April 6th, 2011 by Digestive Detective
When I meet with clients for the first time and go over a basic health questionnaire, one area of health that few ever consider but inevitably feel challenged with is their sleep. Commonly I hear complaints of getting too little sleep, having trouble falling asleep, waking in the middle of the night, or rising in the morning feeling unrefreshed. Any of these situations inevitably lead to the someone reaching for help in the form of caffeine (lots of it) just to make it through the day. I've heard stories of client's that were so sleep-deprived through the week that by week's end when they got home from work and sat down to relax, they woke up in that spot fully-dressed at 2am in the morning! Sound familiar? If you are anything like these folks (or the majority of Americans), sleep is one area that should be a top priority in improving your health & well-being.
Emerging research is showing the correlation between sleep and disease with poor quality, untimely, and insufficient rest being a contributing risk factor. Just recently, after a thorough review of current scientific evidence, an expert working group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization (WHO), concluded that shift work involving disruption to the circadian rhythm is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The circadin rhythm is our body's innate biological rhtym for sleep/wake cycles. Sleep researcher Barbara Hobbs, PhD, RN, CNAA, BC, explained that working at night alters normal sleep activity patterns and suppresses production of the hormone melatonin. As the sun goes down and it gets dark, melatonin levels normally increase in preparation for sleep. The body does not generate as much melatonin if the lights are on.
“Melatonin has a property that helps prevent cancer,” Hobbs said. “When you don’t have high enough levels, it allows your body to be more at risk for cancer.” Too much light at night was found to increase breast cancer by inhibiting melatonin in a study by the American National Cancer Institute.
Many individuals opt to supplement with melatonin in order to gain it's preventative and sleep-enhancing effects. This is a safe and relatively inexpensive way to help boost melatonin in your body, but as with any supplements, the key should be to first create the lifestyle and environment that enables optimal melatonin within your own body. Cortisol is a stress-hormone that is triggered by light and helps us in activity throughout the day. As the day progresses and the sun goes down, cortisol levels in the body should lower as melatonin levels rise. Chronic stress (mental/emotional, physical, nutritional, environmental, chemical) will elevate cortisol outside of what our bodies need and as a result, inhibit melatonin production. The first step in enhancing your body's own production of melatonin is to identify the various stressors in your life and one-by-one, address each to produce a more favorable internal hormonal environment.
If you are having problems sleeping, the National Sleep Foundation suggests the following to naturally boost melatonin levels and improve your sleep:
- Set and stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same times each day.
- Expose yourself to bright light in the morning and avoid it at night. Exposure to bright morning light energizes us and prepares us for a productive day. Alternatively, dim your lights when it's close to bedtime.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise in the morning can help you get the light exposure you need to set your biological clock. Avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime if you are having problems sleeping.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Allow enough time to wind down and relax before going to bed.
- Create a cool, comfortable sleeping environment that is free of distractions. If you're finding that entertainment or work-related communications are creating anxiety, remove these distractions from your bedroom.
- Treat your bed as your sanctuary from the stresses of the day. If you find yourself still lying awake after 20 minutes or so, get up and do something relaxing in dim light until you are sleepy.
- Keep a "worry book" next to your bed. If you wake up because of worries, write them down with an action plan, and forget about them until morning.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages, chocolate and tobacco at night. Avoid large meals and beverages right before bedtime.
- No nightcaps. Drinking alcohol before bed can rob you of deep sleep and can cause you to wake up too early.
- Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, ask your doctor or pharmacist if your medications might be contributing to your sleep problem.
- No late-afternoon or evening naps, unless you work nights. If you must nap, keep it under 45 minutes and before 3:00 pm. For the complete summary of findings and profile of sleepy connected Americans.
Medical expert T.S. Wiley notes, "Too much television viewing and electronics, like laptops, incorrectly resets the body clock which prohibits normal sleep habits. In her book, "Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival", Wiley notes that most Americans do not get enough dark sleep as they should. She recommends the follwoing steps:
- "Going to bed earlier"
- "Turning the television off at 9:00PM. Better yet, take it out of the bedroom".
- "Sleep as many hours as you can without getting fired and/or divorced".
- "Always get up as close to dawn as possible".
Get more insight into better sleep and it's role in metabolism, fat storage and overall immunity by getting your own copy of "Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival" here: