Early to bed, early to rise. How getting to bed on time can have a great impact on your overall health.
“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together”, Thomas Dekker, English dramatist (1572 – 1632).
We all know how good it feels to wake up fully rested, springing out of bed fist – pumping the air thinking to ourselves ‘let’s do this!!’. It may seem arrogant on face value, but this is completely normal. The polarity tends to be more along the lines of being shaken from our warm marsh-mellowy dreams by a vibrating phone alarm, reluctantly rolling out of bed, dragging ourselves into the shower only by the bribe of that beautiful little coffee that awaits us if we can just keep it together until then. This, is not normal but, it is very common.
- Are we going to bed too late?
- Are we getting up too early?
- Is our day overloaded with stress and demands that we are in a massive debt of rest by the time the evening hits?
- Is our sleep disrupted by a myriad of factors like electro-magnetic stress?
- Or is it a little from all of the above?
One common attribute to all of these factors is stress. It is what our nervous system is feeling when we are not getting enough rest. Evolution has designed our bodies to follow a number of natural rhythms, the movement of the sun, the moon and the earth. They govern all of our hormonal rhythms, and in the most recent hundred years, our honouring of these natural cycles has veered off point and our health is suffering from it.
Traditionally our ancestors would move with the day’s rhythms; rise as the sun peeks its head, commune, hunt, gather and play by day, then rest before the darkness settles and retire for the night as the moon rises. They would also get an average of 9 hours sleep each night. These days according to a recent american study we are lucky if we can average 7 hours of sleep per night and that is not taking into account the quality of our sleep.
Given the chance, our hormones also move with the day’s rhythms, The release of our waking and ‘getting shit done’ hormones (cortisol) naturally begin at around 6 am, peak at 9 and then peter off after midday when our more restful, chilling out hormones (melatonin) kick in and bring us to a slower state and finally to complete rest. This is when all the healing re-growth and regeneration occurs, readying us for the new day to come.
However when we are in a state of internal or external stress, either by un-naturally lit homes, late nights, emotional or work related stress, our cortisol levels (stress hormones) become elevated and this is when our sleep / wake cycles become disrupted. When this pattern emerges in a typical high stress environment like we live in today, a myriad of responses occur in the body, one being adrenal fatigue, others ranging from poor blood sugar regulation, insomnia, weight gain, low libido, poor recovery from sports and injuries and the list goes on.
But what does this all mean? It means that if you are feeling low in vitality, energy, productivity and general zest for life, then sleep is one factor that is undeniably important and not a bad place to start in rectifying this. If you can be fully rested and alert, then your ability to make optimal decisions is enhanced in addition to aforementioned factors of general health.
Here are a few tips to consider to get you well rested and ultimately kicking ass!
HIT THE PILLOW BY 10PM
Our natural bodily repair cycle goes from 10pm-6am.
Our physical repair cycle runs from 10pm- 2am working on our muscles, bones, joints, tissue and organs.
Between 2am-6am is when our psychogenic cycle is in action attending to the brain, nervous and hormonal systems.
If we have an arduous physical day due to exercise or work and we are getting to bed later than 10pm, our bodies are in a catabolic state whereas it should be in bed getting stronger. It may be interesting to note that we are actually getting stronger when we rest and breaking down tissues as we exercise.
MOVE WITH THE SUN
In order to get our rhythms and hormones in a state of equilibrium a great way to start
is to move with the day’s natural cycles of light. Try to be up as the sun is rising as this is the best time to get moving, expanding out into the world. By lunchtime our energy levels and hormones (cortisol) have peaked and so should our activities and stress (in a perfect world), after lunch and moving later into the day is when we begin to wind down, taper our sugar intake, be done with coffee, and relax into the evening at a slow pace. Things such as alcohol, sugar, caffeine and false lighting can really disrupt our sleep/ wake cycle and trick our body into thinking that there is still plenty remaining in the day.
DIET AND BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS
Balance your meals appropriately. In order for our energy and blood sugar levels to stay on an even keel we must balance what is on our plate, do your best not to have coffee on an empty stomach, avoid having sweets and soft drinks after each meal. These things tend to mess with our moods and energy and often send us on a bit of a spiral that keeps us reaching for the coffee or sugar in search of energy that we are not naturally producing.
After each meal ask yourself; How is my energy? Am i full? How is my mood? How is my digestion? These answers will guide you to the best food combinations to function for optimal health and ultimately a restful sleep.
THE BEDROOM, A SACRED SPACE
Create a nice glow in your room, make it a place only for rest; no TV, laptops, work stuff hanging around, make it purely a room for zen. If you live in a shoebox, transform the space at night. Have your bedroom dimly let and a clean environment is more conducive to rest. Keep the air circulating. Being too hot or cold also has a stressful effect on the body.
Keep hydrated throughout the day, with clean spring-water or filtered water, this will aid in digestion, circulation of blood flow and energy as well and transporting nutrients through the body.
- Reduce Electro-magnetic stress: Dim the lights 2 hours before bed
- Unplug alarms and electrical devices near the bed
- Turn your phone off or on in airport mode
- Computers/laptops/TV off and out of room
All of these have the effect of tricking our body into a response that it is still day and release our waking stress hormones.
Meditation, functional exercise, Yoga – all elicit a calming effect on the nervous system. A deep session of meditation actually has the effect of a few hours of deep sleep on the body. Practicing these during the day and the more calming sessions at night have a huge impact on setting the bodies natural rhythms. Breathing exercises and body scanning visualisations also have a big effect on helping us sleep.
MAKE A TO DO LIST
If you are a busy person with a busy mind, it might be an idea at the end of a working day to write a list of tasks that are to be completed the following day, that way you won’t be laying in bed thinking of people you must remember to call or email. Have it clear in your head and then let it go. The more you can manage the more productive you will be the next day.
What we commonly see with people who are sleeping poorly and lacking energy is that they are often in a situation that is not creating happiness and fulfilment in their daily lives. If you look around and see the people who are living out their dreams and doing what makes them happy and are in positive relationships there is often a correlation with their sleeping habits. If you are sleeping poorly and are not happy with your flow at present, perhaps that is the first place to assess for change.
Like with all things, it’s a work in progress, if your sleep and energy could be better, try making small changes at first and then move onto the bigger ones. Make one small change per week and after a few months you will have made a dozen positive changes in your life!
All of the systems of our body are intimately related, so it would be unrealistic to attribute a lack of health to just one factor.
Keep things simple, eat clean, think positively, get up early and enjoy this fine human form that we have been gifted!
￼￼￼First published in North Journal