We all know what it is like to be jet lagged, or feel sleep deprived and how rubbish we feel. We just cannot respond as well as we should, and experience cravings for comfort food and sweet things. Well, it turns out there is a good reason as the body repairs itself whilst we sleep. See the problem if we continually skimp and prioritise other things?

According to TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine each system, organ, tissue, cell has a specified hour for self repair. If you continually wake at the same time every night, it could be your body's way of telling you something is not quite right. For example, the liver cleanses the blood and performs a myriad of functions for detoxification between 1 and 3.a.m. This is when the Qi is drawn inwards to facilitate this task. When one organ is at its peak energy, the organ at the opposite side of the clock, 12 hours away, is at its lowest point. For example, between 1-3 A.M. the liver should be operating at its peak, meanwhile, the small intestine (the organ responsible for the absorption and assimilation of many key nutrients) is at its weakest. Which is why, eating food late at night is not a good idea. Neither the liver nor the small intestine are able to function properly; the small intestine is not able to draw on all the available resources for digestion and is hampering those that are being utilised by the liver. Neither is a winner, we are left with poor detoxification and poorly digested food.

Science proves sleep is imperative for a healthy functioning body and to maintain cognitive function. Studies have proven how accidents are so much more frequent when we are sleep deprived. Whilst many of us appear to survive on a few hours, the recommended amount is between 7 - 9 hours.Although as we age we may choose to sleep for the same hours but split throughout the day.

Less than 7 hours sleep is equivalent to being a smoker or drinking excess alcohol:

  • It leads to to overeating, as the hormone that signals you are full is blunted by lack of sleep

  • triggers hunger

  • proteins accumulate in the brain which may cause dementia

  • the brain stops making new memories

  • in teenagers it is linked to schizophrenia & depression

  • just one night of 5 hours or less reduces production of NK cells that reduce cancer by 70%

  • less than 6 hours increases your blood pressure, with a greater risk of heart attack or stroke

  • If you are male it affects your virility

During sleep, the brain moves through various different stages; one of these stages is rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During this phase, the eyes move rapidly in all directions. The other four phases are referred to as non-REM (NREM) sleep. Most dreams occur during REM, which is believed to play a vital part in mood, memory and learning. REM should occur several times throughout the night. The first phase usually lasts about 10 minutes with each stage becoming progressively longer. The final phase lasts for up to an hour. During REM sleep, our brain is almost as active as when we are awake, breathing can become fast and irregular and it is thought memories are consolidated, dreams may also be very vivid. Alcohol before bed reduces the amount of REM sleep. This may impact both physical and emotional health which suffer from a lack of REM sleep.

NREM sleep occurs in 4 phases and lasts for around 2 hours, however as we age it can reduce to only 30 minutes. The 3rd phase (previously known as the 3rd and 4th phase) is when the body repairs, regrows tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system. It is also known as slow-wave sleep (SWS), the sleeper is unresponsive to the environment and most stimuli cause no reaction. If you happen to be woken during this stage you will feel especially dopey and confused for a couple of minutes, maybe affecting your mood all day. Another dreamless stage of sleep, it is actually the most likely time for sleepwalking to occur.

Sleep hygiene - If you have trouble getting to sleep, or experience disturbed sleep you may want to take look at your bedtime routine. Sleep hygiene has never been more important as we are surrounded with blue light from the tv, mobile phone, laptop etc. The average American child has 8 appliances giving off light in their bedroom whilst they purportedly sleep!

Why is blue light bad ? Blue light interferes with our melatonin, giving the brain the impression that it is not night time, consequently interrupting the body clocks natural rhythm. This can have all sorts of repercussions, which are too long to mention here but will be addressed in future articles.

So what do we do? Establish a bedtime ritual, just as we do for our children, let the mind and body prepare itself for sleep. We need to reduce cortisol levels which are linked to stress and anxiety and should be at their peak prior to waking, enabling us to jump out of bed. Cortisol levels should then be greatly reduced at night enabling melatonin to take the stage.

Melatonin the hormone to promote sleep works on the circadian rhythm,and should increase around 2 hours before bedtime. However, its arch nemesis is blue light, which sends signals to the brain that it is still day time. If cortisol and melatonin are out of sync, a good night's sleep will be impossible which is why a night time routine is so important.

What to do:

  • Turn the tv off an hour before bed,

  • listen to calming music,

  • avoid caffeine or stimulants,

  • read a book,

  • journal,

  • meditate,

  • take a warm bath or shower - use Epsom salts in your bath, to help you relax,

  • maintain a regular bedtime and time to wake up, even at weekends,

  • try to be asleep by 11.00 pm - when the repair of bodily systems begins.

If you really do feel it is impossible to be technologically free buy orange glasses (blue blockers) to protect against the blue light, although no studies exist to prove their authenticity. Alternatively a blue light protector for your screen if you have to send emails or check your phone in bed.

If you struggle to get to sleep or suffer from disturbed sleep, it may now be a habit or anxiety or stress may be at the root of the problem. There may be certain key nutrients that may need to be increased in your diet that all have a positive influence on sleep; magnesium a muscle relaxant, also reduces cortisol, tryptophan reduces nerve action and is a precursor to melatonin, the sleep hormone. Try to include foods containing these vital nutrients and see if there is a difference.

Make friends with a healthy bedtime hygiene and sleep like a baby

Recent Posts