Today, I am so excited to talk to you about SLEEP! It has been an interest of mine ever since I did my PhD research concerning human circadian rhythms and clock genes. I have always known how important it is for all of us to have good quality sleep and how everything in our smart body depends on our internal clock and cyclic pattern. But only recently, with all the new research findings available and my personal as my clients’ experiences from life style changes, I have realised HOW VITAL SMART sleep is for all of us! So, I cannot wait to share my thoughts with you!
Somehow, in our busy, crazy life style with a 24-hour activity pattern and travel across different time zones, we have started to think of sleep as a luxury. We need to study, work, take care of other people and then later on life, we may have an opportunity to catch up on our sleep. We have lost the ritual to get ready for our night rest, to take some time to relax, meditate, have a bath, read a book, talk to a spouse or simply have a nice calming herbal tea before we go to bed. Very often we keep working or checking our emails or social media pages in bed and only when we are completely exhausted, do we collapse into a short, non-deep, non-restoring and low-quality sleep. We sometimes even feel guilty that we sleep too much. And even though we understand that this is not the right way to do it, we still keep doing it! Does this sound familiar?
Meanwhile, statistics show that sleep deficiency directly relates to cancer, AD, depression, heart disease and the ability to loose weight. According to WHO, men with poor sleep record are twice as likely to have a heart attack and up to 4 times more likely to have a stroke. We know that shift work can have a devastating effect on health. People who are regularly working during night have a higher incidence of cancer, depression and overall chronical illnesses, in general. We should not forget that the human body has not been designed to sleep during the day and work during the night! The human body is driven by a solar cycle, even though we all have our own internal clock that can differ between people to some degree.
Often we do not realise how quickly sleep deprivation starts to affect our ability to think and perform. Research shows that even 24 hrs of sleep deficiency causes a 6% reduction of glucose that reaches our brain. So, the less we sleep, the dafter we become! And this is why, when we work very late because an important deadline or a project that needs to be finished, and when we try hard to focus, we start to crave sugary food. We need this extra sugar in our blood and brain to compensate for the reduced amount of it due to the lack of sleep. Our body is trying to survive and asking for glucose! We are becoming an easy victim of this survival mechanism and keep compensating for the shutting down of our brain by boosting our body with lots of sugar from junk food and drinks. I like Shawn Stevenson’s (the author of the book that I recommend to read in this newsletter) opinion who describes this particular situation as: “Your brain is hijacked by a dumber version of yourself”.
Research shows that poor sleepers are more likely to have worse marks during their studies, achieve less in their professional life and of course, much more often develop chronic illnesses. So, what happens during our sleep that makes our success in life so strongly dependent on it? I hope you are intrigued and ready to revaluate your relationships with sleep.
During sleep our body is actively restoring itself and detoxifying. Nowadays we know that our brain undergoes lots of “cleaning” during night. Scientists have discovered that the glymphatic system in the brain, like the lymphatic system in our body, is able to remove and recycle dead cells, toxins and debris from the brain during our sleep. Our brain even gets smaller in size during sleep in order for this process to be more effective. Scientists from the University of Rochester have shown that this mechanism of the brain’s clearance system is linked to the development of different neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntingdon’s diseases. Using powerful imaging technique, scientists have been able to visualise that during natural sleep, the human brain increases the size of the cavities through which cerebrospinal fluid (CFS) can easily drain toxins from the brain tissues. This is simply amazing! SO, THE RESTORATIVE POWER OF SLEEP CANNOT BE UNDERESTIMATED!
