"Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that 40 percent of Americans get less than five hours of sleep, and 75 percent suffer from some form of sleep disorder."
You may or may not be familiar with the term "circadian rhythm", and how important it is to your life and your health. Have you ever noticed that you tend to feel more awake OR more sleepy at certain times of the day, every day like clock work? Well you can thank YOUR circadian rhythm for that, yes we all have it... Your circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock controlled by a portion of your brain called the hypothalamus.
In fact, it has so much control that it is in charge of our sleeping and eating patterns, it manages the timing and secretion of important hormones, and cellular repair and regeneration all based off it's 24-hour sleep/ wake cycle. These days it has become very easy to disrupt our circadian rhythm and these very intricate processes that help us to stay happy, healthy and fit.
It can be deeply impacted by late nights or late shifts at work, caffeine, a poor diet, inconsistent sleep and wake times, sleep aids, alcohol, jet lag, and digital stimulation before bed.
We are all guilty of it... who has ever scrolled through their phone, social media, returned texts or emails from bed? Everyone raise your hand. That artificial / blue light, especially from your phones or tablets right before bed is one of the easiest and worst ways to drastically effect your delicate circadian rhythm. Lets think for a second about how powerful LIGHT can be. For example: X-rays and radiation... really these are just different forms of light, but these powerful lights are also able to scan and see through a human body. We also know that in excess these are not good for us, so how can it be good to stare at a phone screen in bed after dark?
EMF (electromagnetic) forms of light have shown to have a direct effect on human physiology and are believed to be a driver in disease, cancer, autoimmunity, hashimotos etc...
You see when the sun sets, our circadian rhythm cues our body to get ready for bed by increasing the sleep hormone (and main antioxidant) called melatonin into the bloodstream. Melatonin helps you get to sleep faster and get more restful sleep, which also increases overall immune function. By exposing ourselves to artificial / blue light late at night or even just after the sun sets we absorb this light through our eyes and skin, we confuse and trick our body into thinking it is light out and we end up blunting our night time processes and melatonin production. When these artificial lights enter our bodies it greatly effects our sleep, metabolism, hormone levels, it also blocks and inhibits pathways AND studies have shown there to be a huge correlation between disruption in melatonin production and cancer. Yikes!!
Okay now I have scared you... (I didn't mean to sorry), so now I am going to save your life!!! Well maybe not save your life (a bit dramatic) BUT I am going to help you improve your sleep and help you get more aligned with your circadian rhythm and sync it to the earth's light and dark cycles that we were evolutionarily supposed to inherit.
Your routine is really important. We must relearn the basics of human evolution...
Sleep in a cool, dark room. Keep your room below 70 degrees fahrenheit. Get black out curtains if you have light coming in your window from the outside. If you hold your hand six inches away from your face and can see it then it is too light in your room. Any light that enters your room may be negatively impacting your sleep and melatonin production.
Awaken near sunrise, try to expose yourself to NATURAL blue light from the sun as soon as possible upon waking. This will elevate serotonin and cortisol levels to help you feel energized and ready to take on the day. Try to step outside in the natural light barefoot, and expose as much skin as you can without getting arrested. This might sound silly but it is part of our genetic make up that we have gotten away from. UV light from the sun is actually not even a concern until after 10 a.m. and the natural sun light will jump start your hormones in the morning.
Try to go to bed shortly after the sun sets and get 8-9+ hours of sleep per night, (more important in the winter due to the amount of dark time).
If you have a hard time going to sleep try removing all digital stimulation 1-2 hours before desired bed time. Put your phone on airplane mode and in another room, away from the bed. In fact remove or unplug all electronics and technology from around your head and body. Radiation, need I say more?
Use a battery operated alarm clock, one of the worst things you can do is wake from sleep and expose your eyes immediately to the blue light of your phone screen. So important.
If you must stay up working late or studying look into blue blocking glasses, they can be purchased on Amazon for under $20. Wear them while looking unto screens after dark. You can also change most computer screens to "amber" setting which does not eliminate the blue light effects but does help.
Do not fight sleepiness, if you feel it coming on... go to bed, and turn off lights and technology.
Only eat when it is light out, eat a protein loaded breakfast in the morning and stop eating by the time it gets dark. This really speaks to your circadian rhythm and has been known to be a fantastic way for people to lose weight. Yes I am talking to you late night snackers! :)
Hopefully now you better understand the importance of quality sleep, and how to obtain it.
A good sleep routine can significantly improve your health, metabolism, immune system, hormone function, performance, and sleep also activates the release of HGH (human growth hormone) which helps you burn body fat.
Sleep is the time for rest and repair of your body, organs and all systems so that you can perform at your best in every aspect of life. This down time is even used by bacterial populations in your gut to reset and repair your microbiome. A healthy gut is vital in maintaining a healthy life and fighting off / preventing disease and inflammation.
"All disease begins in the gut." -Hipocrates
I hope you found this helpful, and maybe you discovered something you could be doing that is impacting your sleep. If so please feel free to leave a comment. I would love to hear from you and I hope the next time we speak you tell me how well rested you are.