turned into a society that must check email every second, but we are frying our tissue and organs with deadly electromagnetic waves. I wish I could recommend some products to you but I am just learning myself. I thought I would comment because it is not just the idea that we are wasting precious sleep to be on the web, but that all the time we are not on it and the device or devices are close to our bodies, we are receiving deadly waves. Respectfully, Susan