The Dark and Light Cycles - Photos by Gustavo Moreno
The importance of sleep in overall health
Understanding how sleep affects overall health is a first step needed in order to take action and change sleep habits for better.
Even a night of sleep disruption influences things we can perceive as our ability to make decision, clearly process our thoughts, reaction time and creativity slow down, humor changes, etc. We can feel exhausted and discouraged to go throughout the day.
However, we can’t necessarily perceive what is going on with us internally and with our overall health when we have fragmented sleep or sleep disruption for prolonged time.
The circadian rhythms respond predominantly to light and darkness. Sleeping while is dark and awaking during the day is a clear way to understand circadian rhythm, or the physiological changes that result in a daily cycle.
What is the circadian rhythm?
It has been scientifically studied that the circadian biological clock (the 24-hour biological clock – or circa (approximately 24-hours clock), the circadian rhythms, sleep/wake cycle or, our internal biological clock is a natural internal system that regulates almost every human physiological process including our metabolism, immune function, cell regulation, hormone production, etc.
Sleep is a complex naturally occurring process that affects the way we function and everything in our bodies, every system and type of tissue. It is crucial to proper mental, physical health, and improves quality of life, and good quality sleep is essential to survival as food and water.
While asleep, vital processes in the body are protected and restored, and recent studies suggest that it also helps removing toxins in the brain that are stored while awake.
On the other hand, disruption in the sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm) is associated to several chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart problems (high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke), obesity, depression, cancer, and increased risk of death.
Are you getting enough sleep?
Accordingto the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) the amount ofsleep needed depends on your age:
Newborn – 0-3 months – 4-17 hours
Infant – 4-12 months – 12-16 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
Toddler – 1-2 years – 11-14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
Preschool – 3-5 years – 10-13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
School Age – 6-12 years – 9-12 hours per 24 hours
Teen – 13-18 years – 8-10 hours per 24 hours
Adult – 18-60 years – 7 or more hours per night
Adult- 61-64 years – 7-9 hours per night
Adult – 65 years and older – 7-8 hours per night
Even though sleep is so important, data from CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)says that one third of the adult Americans are not getting enough sleep (7 to 9-hours) as a result of lifestyle changes and occupational factors.
In fact, sleep duration, timing, and quality are important contributors to wellness and good health, and a powerful tool to improve chronic health conditions.
So, if you have trouble sleeping, here are some important tips to optimize your sleep:
1 – Increase natural light exposure as much as possible. Go for a walk, have breakfast and lunch outdoors. Walk a dog. Organize your schedule in a way that it includes time in nature, at least 30 minutes a day to start, and in the mornings are more effective. It is well researched that natural light exposure during the day helps adjust circadian rhythms, improving quality and sleep duration.
2 – Reduce your exposure to artificial light at night. Limit the use of electronics at least 3 hours prior bedtime. Also, remove from your bedroom everything that emit light such as alarm clocks, computers, TV, etc.
3 – Change your bedroom. Create an environment that invites you to a good night sleep. Dim lights. Use blackout shades turning your bedroom as darker as possible. Buy an organic mattress, pillows, and chose good quality and nontoxic furniture. Search for a perfect temperature in your bedroom that helps you sleep. Remember that one third of our lives are spent sleeping. Make it as comfortable and pleasurable as possible.
3 – Pick the same wake-up and bed time every day and avoid daytime naps as much as you can.
4 – Limit caffeine consumption to the mornings, and seriously think about eliminating it for a month to see if it is causing you insomnia.
5 – Routinely exercise. Adequate physical activity without excesses. If possible, outdoors to increase your light exposure. Also, avoid sitting too much during the day. Keep yourself active.
6 - Eat a healthy diet (try Paleo) and adjust your macronutrients need according to your caloric daily index (how much carbohydrate, protein, and fat your body need to be optimally functioning?).
7 - Reduce or avoid alcohol consumption. According to studies alcohol affects sleep and physiological processes that occur during sleep.
8 – Routinely do stress management practices such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, etc Take a bath 10 minutes before bedtime using one cup of Epson Salt, or a warm shower to relax your muscles.
9 - Try supplementing with a low melatonin dose. A low melatonin dose may increase your own production of it. Don’t go over 1mg.
10 - By a white noise machine. It is being shown to be effective for sleep in a many different ways.
11 – If you are taking medication be informed about their side effects. Certain drugs may prevent to get into deep waves of sleep.Talk to your doctor if there are supplementation options to replace the drugs you are taking, and do changes in your lifestyle in order to balance your health. Doing that maybe you can get rid of the drugs you are using that are affecting your sleep.
12 – If you don’t see any improvement with all these tips, it is better looking for underlying health conditions. Do a sleep study and search for the root cause of your sleep disturbance.
Please, do not be overwhelmed doing so many changes in your lifestyle at once. Implement one by one these tips in your daily routine. Stick with one a week and track results.
With modern life and all the distraction, busy lives, noise, stress, information, options, etc, we need to readapt ourselves and look what our body need in order to be mastering and conquering a quality night sleep we all are design to.
So, I would love to hear from you what changes are helping you optimize your sleep and reset your circadian clock. Please, leave a comment bellow.