We, as humans, evolved over the millennia as people who lived in harmony with day and night and the seasons. As a result, cycles and rhythms (referred to as our circadian rhythm) became imprinted in our genes. This circadian rhythm is based roughly on nature’s 24-hour cycle and it is your internal clock that regulates daily sleep and wake patterns based on signals from nature; like natural sunlight and dusk, to know when to wake up and go to sleep.
Our modern lives have thrown these rhythms off and changes in sleep patterns can shift the body’s natural clock. Why is this bad? When we are out of sync with these rhythms, hormone production and body functions in general become imbalanced; we may feel run-down or have problem focusing even on simple tasks; or feel irritable for no particular reason.
In addition to sleep pattern disruptions, other things may affect your circadian rhythm, most notably, not getting enough sunlight, spending too much time under artificial lights, or rarely experiencing nature’s rhythms.
Did you know American’s spend 90% of their life indoors – very rarely experiencing nature as our ancestors did.
There is a healing therapy in Japan that was developed in the 1980’s, called “forest bathing” that in its core simply means spending time in the forest, amongst trees. Many believe in this preventative method that helps reduce anxiety, depression, and can help reset your circadian rhythm.
Maintaining adequate amounts of quality sleep is essential to optimal health and well-being, however, lack of enough AND quality sleep is the epidemic of our time that appears to be getting worse. The optimal hours for sleep for an adult over 30 is 7-9 hours, but nobody should be sleeping less than 6 hours. Why is sleep so important?
During sleep critical activities occur,
such as internal organ rest and recovery.
Tissue repair, muscle growth, and
protein synthesis also occur during sleep.
Hormones that help regulate appetite control,
stress, growth, metabolism, and
other bodily functions are released.
But perhaps MOST importantly, memory consolidation occurs. This process allows for the formation and
storage of new memories, which is essential
for learning new information.
Sleep is a numbers game. In order to cycle through the sleep phases adequate number of times (such as light sleep, rapid eye movement (or dream phase), deep sleep, etc), you simply need to sleep long enough.
Each of these phases is important for the critical activities we just mentioned, but perhaps none more important than the very deep sleep phase. It is during this phase the brain works hardest, flushing and cleaning itself of toxins, including amyloid protein, buildup of which is linked to Alzheimer's disease. Healthy brains produce amyloid normally, but this system clears it out frequently. In an Alzheimer's brain, it builds up until eventually it forms the plaques that can clog up the brain. In theory, you could prevent or slow that buildup by improving the brain's flushing system.
Even if sleep duration is good, sleep quality can be quite poor. People who wake up many times during the night can have some nights with zero hours of deep, restful sleep. Anyone with breathing difficulties, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), periodic limb movements, the side effects of medications, excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption could be subjected to poor or disrupted sleep.
Many people at this point will start taking sleeping pills, however, getting to the root cause of the problem is most important. Sleeping pills only mask sleep problems and do not resolve the underlying cause of insomnia. They produce a kind of false slumber by inducing amnesia for nighttime wakefulness. They can also be addictive, and even dangerous.
There are holistic solutions to getting a better night’s sleep, including some changes you can start implementing immediately.
Keep your room as dark and cool as possible – eliminate battery indicators, answering machine lights, clock, etc. that could disrupt your sleep. Covering or removing them is a great solution. In addition, lower the room’s temperature to between 60-65 degrees.
Block out noises – whether from outside, or from your partner, noise can affect your sleep. A white noise machine may help drown out the noise, or wear ear plugs.
Exercise is one of the best defenses against insomnia, however, be sure to exercise about 4 – 6 hours before bedtime.
Create a regular routine - Getting up and going to bed around the same time, even on weekends, is the most important thing you can do to establish good sleep habits.
Create an electronic sundown - 1-2 hours before bedtime, stop using computers (or TV) and switch off all electronic devices. The light from our devices – the blue light - affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin more than any other wavelength.
Some natural supplements may help. Melatonin is a safe and effective natural neurohoromone that may be helpful, as well is L-Theanine, or 5 HTP. Some find that taking calcium and magnesium at night is also helpful.
Meditation and writing in a gratitude journal is my personal favorite way to wind down for the night and prepare for sleep.
Want to know more or work with me on these?
Contact me for a free, no obligation consultation.
Whatever method you choose, just be sure to get to the cause of your insomnia and take steps to get a better night’s sleep. Your body and brain will thank you!