*Originally featured in the the black magazine
Good quality sleep is probably one of the most essential requirements to achieving good health along with regular exercise and healthy nutritious diet. Our sleep wake cycle, circadian rhythm, is ingrained in our human function and is driven by hormones namely cortisol and melatonin that cycle at different levels throughout the day and night.
It can often be difficult to fit in everyday activities like work, exercise, social life and family needs within the light of day, and all with the distraction of multimedia entertainment at the tips of your fingers. To then go to bed at the right time and get sufficient quality and duration of rest is an entirely different challenge. But it’s one that shouldn’t be ignored. It should be an essential part of your daily routine, offering rest and relaxation as well as hormone regulation, muscle repair time and disease prevention.
Between the hours of 10pm and 2 am your body physically heals and between 2 am and 6am psychological healing occurs. Lack of sleep within these hours has been found to be linked to weight gain, chronic disease and even psychological conditions such as depression.
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It’s not by mistake that we’ve been attuned for thousands of years to spend the darkest hours of the day resting, just how nature intended. We are genetically made up to physiologically respond to light, producing cortisol and cultivating vitamins from our abundant light source during day time hours. This is essentially your body’s natural caffeine injection, activating your body and preparing you for the day’s physical activities ahead.
On the flip side, as the sun sets the level of Cortisol production drops and thus allowing the release of melatonin and other growth and repair hormones to help your body and mind repair from a gruelling day. However; the Sun isn’t the exclusive light source in our lives, as we now have household lights and even shiny TV’s ,laptop’s and mobile phones to keep us up into the late hours.
Our body misinterprets these light emissions as daylight, a cue to continue producing Cortisol, therefore inhibiting Melatonin and other hormones for your valuable repair time.
In short, we should be resting when it’s dark and active when it’s light. You may often find yourself still awake well past nightfall, but it’s recommended that you should be asleep by 10.00pm to get a full 8 hours of rest and wake up around 6 am as the sun rises.
HOW TO GET IT RIGHT?
Getting good sleep is all about preparation and practice so it becomes habitual routine in your lifestyle. Here are 5 simple steps to helping you perfect your circadian rhythm.
Step 1 – Embrace the dark
Minimise your exposure to bright lights around two hours before bed, using a dim switch or lighting a room with lamps, candles or low wattage bulbs will move your body toward a state of sleep. Sleep in a room that has very little light. Any ‘light pollution’ could be a signal to your body to start the process of waking up.
Step 2 – Stimulus underload
Limit the amount of physical stimulus you’re subjected to just before bed, i.e using your phone and reading a book in bed will keep your mind active and unable to unwind.
Step 3 – Eat right
Trytophan rich foods such as cheese, meat, eggs nuts creates Seratonin in the body which has been shown to help improve sleep. Avoid caffeine loaded drinks after lunchtime and minimise the amount of alcohol you drink at night.
Consume smaller meals at night as eating a large meals will tax your digestive system which can affect how you sleep. Limiting the amount of fluids after 8pm will assist in eliminating bathroom trips during the night.
Step 4 – Exercise right
Exercise!! If you aren’t taking part in a regular exercise program, implement one. Taking part in physical activity has been shown to improve sleep quality. Make regular exercise part of your lifestyle whether you attend bootcamp, yoga or simply taking the dog for a walk. Choose an exercise routine that you enjoy and you will be motivated to adhere to on a regular basis.
Step 5- Mind over matter
Meditation has been shown to improve sleep quality by breaking the trail of your everyday thoughts to focus on the present and evoke a relaxation response. Meditating before heading to bed at night can help assist you wind down the days worries will add value to achieving a good night’s rest.
Written by Sandy Sher