Alas, it is fall. Officially. If the falling leaves did not give it away, the shortening days might tip you off.
As the sun sets earlier, many people struggle with their sleep. So, this health letter is dedicated to a good night’s rest.
Benefits of Sleep…
Though most modern schedules do not allow it, it is true that in the winter months, you should actually sleep more. Follow the rhythms of natural light. That would mean longer waking hours and more activity in the summer, more sleep and rest in the winter. This is one of the basic cycles that our bodies strive to move through and, when observed, that benefits our health.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a diagnosis for depressed mood during the winter months usually attributed to lack of light. In reality, it is the result of our modern attempts to defy this natural rhythm. Our struggle to fit the same amount into a short wintry day as we accomplish in the summer months challenges our hormonal systems. As we burn out our hormonal reserves, the low moods set in. For those of you with chronic hormonal stress, one day of darkness is likely enough to cause severe symptoms. You might feel as if you have suffered through three months of dark days after only three days worth.
A full night of restful sleep restores energy, heals the body and balances the hormonal system. Anything short of this will lead to the development of symptoms: mental fogginess, aches & pains, hormonal fluctuations, fatigue, and mood problems. Chronic sleep deprivation can be one of the most debilitating health challenges to face. Sleeplessness results from too few hours, disturbed sleep
“You can sleep when you die,” as some adventurers say, but that does not mean that you should not sleep when you are alive.
Sleep has a number of positive effects on your health. More specifically, restorative sleep returns your hormonal and nervous systems back to balance. But, good sleep has also been shown to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, help to prevent cancer, reduce inflammation and pain, improve your memory, assist in weight loss, reduce your risk for depression and improve your cognitive ability. Yes, sleep actually makes you smarter!
Sleep aids can be helpful to get you through a tough period of insomnia. But, most sleep aids, while extending the quantity of your snooze, do not actually improve the quality of your sleep. So, even though your eyes are closed and you are unconscious for the whole night, your sleep is not actually doing the job that your body needs. No healing, no reduction of inflammation.
The only way to get more restorative and healthy sleep is to figure out what is keeping you up. This might be an overactive bladder, pain, caffeine, repetitive thoughts, a hormonal imbalance or many other things. This is why your doctors at Bambú Clinic ask you about your sleep at every visit. It is a key indicator of your overall health.
How Sleep Works…
Now, it is time to get technical. Throughout the day, your adrenal glands, which sit right on your kidneys, produce cortisol. This hormone establishes your daily rhythm-awake in the morning and sleepy at night (hopefully). In a healthy hormonal system, cortisol is high in the morning and drops off throughout the day along with your energy. Now, this is the simple version because cortisol is also affected by your meals through blood sugar and by stress. For now, we will ignore these additional influences and just look at the big picture, cortisol peaks when you wake up and declines through the day.
Another hormone, melatonin, made in your brain, comes into play as the sun goes down signaling the time to fall asleep. As the melatonin rises in response to a signal from a receptor in your eyes which senses fading light, cortisol is at its lowest point and you should be falling off to sleep. Once you are headed off to “night-night,” the body begins to produce a third hormone in more significant levels. growth hormone. This is the biochemical responsible for the beneficial effects of deep sleep. Growth hormone reduces inflammation, heals small injuries incurred throughout the day, lowers cholesterol,
relaxes the vascular system and blood pressure, and restores healthy neurotransmitter levels. When this hormone does its job, we wake feeling rested and rejuvenated.
Unfortunately, though, growth hormone cannot coexist with cortisol. They are “antagonistic” meaning when cortisol is high, it suppresses the release/production of growth hormone. So, stress, eating at night, watching intense movies/TV, arguing before bed and challenging mental/physical work can all cause sleep problems by raising your cortisol levels. Many of the recommendations we make to improve sleep are actually meant to reduce your cortisol levels at night.
This dynamic hormonal dance explains why it is so hard to be in good hormonal and mental/emotional balance if you work night shifts. The darkness, in its effect on melatonin, plays a crucial role in good sleep. Sleeping in a room with lots of light will not suffice for the type of health restoration we are seeking. And, trying to avoid sleeping when it is dark outside will disturb your natural hormonal rhythms.
Suggestions for more restful sleep…
- Sleep in complete darkness (black out curtains and all…)
- Have a bedtime routine. Prepare yourself for winding down
- No TV within 1 hour of bedtime, instead journal, read or converse quietly with family
- Limit food and drink before bed.
- Remove all electrical devices from the bedroom (or at least from proximity with the bed) and put the clock out of view.
- Do not use a loud or shocking alarm to wake you.
- Use your bed only for sleep (…and the other thing).
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, sugar, dietary sensitivities.
- Keep your bedroom temperature below 70 degrees.
- Take a bath before bed, at least make sure your feet are comfortably warm.
- Use warming socks.
We hope you found this information helpful. We strive to help our patients find a healthy way in the world. If you have topics you’d like us to address in future issues please let us know. We are always available for questions and comments.