Why are so many people “sick and tired” so much of the time? In 30 years of practice and patient research, Roger W. Washington, MD pinpointed what he says is the most common, but overlooked, cause: borrowing energy to meet our life’s challenges and not replenishing it. Instead of maintaining a healthy balance of activity and sleep along the way, we build up a sleep debt as we push ourselves to do more. Washington also discovered the most likely, yet unnoticed, timing of our illness: striking not while we are pushing ourselves, but just when we allow ourselves to slow down after we’ve accelerated to accomplish our tasks.
More than stress, germs, or genetics, lack of sufficient deep sleep is the elephant in the room of modern medicine, Washington says in his new book Lack of Sufficient Sleep Matters. We make ourselves vulnerable to a whole host of illnesses when we trade away quality sleep to do more, treating sleep as a luxury rather than as an essential ingredient that must be replenished for good health, Washington explains in the book.
“Essentially, we’re a nation of sleep-indebted energy borrowers, borrowing energy from systems of defense to meet our challenges and cope with our stresses in life,” says Washington, a Stanford Medical School graduate and Academy of Family Physicians Fellow. “Our relationship to sleep has become so unnatural, we don’t readily see how we are weakening our own immune system and reflexes. We are virtually making our selves sick by choosing a lifestyle that can be characterized as accelerated without regard for rejuvenating sleep.”
The good news is we have the power to change. When we can clearly see our sleep-resistant behaviors and understand the role they play in our crash and burn cycles of illness, we can alter our relationship with sleep and tap into its power to prevent illness, Washington says.
“Recognizing first how and when we’re devaluing sleep, then learning to appreciate and balance sleep, opens the door to regaining the ability to sleep well, which may be the most powerful medicinal and preventative yet discovered,” Washington says.
In his book, Washington details his theory, the Washington Lack of Sufficient Sleep (LOSS) Principle, I?A/S, which states that our potential for Illness is proportional to activity and inversely proportional to sleep, and illness usually occurs when activity slows down. He detected this cycle of illness while working as a family practitioner in California’s Silicon Valley, where sacrificing sleep is the norm. He developed cycle-of-illness characteristics and acronyms A.C.C.E.L.E.R.A.T.E.D., C.R.A.S.H.E.D., and B.U.R.N.E.D. as he observed behaviors of his Silicon Valley patients who most epitomize the American can do culture. He then discovered a paradox regarding the timing of their illness. These high achievers didn’t become ill (burned) when they were most stressed. It was like clockwork how they became stricken just when they slowed down (crashed) and allowed themselves to stop pushing (accelerated).
Moreover, Washington began to see causal relationships between his patients’ sleep debt and major illnesses and was astonished to discover the lack of sufficient sleep as a root cause lurking across a wide range of illnesses.
It is common knowledge that when we accelerate our activities without sleeping enough we get worn down, irritable and more vulnerable to colds. However, Dr. Washington reveals the damage from the lack of sufficient sleep (LOSS) goes far beyond the common cold or headache. LOSS sets us up for a failed immunological response, which leads to infections, rheumatological disease, and cancers; triggers our survival reflex which the body mediates with insulin resistance causing diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and stroke; and taxes our central nervous system resulting in diseases such as seizures, migraine, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and even depression.
In three decades of patient research as a family practice physician, DWashington explored the connection between lack of sufficient sleep and illness. As an author, sleep therapist, and coach, he now shares this knowledge with those who need it most.
To help people reestablish this balance and break the sleep/illness cycle, Washington developed the Washington Lack of Sufficient Sleep (LOSS) Principle to help readers better manage balancing sleep and activity, and offers a set of “Sick Questions” to help you decode your own illness cycle. These tools are designed to help prevent illness by ensuring you are getting adequate rejuvenating sleep when accelerating your activities.
“I am all for accelerating to tap into your potential and talents, but I advise you to protect your health with sufficient sleep,” says Washington. “Besides, the benefits of deep, sound sleep go far beyond preventing illness to being the cornerstone of physical and emotional wellbeing.”
Washington is founder of the non-profit organization, the Sleep to Live Well Foundation. In addition to his family physician services at his practice in Santa Clara, Calif, he offers sleep therapy and coaching sessions for people with extreme sleep disruption. His goal is to “ignite a sleep revolution,” using the knowledge of the Washington Sleep LOSS Principle to alert people to the role of sleep in illness prevention and regain control over their health and wellness.
Lack of Sufficient Sleep Matters is the first of three books planned by Washington. The second title, The Euphoria of Sleeping Soundly, is underway and will offer instruction on how to reestablish your natural relationship with sleep and obtain the right balance of quality sleep to support various lifestyles.