Sleep or Not to Sleep; That is the Big Question

These days people are working longer hours than ever before, facing increasing time pressures in their daily lives combined with a society that readily embraces the concept of ‘night life’. Lack of sleep may in fact be as much of a health epidemic in the world as smoking, drinking, obesity and illicit drugs.

One third of Americans are seriously sleep-deprived, making them susceptible to illnesses ranging from depression and digestive problems through to potentially fatal disharmonies that result from a compromised immune function.

Since 1910, the amount of sleep we get has steadily decreased by a massive 22 per cent, dropping from nine hours to just seven hours per night. This is a ‘sleeping time bomb’ in terms of health. Few realize every hour of lost sleep goes on their body’s tab as if they were using a life-long credit card.

Sleep debt builds over years, months or days, gradually robbing people of their health. After oxygen and water, sleep is your most vital need, even more important than food. If someone is completely deprived of sleep, they can potentially die within two weeks.  Depression and illness has been linked with chronic exhaustion, yet simple changes to sleeping habits can transform lives.

The body contains multiple systems that function in cycles. Heart rate, respiration, hormonal function, immunity, liver and gastrointestinal function, reproductive function and our sleep/wake abilities are all controlled by biorhythms or otherwise known as circadian rhythm.

The human performance is normally at a minimum between 3 and 5am. If you are required to work during these hours your natural rhythm becomes interrupted causing fatigue, inefficiency and increased chance of becoming accident-prone. In general, circadian systems can be thought to serve two main functions;

  1. To ensure that an organism is synchronized to the physical world.
  2. To ensure that the various physiological systems inside the organism remain synchronized.

Regulating light exposure is critical in resetting the circadian rhythm and its most vital component of sleep.  One of the most important building blocks of vitality resides in the healing power of sleep, an amazing life-sustaining system where we achieve the deepest levels of metabolic calm, allowing the body to re-align everything from basic body chemistry through to thoughts and emotions.

In our modern world, increasing numbers of people move rapidly across time zones or work during the night. The result is a group of symptoms collectively known as “Jet Lag” or “Circadian Rhythm disorders” While there is a lot of variation in individual symptoms, many people experience disruption of sleep, gastrointestinal disturbances, lack of energy only with decreased vigilance and attention span. While most people have no difficulties tolerating an occasional interruption repeated occurrences can start to have long term affects if a strategy plan is not implemented.

 Am I in Rhythm?

  • Does it take you longer then 15 minutes to fall asleep?
  • Do you experience achy and/or restless legs?
  • Do you feel pain in your neck when lying in bed?
  • Do you sleep for less then 5 hours?
  • Do you sleep for more then 9 hours?
  • Do you have a regular monthly cycles (Females only)?
  • Do you travel weekly crossing more then one time zone?
  • Are a shift worker?
  • Do you watch TV before bed?
  • Do you work inside under artificial light most of the day?

An answer of yes to three or more of the above questions is an indication that you could be possibly dealing with Circadian Rhythm Imbalances.

The Role of Sleep

Sleep performs three vital functions to sustain life and vitality:

  1. Sleep rejuvenates the body chemistry for renewed energy through detoxification. This occurs during NREM (non rapid eye movement) sleep and is processed by the Liver, Kidney and Gall bladder.
  2. Sleep recharges the immune system, repairs damage done to the body and promotes the
  3. growth of new tissue. This occurs in deeper part of NREM sleep and processed in the Gut, Thyroid and Immune system.
  4. Sleep helps process, sort and store everything learnt, felt or experienced during the day, the  kidneys and the emotional brain are accountable for these elements.

The following are important for proper functioning of the circadian rhythm. When they are all in balance, quality sleep can be achieved along with good health and wellbeing;

1. Melatonin

This is a hormone secreted from the pineal gland in the brain signaling the onset of night cycle and assists to induce sleep. More melatonin is produced in the winter when the nights are longer. The brain uses the length of melatonin secretion to work out seasonal variations as well as the onset of night cycle.

2. Temperature

Our temperature changes over the course of a day. We become drowsier when our temperature falls and more alert when it is rising. Temperature reaches a peak during early evening and then continues to steadily fall until the lowest point is reached just before dawn, when it starts to rise again.

3. Sleep-wake cycle

Generally we are asleep at night and awake during the day, unless we are involved in shift work. *Following is the chart representing the body’s natural arousal level and sleep load.

sleep and wake up cycle

The body’s natural sleep and wake cycle

Recommended Hours of Sleep

  • 0 – 2 months 10.5 – 18 hrs
  • 2 – 12 months 14 – 15 hrs
  • 1 – 3 years 12 – 14 hrs
  • 3 – 5 years 11 – 12 hrs
  • 5 – 15 years 10 – 11 hrs
  • 15+ years 8 – 9 hrs

How to Spot the Warning signs of Sleep Deprivation:

  • Falling sleep under 5 min. or over 15 min.
  • Frequent waking, teeth grinding, sleep talking, sleep walking, snoring, sleep apnoea, nightmares , wake up in the morning fatigue
  • Poor Motivation
  • Sleepy and fatigue during the day
  • Increase craving for sugar, nicotine, alcohol, recreational drugs and coffee.
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Confusion
  • Compromised immune system
  • Depression, Anxiety
  • Morning headaches
  • Hearing voices and seeing things
  • Irritable bowl syndrome
  • Can’t sit still at home or work

When we start to recognize that our sleep patterns are out of sync it is probably time to look in to a good routines incorporating a maintenance strategy that is in accordance  with  cause of the sleep disharmony.  Routine or daily rituals are crucial triggers for our natural bodies rhythm to recognize and respond to. Below are a few suggestions to adopt as your own to help harmonies your Circadian Cycles

How to Sleep When Travelling:

  • Immediately become active in the new daytime and sleep during the new night
  • Eat meals at local times, and spend the day out in well lite environments
  • Exercise in the morning rather than evening
  • Avoid caffeine after 12pm (caffeine delays secretion of melatonin). Caffeine sources are: cola drinks, coffee, diet colas, tea, and chocolate

How to Sleep in General:

  • Avoid eating Starches for dinner, pasta, bread, rice, potato and corn
  • Allow for some protein in each meal
  • Avoid alcohol in the evening. Alcohol tends to disturb REM sleep.
  • Tryptophan (an amino acid required to produce melatonin) rich foods should be eaten in the evening to facilitate serotonin and melatonin production. Tryptophan rich foods include; cottage cheese, chicken liver, pumpkin seeds, bananas, turkey, chicken, almonds.
  • Proper posture during the day is important in promoting a good night sleep. More than 90% of brain energy output is used to hold the body against the gravity. Good posture ensures effective energy usage and sleep initiation. Chiropractic treatment, Yoga, Pilates can be effective
  • Avoid watching TV in bed
  • You can also decide to discard your pillow and sleep without one as it may be the one causing neck pain
  • Avoid cigarettes 2 hours before bed
  • Set a regular waking and bed time daily
  • Try to exercise  at a regular time daily
  • Herbs that will help with sleep are St Johns Wort & Feverfew

Even after exposure to all of these new environmental signals, it will still take a few days to readjust, so it may just be best to simply recognize this and to allow some time for adjustment after shifting to a new schedule or time zone.

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