Shuttin’ er down, hittin’ the hay, retiring, hittin’ the sack, shut-eye, 40 winks, catching z’s, counting sheep, dead to the world, in the arms of Morpheus, sack-time, shut eye, snooze, zonk out. Whatever way you slice it, we all need it. Sleep.
Sleep is an important time in our day, if not the most important. It is a time when our body can rest and recover from the day’s events, both on a mental and physical level. If our sleep is compromised in any way then we can’t function to our potential during the day. We’ve all experienced some of the negative effects of sleep deprivation and they are not fun.
We are meant to go to sleep and awake with the sun. This is our natural sleep/wake cycle, also known as a circadian rhythm. We functioned for many years following the sun until good ol’ Edison came along and invented the light bulb. Now we can have the full light of day anytime. Anyone been to Vegas?
So what can we do to optimize sleep? The first step is to recognize what factors can disrupt our sleep/wake cycle.
- Stimulants – Coffee, tea, sugar and cigarettes. These all contain chemicals that stimulate our sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system typically jumps into action when we are in danger, also known as “fight or flight” mode.
If our body thinks we are in danger the last act it will let us do is sleep. Therefore, stimulants should be reserved to the first half of the day or optimally avoided altogether.
- Bright lights, television, and computers – In the evening when the sun goes down, the brain converts serotonin (a daytime brain chemical) into melatonin (a night-time brain chemical), which helps us stay asleep. When we are exposed to bright lights from a computer, the television, or lights themselves, we fool the brain into thinking its still daytime and thus disrupt our circadian rhythm. During the daytime stress hormones are elevated (red). During the night sleeping hormones are elevated (blue). This graph shows the normal sleep/wake cycle.
- Getting to bed late – Remember when you used to have a “bed time”? There was good reason for this. Between about 10:30pm and 2:00am our physical body repairs. Between 2:00am and 6:00am psychogenic (the brain) repair takes place. If we go to bed at 12:00am for example, we miss out on valuable physical repair time. If we wake up too early we don’t have full psychogenic recovery