SLEEP – YOUR CIRCADIAN RHYTHM AND YOUR HEALTH
Sleep is an integral component of optimal wellness and yet overlooked by most of us. Many people are convinced that our need for sleep varies from individual to individual without any understanding of how our natural circadian rhythms work. Of all the bad habits to break, staying up too late or not getting and/or not getting adequate sleep, is the hardest to overcome.
Sleep deprivation can wreak havoc in our systems causing everything from forgetfulness, to headaches, muscle pain, weight gain and more. Disruption to our natural circadian cycle puts us on the road to disaster.
Let’s briefly discuss our natural sleep/wake cycles. All living creatures, (excluding humans who may stray from their natural cycle), are in tune with the sun and environment. Light stimulates creatures to rise and begin activity and dusk ends the active cycle of activity and sends the message to rest.
Light stimulates the brain and hormonal system as it enters the body through the eyes and skin activating the body for movement. Your body naturally releases cortisol in response to light, which then signals the body to prepare for work or whatever you need to do in your day.
If we follow our “natural” sleep/wake cycle, we rise with the sun and begin to wind down as the sun sets. This means we are awake between 6 and 7 AM and asleep by around 10:00 to 10:30 PM. It is extremely important to understand why we need sleep during this cycle and not on a man made schedule. Our body physically repairs between the hours of 10 PM and 2 AM. After 2 AM, our psychogenic (mental) repair begins and continues until we are awake.
If we disrupt this natural circadian rhythm, our coritsol levels are elevated above normal during times we should be at rest. Being that most of us have enough additional stress in our lives, the additional stress caused by inappropriate sleep is just another factor that leads to illness or dis-ease. Our bodies can only absorb so much stress before we our health suffers. Following a natural sleep/wake pattern allows our bodies to recover and heal and is essential to good health.
With this being said, it is often hard to break the bad habit of staying up too late. In my own life, I used to go to sleep at around 2 AM every night. I thought this was my “normal” cycle and that I felt fine. I had no idea that I had entrained my body to become dysfunctional. Staying up too late (until midnight or after) for even a few weeks in a row can set your internal clock to produce extra cortisol at midnight when you should already be asleep. Often we refer to this as “getting our second wind”. If you are sluggish often in the early evening but get a second wind later at night, you can be sure that your adrenals are being highly taxed and producing cortisol when they should be resting.
One of the biggest problems I see in my practice is adrenal failure. Adequate sleep is necessary for adrenal repair and strong healthy adrenals are essential to optimal wellness! You cannot have strong adrenals if you are not sleeping normal hours that match our God-given circadian rhythm.
When I became aware of the need for adequate sleep during the appropriate hours of 10:30 AM to 6:30 AM, I slowly changed my habits. I began by going to bed at 1 AM instead of 2 AM. After my body adjusted to this small change, I continued to make my bedtime earlier until I was able to easily go to sleep by 10:00 or 10:30 PM. If you think you can’t possibly go to bed earlier I suggest you begin as I did and slowly change your sleep habits.
Avoiding light from the TV, computers and other artificial sources such as bright fluorescent bulbs in the evening will also help the body wind down and produce adequate melatonin. This artificial light is seen by the body as sunlight and creates more cortisol confusing the body and allowing the body to think it should be awake. Cortisol can take hours to clear your body and therefore avoiding activities that expose you to light in the early evening will help you prepare for a good night’s sleep.
Caffeine, sugar, tobacco, alcohol and other stimulants should not be consumed after 3 PM and ideally avoiding all caffeine after lunch is even a better option. Water and herbal teas are a great choice in the latter part of the day as the body prepares to wind down for the evening.
Part of the journey to optimal wellness includes getting adequate sleep. Change your sleep patterns and your body will thank you. You may need natural supplements to start the process. All supplements should be recommended based on your own needs and monitored by your practitioner. Contact me for more information on how you can begin your journey to optimal wellness.