by Tim Mavroules
Dinner with Dr Plotka
We made our way into the waterside restaurant- nestled amongst a row of dormant fishing boats tied safely to the pier’s pilings- in the historic seaport of Gloucester, MA. Inside, we are greeted by Dr. Plotka; his flash of white hair and smile set against a deep tan complexion is unmistakable. I was happy to get in out of the cold and anticipated the warm, buttery decadence of a baked seafood pie. As we plunged into a huge pile of fresh steamed mussels, we likewise dove into the current happenings of the day. We perused through all that was going on at MouthWatchers and with our team, finding opportunities to also touch upon sports, political events, and other sundries of popular culture. Then Dr. Plotka filled us in on the culmination of his most recent project: a residency in sleep medicine at Tufts University.
I was amazed! Sitting across from me was a man whose dental practice predates my birth by over a decade. Yet still to this day he leans into serving the needs of his patients with an approach you would expect from someone fresh out of med school.
Sleep and Overall Health
In a former life, as a certified personal trainer I was responsible for guiding the health and wellness regimens of hundreds of clients. One of my tasks was to pare down the information coming out of the fitness industry inundating the general public. To do that, you learn to discern good information from fashionable trends; you also learn how to make things simple for your clients. From that process emerged one of my go-to tenets: what I call the ‘Three Pillars of Good Health’- those are Activity, Nutrition, and Sleep. In my experience, each of these three things is just as important as the other two in producing a health individual. Also, the effects are concordant and compound one another. Eating well and exercising supports good sleep. Exercising and sleeping well supports making healthy food choices, and so on. If you progress in one area you are more likely to start doing better in the other two. Likewise, disruption in one of these areas will likely upset the other two. Mechanisms for the relationship between the three areas are based, at least in part, on your endocrine system. The scope of which is beyond this simple commentary. But basically, activity, nutrition, and sleep all directly impact your hormones. And underneath it all, a healthy endocrine system generally leads to a healthy person.
Important things happen when we sleep that in turn affect our health in profound ways. Our body makes cellular repairs while we sleep, an important process for anyone, but especially if you are working out regularly and your body must recover from the inherent depletion it experiences. Cortisol levels are down-processed while sleeping. (Being a hormone, the rise and fall of cortisol levels in the body has a “cascade effect” on many systems and processes throughout. Sustained elevated levels of cortisol is linked to lower immunity and elevated risk of diabetes and heart disease). Researchers are starting to find evidence that sleep supports the brain’s ability to “cleanse itself” of metabolic waste that builds up while we are awake- leading insight into possible connections to dementia and other brain-related disorders. These are just a few examples of how sleep plays a major role in our wellness. Dr. Plotka understands, better than me, the capacity that sleep has for overall systemic health. As a dedicated practitioner, he has gone to great lengths to incorporate sleep medicine into his practice. He agrees that sleep does not get the attention it deserves.
Of the ‘Three Pillars’ I mentioned earlier, sleep easily gets looked over when it comes to decisions we make concerning our wellness. How many of us think of health and fitness and equate sleep as being as important as exercise or eating well? That is not to say that sleep is completely lost on our radar. We all sort of ‘know’ that sleep is important. In a recent article in Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School faculty editor Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. discusses a list of top 10 Google health searches in 2017. Sleep related issues take three spots on the list. They include “#2 What causes snoring?”, “#4 Why am I so tired?”, and sleep apnea is listed under ‘#8 What causes high blood pressure?’. In fact, sleep apnea is linked to many other concerning health issues, including dementia. (I would contend that sleep is also related to ‘#9 What is ADHD?’. Look here for a National Sleep Foundation discussion of evidence supporting a link between sleep and ADHD).
With all of that said, what is one to do to get better sleep? The National Sleep Foundation recommends good sleep hygiene- including setting a regular sleep schedule, creating a sleep-friendly environment, as well as (could you have guessed it?) eating better and getting more exercise. But let’s take it to the next level. Sometimes we need the feedback and guidance of a trained professional. We have personal trainers to guide our fitness routines, physicians to help prevent and treat diseases, accountants to do our taxes, and so on. I recommend seeking out a doctor trained in sleep medicine to help address any sleep issues you may be having. If you are not sure where to start, try asking your dentist!