Do you suffer with headaches? Fatigue? Irritability? Skin changes, itching or persistent aches and pains? If so, read on for a summary of how sleep affects your health, based on Paul Chek’s chapter ‘Are You Getting to Bed on Time?’ in his world famous book How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy.
Lack of sleep could seriously be affecting your health. At the touch of a button, the world is at our fingertips; it doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s night or day. We have constant access to resources, work and our social lives, 24/7. It’s seems almost unimaginable that just a few thousand decades ago, our lives used to run by day and night cycles.
Have you heard of the circadian cycle? According to the National Sleep Foundation, your circadian rhythm/ cycle is ‘basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals’. This is why we tend to feel energised or sleepy at the same times most days. Our brains get into a natural cycle, we might not even notice them if we sleep well, but if we are sleep deprived, we might notice them, big-time! Light and darkness can affect our circadian rhythm.
Paul Chek explains: ‘Whenever light stimulates your skin or eyes, regardless of the source, your brain and hormonal system think it’s morning’. Go on your phone before bed? Your brain releases cortisol, an activating hormone. Watch TV before bed? Your brain releases cortisol! Bright lights in your house? Your brain releases cortisol! Your brain gets your body ready for movement, work, to go and do whatever it thinks you need to do.
Take a look at our natural sleep/wake cycle below:
You will see that our cortisol levels rise in the morning and fall during the afternoon. With a decrease in cortisol, we have an increase in melatonin, growth and repair hormones. ‘If we follow our natural sleep/wake cycles, we start winding down as the sun sets and should fall asleep by 10pm. Physical repairs mostly take place when the body is asleep, between about 10pm and 2am. After 2am, the immune/repair energies are more focussed on pyschogenic (mental) repair which lasts until we awaken’.
The disrupted sleep/wake diagram shows what happens if we have increased cortisol levels.
If you are in a fight/flight situation, an increase in cortisol levels is great! If we are trying to go about our day-to-day lives with increased cortisol levels, however, it’s not so great. With all the bright lights we seem to be surrounded by with our electronic gadgets our brain thinks it’s morning. Ever worked late, felt exhausted but still not been able to sleep? Working late can affect our sleep cycle because cortisol can take hours to clear from your blood stream.
What does that mean for me?
- Simply put, if cortisol is taking hours to clear from your blood stream, it will prevent the release of melatonin and other growth and immune hormones which cuts into really important repair time.
- If you go to bed late, you miss out on your physical repair cycle – it doesn’t play catch up!
- A disrupted sleep/wake cycle and lead to adrenal fatigue. This is a topic for another blog but in a nutshell, symptoms of adrenaline, fatigue include chronic fatigue, viral, bacterial and final infections.
What can I do to help my sleep/wake cycle?
• Avoid caffeine after lunchtime. Caffeine has a half-life of about six hours, an eight ounce cup of strong coffee has about 300mg of caffeine in, if you drink this at 3pm, you’ll still have 75mg caffeine stimulating your adrenal glands to produce cortisol at 3am.
• Get to sleep by 10.30pm. That doesn’t mean that’s when you should get to bed, make sure you’re asleep by 10.30pm!
• Try not to be exposed to bright lights about 2 hours before bed, especially fluorescent lights.
• Sleep in a dark room.
• Try to avoid sugar and nicotine after lunch, they have a similar affect to caffeine!
• Make sure you’re drinking enough water. If you’re not, your body will go into stress mode, producing cortisol.
• Exercise during the day usually helps people sleep better at night.
So there we have it, a brief summary of how sleep, or lack of, can affect your body. For more information, I would recommend a read of Paul Chek’s book. Alternatively, if you would like further advice or help with sleep then feel free to get in touch!