Do you think you are getting the right sleep? How long do you sleep at night? What time do you fall asleep? What time do you awake? Do you feel refreshed when you awake? Do you wake up throughout the night? These are all questions concerning the type of sleep you get, and are questions I would ask you as a Doctor of Chiropractic (yes even chiropractors have been trained in this realm).
The quality and even the quantity of sleep you get allows your body time to repair itself. You may think, why would I need to repair? Every single one of us needs time to repair every night from the onslaught of chemicals we are bombarded with, from the exercise we do, from poor posture, from the free radicals that are produced, from trauma, from any numbers of things that happen throughout the day that we see or we do not see. Our bodies are constantly in need of killing off cancer cells, old cells, non-functioning cells. If we give our bodies the rest, sleep, nutrition, and care that our bodies need we are able to optimally repair. If we chose to go down a road that does not give our bodies what they need, we may start to have problems in different body systems.
What does the right kind of sleep mean?
The right sleep means what your body requires. This is different from person to person. So the standard you need 8 hours a night may not apply to everyone. And what your body requires can change from from day to day. Are you going through a stressful period in your life? You may require more sleep. Are you exercising and eating nutritiously? You may need less sleep than normal. Listen to your body. Try to give it what it asks for.
At what time do you go to sleep?
I have had conversations with many people regarding sleep and this seems to be a confusion area. Most people believe that you can go to sleep whenever, day or night, and if you get the right amount it should not affect you. This is not typically true. Our bodies function on a circadian rhythm. This means that the physiological processes that occur in our bodies are timed according to the sun. And it normally happens every day with the stage of the sun at the same time.
When we awake in the morning (without the use of an alarm clock), we are awaking because our adrenal glands (small glands that sit on top of our kidneys) release a substantial amount of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol in our bloodstream makes us alert. In a normal functioning body, cortisol is highest in the morning, and lowest when we fall asleep at night. When the sun ceases to shine, our body moves towards a state where we do not release cortisol, but instead release another hormone called melatonin. Melatonin makes us sleepy. This all happens because of the stage of the sun via our nerve receptors in our eyes. When we receive light through our eyes, our brains are stimulated in a way that tells the adrenal glands to release cortisol. And when we no longer receive light,our brains are stimulated in a way that tells our pineal gland (located in our brain) to release melatonin.
If the sun no longer shines, and we become tired, it is normal to allow this tired feeling (from melatonin) to help us fall asleep. Have you ever vacationed on an island? Typically you will go to bed earlier, because there are not many ambiant lights, as opposed to the city where it is easier to stay up later (light bulbs help keep us awake at night). But many of us will fight this urge, and move past the melatonin rush, staying awake for as long as possible. Or we may have jobs that force us to stay up all night and sleep during the day. The more we make ignoring a hormonal rush to sleep or stay awake a habit, our bodies start to fall into a state where we become dysfunctional.
Typically what we will see, as doctors who analyze this sort of thing, is that the timing of the release of cortisol becomes abnormal. This can perpetuate a lack of sleep, since our bodies are no longer given the same cues of when to sleep and when to arise. Some people may start to rely on coffee to awake in the morning, and may even drink it throughout the day to stay away. If we have a poor diet on top of this situation, there will be inflammation in our intestines. Inflammation in our intestines causes our adrenal glands to release cortisol to dampen the ‘fire’. And perhaps even a stressful job on top. Eventually, our adrenal glands will fatigue, not being able to produce adequate cortisol to control the issue.
Fatigued adrenals glands can cause our thyroids to not work properly, which will lower your energy levels even more. You may start to see more fat on your abdomen, or in other places. You may start to have trouble losing weight.
I recommend trying to go to sleep around 10 pm each night. This is around the time you should be getting tired (maybe you are tired earlier or slightly later – remember listen to your body). Even if you cannot fall asleep right away, give your body the conditions it needs to rest. 10 pm is usually considered the bedtime for those who are trying to rehabilitate their adrenals.
What are the right conditions to sleep?
As we talked about above, our bodies function on a circadian rhythm. So the lack of light is conducive to sleep.
1. No light in your bedroom.
If you have an alarm clock that shines light at your face, turn it away and put a dimmer on. If you have light coming in from your window, get black out curtains. If you are watching a TV in bed, turn it off at 10pm. No light helps your body know that it is time to sleep. Ambiant will stimulate your brain and trick you into staying awake.
2. No stimulants past 2pm.
2pm is just a guideline. You have to figure out when the latest is you can have caffeine and still be able to fall asleep at night. Some people can only have it in the morning, some can have it later. If you are drinking it all day long, I would recommend stopping around this time and allowing your blood stream to clear, so that at night there will be no remaining caffeine to keep you awake. This includes coffee, tea, energy drinks, chocolate, or anything else that has caffeine in it. (If you want to see a real change, I recommend omitting coffee and other stimulants completely. The one stimulant that we usually do not see negative affects in the adrenal glands is green tea, so this may be your substitute.)
3. Comfortable, yet firm enough mattress.
Everyone’s preference is different on this. Whatever yours is, you should have a mattress that you do not wake up feeling pain in. Remember, you spend a good amount of your time in bed, so don’t go cheap here. Test out some different mattresses and find one you like. Same goes for pillows.
4. If you work night shift, it may be in your interest to find another job, or change shifts. Working at night when your body wants to secrete melatonin to sleep will disrupt the natural circadian rhythm of your body and will ultimately affect your health and fitness.
5. If you can wake up without an alarm clock, do so. If you need one, try to wake up to something gentle. Let’s face it, it’s just more comfortable the more naturally we wake up.
How does not getting proper sleep affect my fitness?
Remember when we talked about cortisol above? Too much cortisol floating around actually decreases the amount of anabolic hormones our body makes. Anabolic means building and testosterone would be included in this. If you are looking to get into shape, testosterone helps define your muscles and burn fat. Too much cortisol gets in the way of this process. Hence you may put on belly fat and it may be harder for you to lose weight. And you may not have adequate energy to workout. If these things are happening, there is an issue.
How do I find out if I have an issue?
The best way I know how is to change these lifestyle habits, and see a qualified health care practitioner. My recommendation for a health care practitioner is one who practices ‘functional medicine‘. They will analyze your bloodwork and find out what is actually happening. To test cortisol, it will be a spit test, where you spit into different vials throughout the day. This type of analysis does not happen at a typical doctor, they need to practice functional medicine.
It is possible to reverse these conditions with lifestyle changes such as proper sleep, anti-inflammatory eating, and specific nutritional supplements that support anti-inflammation ( and omega 3s) and adrenal health. It all depends on exactly what is going on inside of you. And we are all different. It is easiest to have this guidance through one of the above doctors.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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