Time To Go To Sleep
If you’re becoming too familiar with reruns of 70’s shows at 3:00 in the morning, then here are some fascinating facts that might get you sleeping until the morning alarm. Sleep is one of the most crucial elements of health, physical and mental well-being. Without sleep, we would go insane. But how can we sleep if our mind is racing, our muscles are tense, we are in pain or we are emotionally distraught. Worry, worry, worry and before we know it, the clock says 4:00... So let’s learn a bit about sleep and pay less attention to the cracks in the ceiling.
Sleep begins with the pineal gland which is a small pea-sized gland that sits directly in the center of your head just above the roof of your mouth. It secretes the hormone melatonin to regulate our sleep cycle and our body’s biological clock. Light enters the eyes and stimulates the photoreceptors, which eventually increases norepinephrine in the blood stream, which inhibits the release of melatonin, which wakes you up. In darkness, norepinephrine is reduced which stimulates the release of melatonin, making you sleepy. So more norepinephrine, more wakefulness, less norepinephrine, less wakefulness. But sleep is a bit more complicated than that, in fact insomnia is one of the most widespread health concerns.
First of all, what you should understand about norephinephrine is that it is a biochemical of the fight or flight response. That means it tends to give you that rather anxious feeling, increase breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure and all those racing thoughts! But in addition, it can restrict blood flow to the skin which can make you feel rather chilled, so that alone can constantly wake you up during the night. It also means that during the hot weather, it may restrict perspiration, so your core body temperature will rise. This is part of the problem with night sweats and thrashing off the covers!
You also should know that Norepinephrine is actually released by the adrenal glands which sit on top of the kidneys. The adrenal glands are the one thing in the body that strongly react to emotional stress, worry, fear, panic, and just about any other emotion you can think of. They will tend to fluctuate in their function when under stress, and so we can have lower levels of norephinephrine during the day when we really need it (afternoon nap anyone?) and then have too much during the night when we don’t want it.
In fact, the majority of insomnia seems to be related to adrenal fatigue, and not just in shifting levels of norephinephrine, but also with spikes of cortisol, another adrenal hormone. Cortisol is a bit different in that it can recycle through the blood for up to 3-4 hours. During that time it will compete with progesterone, suppresses immunity and exhausts DHEA production. What this means is that you will be more anxious and may experience epic dreaming, a type of dreamstate which seems to go on forever! You even lose track of time and wake up exhausted. The lower levels of progesterone will actually make estrogen dominant, which can create all kinds of problems. Cortisol also rises after eating, particularly carbohydrates, so late-night eating of carbohydrates can prevent sleep. Also low levels of Human Growth Hormone can cause insomnia.
But let’s move on. There are a few more considerations. The Chinese discovered thousands of years ago that there is a normal cycle of energy for each organ and gland in the body. These two hour windows reflect the regenerative action of the appropriate structure, so if you are waking up every night at the same time, this may point to the underlying cause. For instance if end up staring at the clock at 2:30 every morning, then your liver may need some attention. This waking up will be matched by practically going comatose at 2:30 every afternoon as well.
And then there’s the thyroid. I know, everyone talks about the thyroid, but truthfully, you can have a slightly underactive situation that doesn’t reflect on a blood test, and still be one of the walking dead during the night. Low levels of iodine in the diet, particularly as we age, can create chronic insomnia problems. Simply adding more iodine foods into the diet such as shellfish, seaweed, beetroot, radish, parsley, potatoes and bananas can help reduce iodine-based insomnia. Also taking an organic iodine tablet at dinner can also make a huge difference, particularly with post-menopausal women. Another important consideration is removing exposure to chlorine and bromine, both of which compete with proper iodine activity in the thyroid. So eliminating chlorine from drinking water, not using any Clorox product in household cleaning and avoiding chlorinated water for swimming or bathing can all bring those sweet dreams closer.
There are also lots of old wives’ tales regarding foods and their relationship to eating. The Brits say that eating cheese at dinner will give you nightmares. Often dietary insomnia is related to your glucose metabolism. Insulin spikes during the night will cause you to wake up in order to eat to restore normal glucose levels. This can be avoided by eating a small snack before bed. I also recommend a dietary supplement for glucose balance before bed, such as inositol which also helps with anxiety. Logically you also dont’ want to be ingesting any foods that are stimulants before bed, but you may not realize that nicotine is a neurostimulant. Also anything that would require a lot of liver function to handle, such as alcohol, preservatives, or any food out of a can.
Sometimes there can be digestive issues that are related to sleep, such as indigestion, heartburn or acid reflux. Sleeping with the upper part of the body higher than the lower part of the body can make a difference with this. Something as simple as raising a couple of inches the head of the bed can do amazing things. Also avoiding spicy foods or tomatoes before bed, or anything that would normally cause heartburn.
But the one thing that works on us all through the night is energy. This unseen force can affect us in more ways than you would think possible. It’s not just the energy of the person lying next to you that can affect you, it’s the energy of the room, the movement of energy from place to place within your sleeping area, even the effect of placement of the bed in your bedroom. So here are a few Feng Shui tips: First, never have anything that hangs over your bed, and if there are beams in the ceiling, paint them the same color as the ceiling in order to minimize their energetic action. Second, make sure that the head of the bed is flat against a wall and that the foot of the bed does not face the exit door of the room. Do not have more than a couple of electrical devices in your bedroom, such as end table lamps. Each device emits electrical energy, and the smaller the room, the stronger that is and its effect on you. I had one couple completely remove all electrical devices from their bedroom as a test, and they slept through the night for the first time in years. So don’t underestimate the effect of energy!
So try one thing at a time to find your sleep solution. Once you have a plan to enhance your sleep patterns, be sure to try it for at least two weeks in order to give your body enough time to power up its’ sleep cycle. Then if it doesn’t work, move on to the next likely suspect. But remember that often you can have more than one thing that is affecting your sleep. And don’t forget the most obvious issues like your mattress, your pillow, noisy neighbors, frightened children, hungry pets or your snoring partner.
There are always natural options for sleep, so check out the next installment of Time To Go To Sleep...