The power of slumber

Sleep, put your hand up if you want, need, crave more. Do you have regular sleep patterns? Do you feel rested when you wake up? Are you hot, have an active mind, uncomfortable or just wound up? Do you fall asleep on the couch at 7pm then wake up alert at 2am and burn the midnight oil until 6am then crawl out of bed exhausted?

I hear these statements daily in practise.

To understand why I place so much importance on getting adequate sleep, lets look at what happens when we sleep and why it is integral for energy, immune system, memory and overall health.

When we sleep, our bodies are far from active, although we are not physically moving, internally there is a lot going on. Many hormones are only active at night, impact growth and repair of tissues. The 2 hormones that mainly drive our circadian rhythm or sleeping/waking cycle are Cortisol and Melatonin.

Think about Cortisol as your alert, active, keep you awake hormone and Melatonin as your sleepy hormone. Under normal, circumstances, Cortisol levels peak at around 6-7am, meaning we should wake feeling alert and refreshed, conversely, melatonin dramatically drops by early-mid morning so we are not feeling sleepy and is at its highest in the late evening to induce slumber. Melatonin rises in the late evening to allow rest and calm so we may fall asleep easily with no fuss and stay asleep for the duration of the night in order to rest, restore, repair and recharge for the next day. However, what has happened in the last century with the combination of electricity, lights, television and more recently technology in the form of computers and smart phones, as well as more busy, stressful lives, is that we are artificially stimulating our brains to stay awake longer and later, completely overriding the natural tendency of the body to regulate its natural cortisol and melatonin fluctuations. We stay awake later stimulated by technology, we are more stressed leading to increased production of cortisol (our alert hormone) meaning most people go to bed around 10-11pm and wake at 6-7am feeling rubbish and tired. We are eating into our body’s repair time, in turn affecting our bodies on a cellular level and the biggest effect apart from altered energy levels is to your immune system.

Think about how much a baby/young child sleeps. They instinctively require sleep as their bodies are undergoing such enormous growth.

Once upon a time, we went to bed with sundown, rose with run up, used our bodies physically during the day, fuelled it with nourishing, whole foods and sleep issues were basically non-existent.

We seek caffeine, sugar and carbs to wake us up and keep us going, when what we should be trying to do it to work on the other end of the day. Start winding down earlier, turn off the TV and computers, talk or read a book, take a shower or bath and ease yourself into slumber. Turning your phone off 3 seconds before you expect your body to fall asleep is not conducive to a sound sleep.

Nutrients required for good energy balance and healthy sleep include Magnesium and Calcium, B vitamins and of course a foundation of good, whole foods low in sugar and caffeine. Ideally be in bed by 9:30 and rise at 6:30am. Sleep is a must, it is non negotiable, be concious of this and allow your body the time it needs. So tonight, try it, telly off, dinner by 7pm, a warm shower, cup of chamomile tea and in bed reading by 9/9:30 and see how you sleep, heck, go crazy, do this every night and see how you go.

Dr, I don’t feel well and I’m not sure why?”

Dr; “I want you to meditate for 20 minutes and exercise for 30 minutes each day, avoid processed foods, eat plenty of organic fruit and vegetables, spend more time in nature and less indoors, stop worrying about things you can’t control and ditch your TV. Come back and see me in 3 weeks”