We spend one-third of our lifespan sleeping.
Simply put, sleeping is an essential component of human survival. Scientific studies have revealed that rats deprived of sleep die within two to three weeks of continued sleep deprivation. And rats with continued sleep debt live about five months – compared to a normal lifespan of two to three years.
Unfortunately, most people maintain a casual attitude toward sleep, while others don’t sleep nearly as well as they should. People go to bed late and get up early, they toss and turn throughout the night, they wake up and can’t get back to sleep, while many just lay there, aimlessly – as the seconds, then minutes, then hours tick by.
Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most natural and effortless ways to maintain a healthy immune system. Scientific studies have observed that deep sleep (aka. low-wave, delta, or N3 sleep) during the night helps the body to fight stress, boost the immune system, detox the liver, strengthen the digestive system, improve one’s mood and memory, maintain a healthy weight, and keep one’s energy levels high.
Sleep, however, is not just about quantity; it’s also about quality. Eight hours of the “wrong” kind of sleep doesn’t begin to compare to five hours of the “right” kind of sleep. Many people – including medical professionals – ignore the fact that the deepest and most regenerative sleep occurs between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. If you are not achieving deep sleep during these hours you may wake up between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. and have trouble falling back asleep.
If your body is chronically deprived of quality deep sleep you may feel unrested and fatigued when you wake up in the mornings, experience a lagging sex drive, gain weight, or possibly be ageing prematurely. Additionally, each night of lost sleep accumulates as sleep debt. And the payment for this debt: diminished focus and performance, speed of thought, memory recall, mood swings, and a weaker immune system.
Sleep deprivation can also mimic other conditions, such as psychosis. According to WebMD, “A child who is overtired or snores loudly during sleep may display some of the same behavioral problems caused by attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”
Listening to Your Body
Humans have an internal biological clock – the pineal gland. This vital organ contributes to our circadian rhythm (CR). And the CR, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is the “physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s [in this case human] environment.”
During every 24-hour cycle, the pineal gland is constantly receiving information about the day’s time via sunlight through your eyes (which is then registered and interpreted by the optic nerves). As the sun sets the pineal gland begins to secrete a hormone, melatonin (an antioxidant), to prepare your body for sleep.
Your body produces numerous antioxidants that prevent cellular and DNA damage, and melatonin is one of them. As you sleep, melatonin scavenges for, and helps to remove free radicals that have been produced by stress throughout the day. As a super-antioxidant, it also does much more.
According to the American Cancer Society, “Melatonin has been shown to slow or stop the growth of several types of cancer cells when studied in the laboratory.”
Patients suffering from fibromyalgia have “experienced a significant reduction in their symptoms when they took melatonin,” according to the University of Maryland’s Medical Center.
Melatonin helps to maintain physical balance naturally and without any effort. All you need to do to benefit from this process is to sleep when your pineal gland sends the melatonin signal, which occurs between the hours of 10 p.m. and 12 p.m.
If you are awake past 10 p.m. and do not obtain good quality sleep, then the process of free radical elimination becomes interrupted, and your digestive system – the liver, gallbladder, pancreas and stomach – cannot detox properly. In another words, your quality of sleep can have a direct impact on all your internal organs.
Resetting Your Sleep Cycle
If you are having challenges with insomnia or poor quality of sleep, there are seven steps that you can do to help reset your sleep cycle:
1. Limit caffeine, smoking and alcohol intake. Stop drinking caffeine after 1 p.m. Caffeine disrupts your natural sleep cycle. Even drinking caffeine in the morning interrupts your sleep, because, over time, it causes a chemical shift towards a state of excitation. Caffeine taken in the second half of the day fosters an even bigger obstacle to achieving deep sleep. If you do drink coffee, try to limit your consumption to one organic cup before 1 p.m.
2. Take a daily 15-minute walk outside. Specifically, going for a stroll during sunset can greatly enhance your melatonin secretion. If you can wake up early, take 10 minutes to watch the sunrise. Your brain is able to differentiate between the setting and rising rays of the sun, both of which initiate a chain of biochemical reactions to support your natural CR cycles.
If you travel frequently, an easy way to prevent jet lag is to watch the sunset and sunrise for the first 24-48 hours after arriving at your destination.
3. Did you know that your digestion gets weaker as the day progresses? And eating a large dinner interrupts your ability to fall asleep because your body is contending between two different processes: preparing for sleep and restoration, and managing the undigested food in your stomach. Eating a light dinner at least two to three hours before 10 p.m. can significantly help to improve your sleeping patterns.
4.Try not to work on the computer or watch TV later than 8 p.m. Both of these activities are stimulating to the mind, and light from digital devices can significantly impair the secretion of melatonin. Additionally, remove the TV from your bedroom. The environment of the bedroom should reflect the activities taking place there – sleep and relaxation.
5. Avoid naps during the day until you are able to establish a healthy sleeping schedule that begins with you falling asleep by 10 p.m. If you still need a nap after moving your bedtime to ten, take a five to fifteen minute catnap. If you’re predominantly getting tired after meals, then you need to work on strengthening your digestive system by changing to a healthier diet: fewer meats and carbohydrates, cutting out dairy, and going gluten free.
6. If you suffer from frequent urination during the night (more than twice), avoid drinking any liquids after 7 p.m. This is because liquids, which are processed by the kidneys, generally get excreted within 90 minutes.
7. If you’re still having trouble sleeping, try drinking unsweetened almond milk or hemp milk. If you find that the nut-milk tastes bland, add some spices: clove, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom.
If you still are having trouble achieving good quality sleep there may be much deeper and long-term unresolved emotional and psychological issues and unmet needs that you have to address. Take some time off to relax and really think through your life. What are your goals, what is your purpose, and where do your passions lie? What will give you the drive to feel alive and energized in the morning? Knowing that you are in full control of everything that has happened to you will enlighten and empower you tremendously.