Furthermore, our internal circadian timing system, which is built into the body and controls the cyclic pattern of releasing and activating of all our hormones, neurotransmitters, body temperature and level of metabolism, is designed to support our day-night activities. This means, if we work during the night, when by nature our body needs to rest and is not ready to work, we stress our body a lot and accumulate many future health issues. For example, during the morning and day we need to have sufficient exposure to sunlight. Light gives our body a “wake up call” and hormones and other important substances begin to be produced, including the well-known hormone and neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is our “happy” hormone and natural antidepressant. You may have noticed that if we have enough sleep, we are in a better mood. Interestingly, about 90% of serotonin is produced in the human gut and is heavily influenced by our gut flora, the food we eat, by how active we are and the amount of sunlight we receive. Moreover, if we have enough serotonin, we will have a sufficient amount of melatonin which is produced by our body from serotonin. Melatonin sends “sleep” signals to our cells. It is an important sleep regulator. Melatonin is naturally secreted when it gets darker outside and that can very often be ignored by us. When was the last time you went to bed when it was getting dark outside? So, this is a very clear example of how the serotonin-melatonin hormones cycles depend on the amount of sunlight and the natural day-night pattern. It is the same case with other hormones in our body like cortisol, oxytocin, norepinephrine, vasopressin, prolactin. If we do not respect their natural pattern of expression, we can end up with serious health disturbances.
Scientists have established the connection between our sleep and our microbiome. Yes, again microbiome! We know that sleep has a direct effect on the diversity of human bacteria and therefore, as by now we all know, our health. And it also works the other way around, the microbiome has a big influence on the human ability to relax and sleep. Our microbiome also has its’ own daily rhythm that depends on the time we eat and the type and quality of the food we consume. It has been shown that irregular sleep, disruptions of circadian rhythms caused by shift work or jet lag, disrupts microbial rhythms, bacterial diversity and balance. In one study, scientists found that people with prolonged jet-lag demonstrate a significant increase of a certain type of bacteria known to be more prevalent in people with obesity and diabetes.
Therefore, a good quality sleep, that doesn’t actually have to be that long, has an amazingly beneficial effect on many areas of our lives, including weight loss, improving memory and focus, reducing levels of stress and anxiety, boosting productivity and raising our energy level. It is like with anything – quality is more valuable that quantity. Dr Breus, the famous sleep doctor, actually recommends finding out how much sleep each of us personally needs. In fact, everybody has an individual sleep requirement. According to Dr Breus, we need to count sleep cycles that are 90 min each and our night sleep should ideally include 4-5 sleep cycles. The best way to go about this, is to monitor the time when you wake up in the morning and count backwards to find out when you have to go to bed. For example, if you normally get up at 6.30 am, you may need to go to bed at 11 pm (5 cycles of 90 min or in total 7.5 hrs). Some people only need 4 cycles to have a good sleep. I think it is a good starting point to see how much each of us needs to sleep and how we can figure out the best bed time for yourselves.
Once we have found out how long we should sleep and when we should go to bed, next we need to pay attention to the following points in order to have a better quality sleep and invest in our health:
- Get the maximum exposure to sunlight you can during the day.
- Avoid any electronic screens for 2 hrs before your bedtime. Blue light from any electronic devise stimulates the production of cortisol (daytime hormone) and messes up your natural sleep pattern.
- If you absolutely must use a computer before your bedtime, use a blue light blocker. I am going to install a free application called f.lux (https://justgetflux.com) that automatically eliminates the blue light from the device at a certain time each day.
- Do not keep any electronic devices in your bedroom. Even it is very hard to part with your smart phone, it is a very good idea to do so and you will get used to it very soon.
- Make sure that temperature in your bedroom is cool, about 18- 200 This temperature correlates best with our body temperature during the rest stage. If you feel more comfortable, you can wear warm pajama and socks, but keep the room temperature down.
- Make sure that your bedroom is dark enough as any amount of light can disturb the quality of sleep.
- Have a certain ritual for going to bed that will help you to unwind and start to relax. For example, read a book, have a bath, meditate, listen to nice music or simply reflect on your achievements ofthe day.
- Do not exercise in the evening as our body needs a few hours to calm down after training.
- Do not drink coffee after 4 pm as caffeine has a half-life of 5-8 hrs. Caffeine affects our nervous and hormonal systems and prevents us from having a good sleep.
- And of course do not eat very late. Dinner should be light and easily digestible. Try to avoid eating combinations of meat and carbohydrates during dinner as they take longer for the body to process. A protein with non-starchy vegetables based dinner is a much smarter choice.
So, now you are ready for your smart sleep! I really hope that you find this article useful and start to implement some changes into your life that will bring you more health and happiness.
Have a good sleep and have a great healthy life!
As usual, I look forward to receiving your ever valuable questions, comments and feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org