Understanding how to sleep well is one of the highest priorities in maintaining ones health.
Why is Sleep so Important to our Health?
- The circadian rhythm (or sleep-wake cycle) drives” the activity within your cells, with each organ of your body being driven by this rhythm. When it is active, it is partially degenerating and when it is at rest, it is in recovery mode. There are ‘CLOCK’ genes that are present in every cell controlling the switch from activity to rest to activity and so on. Usually, the period of activity occurs during daylight, and the rest and the recovery period is at night.
- Each organ, however, does not have eyes from which it would sense daylight and darkness. The organs rely upon the suprachiasmatic nucleus in the anterior hypothalamus, which is located in the base of the brain. This region is connected directly to the retina in the eyes and communicates to the organs when it is daylight or dark.
What are the Hormones of the Sleep – Wake Cycle?
- Otherwise known as the central master clock, this specific region of the brain communicates the onset of daylight/rising to the peripheral organ clocks. This is done through an increase in cortisol and body temperature. It also decreases levels of melatonin in the morning. The night is communicated with low cortisol levels and body temperature, as well as high melatonin levels and growth hormone secretion.
- Disruptions to your sleep cycle sends messages outward throughout your entire body. During sleep the input we have received gets sorted and consolidated into long term storage. Growth hormone release peaks after 2-3 hours of sleep. This leads to body repair, muscle growth, brain growth (neurogenesis) and interconnections (synapse plasticity), and the immune system strengthens.
- The suppression of melatonin has been linked to circadian disruption and increases the risk of developing cancer. Melatonin helps to suppress harmful free radicals in your body. When your circadian rhythm is disrupted, your body produces less melatonin, which is a hormone and an antioxidant and has less ability to fight cancer, since melatonin helps suppress free radicals that can lead to cancer. This is why tumours grow faster when you sleep poorly.
- It also slows the production of oestrogen, which can activate cancer. It is highly suggested that one turn off light-emitting gadgets for at least one hour before bedtime. There is a free software program that is great for those who just have to peruse the net before bed. https://justgetflux.com automatically removes the blue light from your computer screen. Additionally, there are devices that filter out blue light can be used in the evening i.e. glasses (fit over and non-fit over), smartphone/tablet/computer/TV screen filters, night-lights, lamps, etc.
- Sleep deprivation is such a chronic condition these days that you might not even realise you suffer from it. Science has now established that a sleep deficit can have serious, far-reaching effects on your health.
How Much Sleep do I Need?
Sleeping for seven to eight hours a night has been linked to positive personality characteristics such as optimism and greater self-esteem, compared to those with insomnia or who slept for less than 6 hours (or longer than 9 hours) a night.
Regularly sleeping less than 6 hours per night, increases your risk of premature death by 12%. The amount of ideal sleep is six to nine hours per night (usually 7 to 8 hours in a healthy adult), but for the individual, it varies with age, activity, stress levels, health, etc.
For troubled minds: when you “sleep on it,” you are more equipped to solve difficult problems. This is the best choice if you have an important meeting or challenge to face in the morning. Rather than stay up all night thinking about what troubles or challenges you, a good night’s sleep will reward you with the solution.
What are the Common Causes of Sleep Loss?
Insomnia will affect your hormone levels and has been linked to an acceleration of the ageing process. It also plays a role in the development of depression, diabetes and cancer. It may tempt you to obtain a sleeping pill to help you get to sleep, but the underlying cause of insomnia does not get addressed this way.
Some of these underlying issues may cause sleep loss.
Stress: All types of negative emotions, including worry, fear, anxiety, etc., can keep you up at night.
Overactive adrenals: When ones adrenals have been hyper-aroused this corresponds with increased levels of stress hormones in your body and the onset of sleep is difficult.
Eye problems: People who have damage in their optic nerve tend to have problems getting to sleep. They also find themselves waking up at strange hours and experience daytime drowsiness and insomnia at night.
Cell phones: Using your phone before sleep could be the cause of your insomnia, as well as headaches and confusion, which may also cut your amount of deep sleep, which interferes with your body‘s ability to refresh itself.
Top 5 Reasons for Sleep Loss and Insomnia
What are the Symptoms of Insomnia
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Waking too early in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep
- Waking frequently during the night
- Waking feeling unrefreshed
Major Consequences of Sleep Loss
- Dramatically weakens your immune system
- Accelerate tumour growth – tumours grow two to three times faster in laboratory animals with severe sleep dysfunctions
- Cause a pre-diabetic state, making you feel hungry even if you’ve already eaten, which can wreak havoc on your body composition and health
- Seriously impair your memory; even a single night of poor sleep – meaning sleeping only 4 to 6 hours – can impact memory recall
- Impair your performance on physical or mental tasks, and decrease your problem-solving ability
- Increased blood pressure and a heightened heart disease risk
- Increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which leads to a decrease in new brain cell growth
- Increased blood insulin levels, which leads to hunger, eating more than necessary and weight gain
- Decreased growth hormone release, which leads to minimal body and brain restoration, as well as premature ageing
- Aggravation of stomach ulcers and constipation
You don’t have to struggle to get to sleep at night. Sleeping well is entirely possible when you take the time to optimise your sleep sanctuary. Here is a list of helpful sleeping tips so that you can get to sleep fast and obtain quality, regenerative rest every night you hit the pillow.
