Dr. Chad Sato
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

When I was a child, due to my constant curiosity and what some would consider FOMO (fear of missing out) I resisted going to sleep. I remember when I was around 4 or 5 years old, we lived on Kapi‘olani Boulevard near McCully Shopping Center, I would count cars to go to sleep instead of counting sheep. My dad’s nickname for me was the “Little Cockroach,” because I would sneak out of bed to watch his kung fu shows. 

Sleep was overrated. However, as I got older, the ability to have restful and peaceful sleep became a high-priced commodity. When my children were babies, I loved to just watch them sleep. They looked like angels with this peaceful and tranquil aura that seems to fade for us as we grow up and become burdened with responsibilities, concerns and things to take care of.

Since COVID-19 mandates are becoming more relaxed, it’s a good time to share some strategies to calm the mind and sleep like a baby once more. 

Hours of Sleep

According to Eric J. Olson, M.D. of the Mayo Clinic Website, the general recommended guidelines for sleep based on age are: 

• Infants 4 to 12 months old – 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours, including naps

• 1 to 2 years – 11 to 14 hours, including naps

• 3 to 5 years – 10 to 13 hours, including naps

• 6 to 12 years – 9 to 12 hours

• 13 to 18 years – 8 to 10 hours

• Adults – 7 hours or more

Upon seeing these numbers, how many of you can honestly say that you get these numbers? If you do get these numbers, then hats off to you, but if you aren’t then maybe it’s a good time to check-in and see why not.

Quality of Sleep

Chronic sleep deprivation, hormonal changes, and physical discomfort — for some women due to pregnancy — leads to poor sleep. As we age our sleeping patterns change and sometimes it takes longer to fall asleep, we experience shorter sleep durations and/or wake up multiple times during the night.

Research has shown children who get the proper amount of sleep are healthier and have better focus, behavior, learning and memory, which enhances the ability to control emotions, quality of life, mental and physical health. For grown adults, not getting adequate amounts of sleep on a regular basis contributes to poor health: weight gain, a body mass index of 30 or higher, diabetes, having elevated blood pressure, increased susceptibility of heart disease, stroke and depression.

Quality of sleep plays an integral role in good health and vitality. A good night’s sleep helps the body to recover and repair, which leads to you waking up refreshed and ready to go. Although the number of hours you sleep is essential, I feel the quality of sleep matters more. 

I have observed over the years that anytime my client is stressed or worried, when they go to sleep at night, their bodies never go offline. Your body operates either in sympathetic, “on” mode or parasympathetic, “off” mode. When you are awake and active, you are in sympathetic mode where the energy resources of your body are dedicated to movement, mental focus, and completion of tasks. When you go to sleep, your body is supposed to switch into “sleep” or “off” mode. Whereupon your body uses your energy resources to recover and repair.  

If you are worried about a family member, work, finances, health issues, COVID-19, your body never switches off. The best analogy is your computer when you switch it to sleep mode, just by touching the keyboard the computer immediately comes back online. If you completely shut down your computer, it takes a few minutes to boot back up and be online and ready. So if your body never shuts down completely, it can never recover or heal fully by the time you wake up.

Challenges to a Good Night’s Rest

I have witnessed over the 23 years of practice, many clients having sleep problems and not getting the restful sleep they need. It’s amazing how many have reported that, even though they get six to eight hours of sleep, they still wake up exhausted. This, sadly, is very common; 50% of Americans feel this way between three to seven days per week. Normally as we sleep, a person goes through four to six sleep cycles and typically spends two hours dreaming. Even though REM sleep is just 20%-25% of your sleeping time, it’s essential for dreaming, memory, processing emotions and healthy brain development.  

Insufficient hours of sleep and poor-quality sleep are caused by several factors such as sleep disorders, medical conditions and mental health issues. The hours of sleep are also impacted if you have no children, which is the highest in two-parent homes and the lowest hours in single-parent homes. Work stress and active-duty military also cause insufficient sleep. “Research has shown that between 10%-30% of adults struggle with chronic insomnia and for older adults between 30%-48%.” Besides physical reasons, a lot of people have a hard time shutting off their mind. Current and future worries such as COVID-19 prevent restful sleep, which oftentimes will lead to insomnia if mental wellness isn’t addressed. Anxiety, depression, PTSD conditions lead to insomnia, which over time compromises a person’s overall health and wellbeing.  

Ways to Combat Insomnia

There are a lot of ways that people deal with insomnia and most start with Western medicines and sleep aids such as Nyquil, ZZZquil, Ambien and other anti-anxiety medications. If those don’t work or due to side effects, people start taking Melatonin or other herbal remedies like Valerian root, Chamomile, Ashwaganda, Kava and others. If still to no avail, individuals start to incorporate sleep hygiene methods such as finding the right mattress, limiting the amount of alcohol consumption, modifying sleep positions or getting more regular exercise.  

Other sleep help methods such as meditating or using a smart phone application like CALM or wearing activity and sleep monitoring devices to track what works and doesn’t work. There are so many methods that people swear by, but ultimately it comes down to you. Each person is unique and deals with stress in their own way. What is quintessential in discovering how to optimize your quantity and quality of sleep is your own awareness and this is where your mind-body connection comes in.

Mind-Body Tips to Sleeping Soundly

The first thing to enhance your sleep is to become more mindful and aware of your habits and mindset. If you are a worrier, emotion-suppressor or overthinker, first be aware of your behavior patterns and then acknowledge the fact that this is how you operate. If you have anxiety or feel the need to control, one strategy is, prior to going to sleep, to make a mental checklist of all the things you have on your plate. Once you have the checklist, identify which things you have no control over and by default you will let go. Don’t waste energy worrying about something that you have no power to determine the outcome.   

Next prioritize what needs to be done on your checklist and you might discover some things that can wait until later; those you can cross off your worry list. Finally, for the priority items, identify all the things that you have done and if anything needs to be addressed how it can be done tomorrow. You essentially decluttered your mind and brought yourself to a state of ease and acceptance.  

Another tip is to place both hands, one on top the other somewhere on your body and then focus your breath in and out to that spot. Observe how it feels to breathe into that part of your body — depth, ease or restriction. This exercise helps you to focus on your body and stay in the present, which many times will help you to drift back to sleep within a few minutes or so.  

The Gift of Sleep

In closing, you have the power and choice to achieve restful sleep. Being mindful and aware of your habits is the first step. Identifying what works for you and staying consistent will further assist you in optimizing the quantity and quality of your sleep. Finally, to ensure sleeping like a baby is to find three things that happened in your day that you are grateful for. Gratitude for the challenges and benefits in your life help you to maintain an optimal state of wellness — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Dr. Chad Sato graduated from UCLA in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and earned the Doctor of Chiropractic degree with honors from Life Chiropractic College West in 1998. Sato founded his practice, Aloha Chiropractic (alohachiro.biz), in Mänoa valley, O’ahu, on Oct. 1, 1999. He is a sought-after educator, speaker, author and mind-body specialist who helps people reach new levels of empowerment when it comes to their health and wellness by staying present with their body signs, making appropriate life choices and utilizing stress instead of managing it.

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