Marshall Dahneke is running the 2023 Boston Marathon to raise funds for massage therapy research and community service in honor of his daughter, Jacquelyn, who passed away from breast cancer in early 2022.

Marshall Dahneke is running the 2023 Boston Marathon to raise funds for massage therapy research and community service in honor of his daughter, Jacquelyn, who passed away from breast cancer in early 2022.

His column details his personal health journey, inspires massage therapists to live a healthier life, and promotes The Jacquelyn Project to raise funds for massage research and especially breast cancer community service projects. Visit The Jacquelyn Project’s home page for an overview of the project, sponsor highlights, and a donation link. 

As I look back on my wellness renaissance, what was the first step in my transformation? I shifted my wellness lifestyle trajectory just a few short years ago–with sleep! I made a personal commitment to get consistent sleep every night.

Sleep can feel like a luxury rather than an imperative. We are so busy chasing after so many seemingly urgent priorities. Our inbox is never empty. Our to-do list never seems to get shorter. Through the miracle of technology I can be accessible 24/7. Like so many people, I once wore with pride that tattoo of “I’m always available.” Yet, all of this busy-ness has created a modern-day epidemic of non-stop stimulation, never-ending stress, and a resulting decline in restful, regenerative sleep.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared that sleep disorders are now so pervasive in the U.S. that they constitute a public health epidemic. Sleep deprivation often manifests in a number of outward symptoms, including always feeling hungry (leading to weight gain), being more impulsive, reduced memory, difficulty making decisions, poor motor skills, emotional imbalance, and impaired immune system function. Ongoing sleep deprivation is a growing public health risk that can contribute to a host of long-term medical conditions, including cancer, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, depression, and dementia.

Yet, if consistent lack of sleep can lead to such negative physical and mental outcomes, how might consistent, restful sleep benefit us?

For starters, a good night’s sleep is strongly linked to improved immune function, eating fewer calories, better brain health, stronger concentration and productivity, and even enhanced athletic performance.

Say no more! As I train for a personal best at next year’s Boston Marathon, I will gladly leverage every ethical and healthy form of enhanced athletic performance I can embrace!

How much sleep we each need is largely a function of our age. According to the National Institutes of Health, school-aged children need at least 10 hours per night, teenagers require nine hours, while adults are OK with seven to eight hours.

Our bodies and minds need daily recovery through sufficient sleep to run restorative processes that enable us to function properly. And guess what? At least 30% of adult Americans report getting six hours or less of sleep each night.

Catching up on sleep is a myth. Sleep is a daily, not a cumulative requirement. Even a small loss of sleep has been shown to impair immune function. One large, two-week study monitored the development of the common cold after giving people nasal drops containing the cold virus. Those who slept less than seven hours were almost three times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept eight hours or more.

Our brain needs sufficient time to rest in order to clean up and refresh. The brain reorganizes and recharges itself during sleep. In addition to removing such toxic waste byproducts as beta-amyloid proteins, sleep is also key for memory consolidation where new experiences are downloaded into long-term memory.

Of all the wellness pillars, sleep requires the greatest ongoing commitment of time. We don’t exercise or eat or meditate for seven to eight hours each day. Properly regenerating each night requires discipline, yet it’s a great gift to ourselves–that we literally accomplish in our sleep!

Here are seven tips for achieving better and more consistent sleep. Pick your favorites, as any improvement in your sleep pattern will be very beneficial:

1. Go to bed and get up at roughly the same time every day. Training your body and mind with regularity in your sleep schedule is critical.

2. Keep it cool. Ideal-sleep room temperature is 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, as our core body temperature must drop two to three degrees in order to fall asleep and stay asleep.

3. Invest in comfortable bedding, especially a pillow you love and that offers plenty of comfort, even proper cervical support (for back sleepers) to prevent and treat neck and shoulder conditions. I use the Tri-Core® Cervical Support Pillow from Core Products. All of their pillows support better sleep.

4. Avoid naps during the day, as well as alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine and heavy meals later in the evening, as these are all things that can make falling asleep and staying asleep more challenging.

5. Embrace daily physical activity with vigorous daily exercise being most beneficial as it boosts the serotonin hormone, which is involved in our sleep-wake cycle. This can improve the brain’s ability to metabolize serotonin to regulate sleep.

6. Wind down for 45 minutes before sleep time, avoiding electronics and bright, blue lights (including TV and smartphone screens). Low-level red lighting in the bedroom allows us to see without stimulating our brains.

7. Do not spend more than 30 minutes in bed trying to fall asleep. If you are not feeling tired, leave the bedroom until you do feel tired, establishing your bed and bedroom as your sleep place.

Remember that short sleep equals a shorter life! Sweet dreams everyone, hopefully for seven to eight hours of restful sleep each and every night.

[Visit The Jacquelyn Project’s home page for an overview of the project, sponsor highlights, and a donation link.]

Marshall Dahneke with daughter Jacquelyn

About the Author

Marshall Dahneke is the grateful husband of Michelle and proud father of six wonderful children, a lover of massage, former CEO of Performance Health, 2016 Massage Hall of Fame inductee, and aspiring endurance athlete finding his way to a better way of life.