How to Sleep Well at Night
1. Sleep in complete darkness, or as close to it as possible.
All life evolved in response to predictable patterns of light and darkness, called circadian rhythms. Modern day electrical lighting has significantly betrayed your inner clock by disrupting your natural rhythms. Little bits of light pass directly through your optic nerve to your hypothalamus, which controls your biological clock. Light signals your brain that it’s time to wake up and starts preparing your body for action.
- Even the tiniest bit of light in the room, such as a small glow from your clock radio, can disrupt your internal clock and your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin.
- Sleeping in darkness will help decrease your risk of cancer.
- Close your bedroom door, and get rid of night-lights.
- Refrain from turning on any light at all during the night, even when getting up to go to the bathroom.
- Cover up your clock radio.
- Cover your windows, use blackout shades or drapes.
2. Keep the temperature in your bedroom no higher than 21 °C.
- Many people keep their homes, and particularly their upstairs bedrooms, too warm.
- Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is quite cool, between 15.5 to 20 degrees.
- Keeping your room cooler or hotter can lead to restless sleep.
- When you sleep, your body’s internal temperature drops to its lowest level, generally about four hours after you fall asleep.
- Scientists believe a cooler bedroom may therefore be most conducive to sleep, since it mimics your body’s natural temperature drop.
3. EMF (Electromagnetic Fields)
Check your bedroom for electromagnetic fields as these can disrupt the pineal gland and the production of melatonin and serotonin, and may have other negative effects as well. To do this, you need a gauss meter. You can find various models online, ranging from $10 to $200 on eBay. Some experts even recommend pulling your circuit breaker before bed to kill all power in your house. Especially avoid having the house circuit board positioned on the wall outside the bedroom.
Move alarm clocks and other electrical devices away from your bed.
If these devices must be used, keep them as far away from your bed as possible, preferably, at least one metre.
Remove the clock from view so that it is not shining light on your eyes (and hence your pineal gland) while you sleep.
Avoid using loud alarm clocks as
It is very stressful on your body to be suddenly jolted awake. If you are getting enough sleep with regular sleep and wake times, an alarm may even be unnecessary.
Reserve your Bed for Sleeping.
If you are used to watching TV or doing work in bed, you may find it harder to relax and drift off to sleep, so avoid doing these activities in bed.
4. Consider separate bedrooms.
Recent studies suggest, for many people, sharing a bed with a partner (or pets) can significantly impair sleep, especially if the partner is a restless sleeper or snores.
5. Avoid stimulants several hours before bedtime
Reduce or avoid as many drugs as possible. Many drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, may adversely affect sleep. Often, medical conditions can be treated with non-drug options.
Avoid caffeine. In some people, caffeine is not metabolised efficiently, leaving you feeling its effects long after consumption. So, an afternoon cup of coffee or tea will keep some people from falling asleep at night. Be aware that some medications contain caffeine (i.e. diet pills).
6. Avoid Alcohol
Although alcohol will make you drowsy, the effect is short lived and you will often wake up several hours later, unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol will also keep you from entering the deeper stages of sleep, where your body does most of its healing.
Growth Hormone is the body’s main repair hormone, and 70% is released in the first few hours of sleep. Alcohol can inhibit up to 75% of growth hormone release, significantly reducing daily repair, and facilitating degeneration and ageing. Alcohol can inhibit up to 90% of melatonin release for the night.
7. Make certain you are exercising regularly.
Exercising for at least 30 minutes per day can improve your sleep. However, don’t exercise too close to bedtime or it may keep you awake. Studies show exercising in the morning is the best if you can manage it. Exercising outside to increase your sunlight exposure is probably best.
8. Get bright sun exposure early in the day
This practice works to inhibit melatonin production and stimulate cortisol production, so as to adjust your body clock to daytime.
Use a blue light source if bright sunlight is not available i.e. indoors, winter. Thirty minutes per day is enough to anchor your body clock into daytime.
9. Lose excess weight.
Being overweight can increase your risk of sleep apnea (breathing pauses during sleep), which can seriously impair your sleep and your health. Ensure you have a weight management plan in place, particularly as you age.
10. Avoid foods you may be sensitive to.
This is particularly true for sugar, grains, and pasteurised dairy. Sensitivity reactions can cause excess congestion, gastrointestinal upset, bloating and gas, as well as other problems.
11. Get Health Check – Blood Tests, Hormone Testing
Have your adrenals checked, as insomnia may be caused by adrenal stress or fatigue.
If you are menopausal or perimenopausal, get checked out. The hormonal changes at this time may cause sleep problems if they are not properly addressed.
12. Avoid blue light in the evening.
Use ‘f.lux’ on your computer to automatically remove blue light from your screen in the evening. Use red or amber lighting around the house during the evening as much as possible, or use dimmers to decrease the intensity of the white light. Wear amber glasses after sunset. Fit-over and non-fit-over styles are available.