If you haven’t worked it out by now, your sleep is your force multiplier. When you get a good night’s rest it has the ability to make EVERYTHING you do the following day feel exponentially better. Or, on the contrary, sleep deprivation or a bad nights sleep has the ability to make everything feel exponentially worse. But have you ever noticed or wondered why a person who gets 8 hours sleep per night can still wake up feeling tired? What we are beginning to come to understand through research is that the quality of our sleep trumps the quantity we receive and that our sleep cycle health or circadian rhythm is sacred when it comes to receiving a quality night’s sleep.
Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioural changes that follow a daily cycle. They respond primarily to light and darkness in an organism's environment; sleeping at night and being awake during the day is an example of a light-related circadian rhythm. Our circadian rhythms help determine our sleep patterns controlling the production of melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy. It receives information about incoming light from the optic nerves, which relay information from the eyes to the brain. When there is less light, such as during night-time, the hypothalamus tells the brain to make more melatonin so you get drowsy and fall asleep easily.
However, there is another hormone that comes into play when discussing our circadian rhythm and that is cortisol, which is our body’s hormone to help combat stress or low glucose levels in our bloodstream. It's often given a bad wrap due to its negative impact on our health when we are exposed to high levels of the hormone over long periods of time. It has been linked to inducing obesity, the onset of anxiety and depression, cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
High levels of cortisol in our bloodstream, is one of the reasons why we become irritable towards our nearest and dearest and why junk food becomes so appealing when we are stressed and tired. But cortisol has another negative effect we often skip over which is the damage it can cause to our sleep cycles. As we’ve already discussed, melatonin is our 'sleep hormone’, which allows us to get that deep, blissful, rejuvenating type of sleep. Melatonin and cortisol have an inverse relationship, meaning if our cortisol levels are high throughout the day or follow an erratic pattern, it ultimately affects how we sleep at night because melatonin will remain too low to help us get the quality of sleep we deserve. High cortisol levels will inhibit the production of melatonin and can actually stop us from falling asleep.
Biologically, we are supposed to have a cortisol rhythm that naturally peaks in the morning at around 8am and then slowly decreases as the day goes on. But there are many things that we do in our daily lives to assault this natural rhythm such as hitting the snooze button on your alarm clock, drinking coffee, exercising late into the day, using blue-light screen devices in the evenings, eating too many simple carbohydrates as well as going to bed at different times each night. More and more I am hearing from my patients that they are exhausting themselves to sleep; staying up late into the evening until they literally pass out with Netflix still playing on their device next to them!
If this sounds like you, then I am willing to bet your aren’t getting that blissful, rejuvenating sleep you deserve. Make sure you read my blog ‘How To Wake Up Feeling Energized. Every Day!’ for my top tips on how to take care of your sacred sleep cycle.
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