I advocate sleep in such a big way.
Good, restorative sleep is so important for physical and mental wellbeing. It supports the immune, nervous, skeletal, hormone, detoxification and muscular systems which all impact mood, memory, cognitive function and weight management.
Essentially, sleep is everything. A critical ingredient for longevity and health.
In this blog I run through:
- The mechanisms of sleep
- The sleep cycles
- The impact of sleep on essential bodily functions
- Maintaining sleep hygiene
The mechanisms of sleep
There are two biological mechanisms that regulate your wake and sleep cycle.
The first is the Circadian Rhythm (CR), which is your natural 24-hour day/night cycle. It acts as a biological clock that regulates your daily fluctuations including body temperature, metabolism, the release of hormones and also, your sleep. The CR is influenced by environmental cues like light and temperature, so that your body naturally, without looking at the time, clocks when it needs to sleep and wake.
The second biological mechanism is Sleep-Wake Homeostasis. This homeostatic sleep drive reminds the body to sleep after a certain time has lapsed and it regulates sleep intensity. It increases the urge to sleep for every hour that one is awake and it’s responsible for one to sleep longer and more deeply after a period of sleep deprivation.
The sleep stages
In understanding the pattern of your night’s sleep, one can understand why keeping a consistent bed and wake time-cycle is essential.
One doesn’t just knock off to bed and that’s it.
During a typical night’s rest, the body goes through 90-minute cycles comprising wake, light sleep, deep sleep, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) which is then repeated.
The first 3 stages: wake, light sleep and deep sleep are considered the non-REM (non rapid eye movement) phases.
Stage 1 – WAKE: The changeover from wakefulness to sleep, which lasts a few minutes.
Stage 2 – LIGHT SLEEP: A period of light sleep before one enters deeper sleep. The body’s systems relax further, your core temperature drops and your brain activity slows. You spend about 50% of your sleep cycle in this phase.
Stage 3 – DEEP SLEEP: The period of deep sleep when your heart rate, breathing and brain waves are at their slowest. It occurs in longer periods during the first half of the night and is considered the essential part of the sleep cycle in order to feel rested and be healthy.
Stage 4 – REM SLEEP: This part of your sleep cycle is when you have vivid dreams. It normally first occurs 1.5 hours after falling asleep and then repeats as you cycle through sleep. As one ages, it’s normal to have shorter periods of REM sleep.
The impact of sleep on essential bodily functions
Sleep as a “cleaning tool”
Sleep is when your body has the chance to remove unwanted waste. Your glymphatic / waste removal system springs into action when you fall asleep, giving your brain and nervous system a good scrub, while your other body processes relax.
Sleep for renewed energy
When your glymphatic system is at work, your mitochondria grow. They are the organelles in almost every cell in your body that produce energy. Lack of sleep can lead to mitochondria dysfunction causing a decline in cellular energy, which can lead to premature ageing and ill health. Mitochondria are also involved in getting rid of dead unwanted cells, so if they don’t function properly, a buildup of toxic cells can occur.
Sleep for weight loss
Sleep directly affects the ability to lose weight. Studies demonstrate how poor sleep affects the brain’s capacity to regulate appetite and cravings, leads to high blood glucose levels and increased insulin resistance causing fat deposition inside and around the abdomen. A solid 7 – 9 hours a night is considered to be a good time frame for a healthy weight and sleep relationship.
Sleep for hormones
Quality sleep is fundamental for hormone health. There are a variety of hormones released during sleep, each with a specific role to fulfil. For example, a growth hormone is released that is key for growth and tissue repair. Ghrelin and leptin hormones are released to balance your appetite, and sleep controls levels of insulin and cortisol. Melatonin is also released to manage your sleep patterns. Likewise, hormones can also disrupt your sleep when they’re out of sync. Read my blog on how to balance hormones naturally.
Maintaining sleep hygiene
As parents, we often have a schedule to ensure good quality sleep for our kids. Yet we often don’t apply the same principles to ourselves. I believe that 8 – 9 hours of good quality sleep a night, with the same sleep and wake times, is important to receive the incredible healing benefits of sleep.
On an ideal night, your body should have enough time to go through four to five 90-minute cycles. You need consistent periods of deep sleep as well as REM time, which encourages brain activity and a sense of vitality.
There are, however, factors that interrupt these sleep cycles such as medication, stress, one’s sleep environment, one’s diet and exposure to artificial light like the blue light from digital devices. These are my tools and techniques to get the quality sleep your body needs:
- Stick to a daily sleep schedule – have a regular sleep and wake routine. And don’t try and catch up on the weekend – this isn’t good for the circadian rhythm. Sleep also controls over 600 genes, so bad sleep patterns may switch genes on and off with negative consequences.
- Optimise your circadian rhythm – get sunlight on waking to reset your melatonin, avoid artificial light and blue light screens 2 hours before sleep (it tricks your body into thinking it’s daytime), make sure your room is pitch black and cool, around 20ºC.
- Practice a calming meditative pre-bed routine.
- Learn to manage stress so there is no unwanted cortisol release.
- Remove stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, sugar and alcohol.
- Exercise regularly.
- Follow a nutritious whole food diet.
- Explore supplementing with magnesium citrate, ashwagandha, saffron and Bach Rescue Night. Studies have supported their sleep-supporting effects.
- Explore calming essential oils like lavender, frankincense, cedarwood and sandalwood.
- Don’t eat 3 – 4 hours before bedtime. It disrupts your sleep hormones, gut and blood sugar. Be disciplined and don’t eat after 7pm.
- Sleep on your right side – this helps your glymphatic system function optimally, and wakes up your vagus nerve.
- Sleep easy with a well-ventilated room and comfortable, toxin-free bedding – not only high thread count cotton linen, but invest in your pillows and mattresses too. I love Cocomat toxin-free pillows and mattresses, they’re also super comfortable.
For more on sleep, its benefits and other strategies to maximise your sleep hygiene, watch my Instagram IGTV with sleep guru Mollie McGlocklin. She is an inspiration to anyone who struggles with sleep-related problems.