The Low Down On Sleep
It is not simple to be healthy, a lot goes into keeping all the mind and body’s systems operating well.
It staggers me to think of the 10 trillion odd individual cells in our body all having to do a myriad of jobs, processes and reactions to function optimally and it’s doing all that without our conscious awareness. We truly are little miracles walking around. Very complex little miracles.
One of the key pillars of good health though is good quality sleep.
Too much emphasis I believe, is placed on the aspects of diet and exercise. While these are hugely important, sleep is just as important in fact I would suggest even more important as without quality sleep you won’t benefit as much from the right diet or exercise.
You won’t respond to exercise and improve if you are not sleeping well, your nutrition can be optimal but if you aren’t sleeping it won’t be as powerful as it could be.
Understanding your body’s circadian rhythms, the phases of sleep and what is actually going on in your body when you sleep is vital if you want to optimise your performance.
In episode 153 of “Pushing the Limits”our globally top 200 ranked podcast, guest David Liow talks about the importance of a good night’s sleep. Sleep is the foundation of our self healing, it’s when our memories get consolidated, our physical body recovers, when our glymphatic system washes out the toxins that have been building up in our brain over the day and helps us process what we have experienced during waking hours.
Healing occurs in the brain when you’re asleep. As you cycle through non-REM and REM sleep, both your body and mind work hard to fix itself, to categorise and process memories and get the filing in order so to speak.
Lack of proper sleep can show itself through symptoms such as forgetfulness, loss of memory, feeling tired and wired all the time, and emotionally exhausted, can lead to mood disorders and neurotransmitter imbalances. It also messes with your hormones and your appetite regulation and your appetite regulating hormones Ghrelin and Leptin.
Additionally, you put yourself at risk for health problems such as heart disease and obesity, diabetes (did you know one night of very little sleep will cause elevated blood sugar levels) and over time can even lead to alzheimers and neurodegenerative diseases. So are you prioritising your sleep?
Light and Sleep
We have evolved as humans over milenia to follow the cues from our environment and none more so than light and dark cycles.
The light from the sun has always been a cue to get up and move and to be alert, while the dark of night is the perfect time for sleep and that isnt’ just about what is logical but about the effect that light has on our bodies, our eyes especially and the release of melatonin.
. Light, or its absence, regulates many circadian rhythms and systems of your body.
The circadian rhythm is your body’s innate way to tell time, every cell has a sort of innate clock.. Many of your body’s systems rely on this rhythm, such as the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone. These cues are meant to tell you when to sleep and when to wake. What would happen when they’re messed with?
Exposure to artificial light doesn’t let you see true light or dark. Sitting in the office all day underneath fluorescent light bulbs for example with no sunlight is not enough for daytime but is too much for night time.
It’s nothing like the natural light from the sun even on a cloudy day.
Natural light from the sun is high in blue light which helps our brain be alert during the day and distinguish daytime from night time.
The following artificial lights emit a high amount of blue light, which can wreak havoc on your circadian rhythm at night:
Computers, tablets and digital devices display screens
On the other hand, these light sources have a lower amount of blue light,
Filament light bulbs
In modern times, blue light sources are everywhere. Accessories like blue light blocking glasses or blue light filters on your gadgets and computers/phone are useful for blocking out certain frequencies of visible light. The absence of blue light stimulates the production of melatonin and encourages a good night’s rest. You can find tested blue light blocking glasses developed by Dave Liow in Lisa’s shop. A must have biohacking tool to improve your sleep and hence your health and vitality.
Your body is affected by the amount of light you perceive. While there may be no escaping the artificial lights of modern human society, it is always good to take a walk and bask in the sunlight in the early morning hours to help kick start your brain, cortisol and feelings of being alive and alert.. And at night, take a break from the digital world and enjoy the quiet peace of the dark.
Getting Good Sleep for Good Health
There are other factors that can affect your sleep. Your hormone levels and sleep disorders are also things to consider.
Melatonin is known as your sleep hormone although it’s not actually making you sleep but as Dr Matthew Walker author of “Why we Sleep” says, melatonin is like the marshall getting all the the necessary areas of the brain ready for sleep by calling them to the start of the race called sleep..
Throughout sleep, this hormone peaks in the early morning hours then drops off slowly. halfway of your REM cycle. Once you wake, melatonin levels would drop as you become alert and conscious. Melatonin tablets can be taken as sleeping aids with the guidance of an expert but caution only under medical guidance. This is a powerful hormone that needs respect.
Many people struggle with sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnoea. Managing your sleep disorder can decrease the chances of sleep disturbances. If you want to learn more about sleep disorders, check out this episode of Pushing the Limits, where Lisa and Jez Morris discuss the difficulties of sleep apnoea.
Further, the following are steps you can take to get a good night’s rest:
Setting a sleep routine
Getting the right comfortable temperature, cooler is better,
Settling in a nice, completely blacked out room
Analyzing your sleep habits
Having a hot shower or sauna before bed which signals to your brain, sleep time is coming,
Avoiding caffeine after 10am in the morning as caffeine sits on the receptor sights of adenosine. Adenosine is a compound that builds in the brain the longer you have been awake and causes “sleep pressure”. After 12 to 16 hours depending on your chronobiology the adenosine levels are high enough to make you very drowsy and sleepy but if the last 12 hours you drank coffee or had other caffeine sources the adenosine can’t sit on the adenosine receptor as caffeine is blocking it. How fast caffeine is metabolised out of your body by the Cyp1a2 gene depends on your genetic alleles. I for example have the slowest allele meaning it takes a long time for it to process out so I will be strong impacted by caffeine.
For more insights on the relationship between light and sleep and other sleep tips, listen to Pushing the Limits Episode 153: The Science of Light and Other Foundational Health Principles with David Liow.