Experiencing the World Through Bleary Eyes
Have you ever felt the effects of a disrupted or poor night’s sleep? It’s not uncommon for your concentration, alertness, energy, appetite and mood to be affected the next day. In this “fog” you may find yourself driving straight past your turn off, heading to the vending machine for a 3 pm pick me up, forgetting that key item at the shops, or trailing off mid-sentence with your mind going blank…
While these days may be few and far between for some, for others who suffer with insomnia, the negative side effects unfortunately don’t stop there. Beyond reduced concentration, more serious metabolic and cardiovascular health issues can start to develop when insomnia becomes chronic. These conditions are often harder to notice or even attribute to poor sleep, as they are insidious and develop over longer periods of time.
Let’s explore the reasons why quality sleep is an essential factor for your wellbeing, and discuss natural remedies and tools you can employ to get your sleep (and health) back on track.
When Sleep Dips, Blood Sugar Rises
Whilst we can’t necessarily feel it, testing and research shows our blood sugar levels are hugely influenced by our sleep. In fact, adults reporting five hours of sleep or less per night were 2.5 times more likely to have diabetes compared to those who slept the recommended seven to eight hours per night.
Whilst the exact link between poor sleep and diabetes isn’t definitely clear, it’s suggested that sleep deprivation may lead to increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response), which goes on to negatively influence several hormonal pathways that govern our metabolism.
The Heart Aches for Sleep
This fight or flight response is also a main reason why long term sleep issues are associated with cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure and heart attack. Here, due to the physical stress poor sleep creates, the body starts to produce elevated levels of ‘stress’ hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. The corresponding side effects of this are increases in blood pressure, heart rate and contraction, increasing the risk of cardiac diseases.
This was shown in a decade long study, demonstrating five hours of sleep or less per night resulted in a 45% increased risk of heart attack. Another study found that sleep loss can activate inflammatory pathways in the body that are also linked with cardiovascular disease.
A Lack of Zzz’s Cause an Increase in Kg’s
Similarly, when it comes to weight, the more sleep loss you experience, the greater the risk of becoming overweight or obese. It appears a primary reason for this is that dysfunctional sleep increases appetite levels. Specifically, sleep loss was found to decrease levels of our appetite suppressing hormone, leptin, and increase levels of our appetite-stimulating compound, called ghrelin.
This can make us desire more food, and have more difficulty stopping eating, leading us to consume more calories than we need.
“Sleep loss was found to decrease levels of our appetite suppressing hormone, leptin, and increase levels of our appetite-stimulating compound, called ghrelin.”
Restoring Sleep, Restoring Health
It’s easy to understand why getting a good night’s sleep is so important for a healthy body! Rest assured, if your sleep needs a little TLC, there’s a multitude of natural remedies and lifestyle tools that can help restore a full and restful night’s sleep.
Here are my top four:
1. Light in the morning and darkness at night. Each of us have an inbuilt body clock, called the circadian rhythm. When you are exposed to the sun each morning, your circadian rhythm triggers the production of the stimulating hormone cortisol, and upon nightfall, triggers the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin.However, when we spend most of our time exposed to the artificial lights in our homes, on public transport, in our workplaces and/or by using electronic devices, our bodies miss these environmental queues; causing our circadian rhythm, and hence our sleep, to become disrupted.In particular, the blue light emitted from digital devices, such as phones, tablets, computers and TVs is especially stimulating to your body. This blue light convinces your brain it’s day time and that it is appropriate to be awake and alert! However, many of us use these devices into the evening, which is the exact time we should be winding down and exposing ourselves to gentler lighting, so we can encourage our melatonin to rise and sleep to come easily.Therefore, increasing your exposure to sunlight in the early morning and throughout your day, using candles or yellow/orange coloured lighting in the evening, and turning off the digital devices at least an hour before bedtime will all help to restore your body’s natural, sleep-promoting circadian rhythm.
2. Magnesium can reduce muscle tightness, helping the body relax into a more restful sleep, which is especially useful after a busy day. This vital mineral can also reduce cortisol and increase melatonin levels, and has shown to support the onset of deep sleep cycles, which are essential for your sleep to be restorative and healing.
3. Lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidant nutrients known as carotenoids are found naturally within the eye. Supplementing with these can help the eyes to filter and offset the negative effects of blue light, and further improve your circadian rhythm and sleep quality by increasing the production of melatonin in the eye.
4. California poppy. This herb has a long history of being used as a sedative in traditional herbal medicine, with modern research confirming it works via increasing the activity of our principle calming neurotransmitter, called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). A great antidote for those times you feel too stimulated or stressed to sleep, this herb can be used to help calm your mind and body heading into bedtime.
“Increasing your exposure to sunlight in the early morning and throughout your day, using candles or yellow/orange coloured lighting in the evening, and turning off the digital devices at least an hour before bedtime will all help to restore your body’s natural, sleep-promoting circadian rhythm.”
Let’s Get Sleepy
Whilst ongoing sleep dysfunction can increase the risk of developing conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, addressing disruptions to your circadian rhythm will re-establish healthy sleep patterns, having many positive effects on your long-term health. Use the supplemental and lifestyle suggestions shared above to get started, and consider talking to a Practitioner for a holistic plan tailored specifically for getting your sleep back on track. Your blood sugar, heart and waistline will thank you!
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