Continuing our discussion on sleep this week, let’s look at some of the issues that come with our modern day conveniences. We are dark deprived and need to sleep in a dark environment to produce melatonin. (Melatonin is a hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle). When we use our computers/i-pads/ i-phones within 2 hours before bed, we cause a drop in our melatonin. This reduces our REM sleep cycle – which, if you recall from last week, is important for our emotional networks and vital to life. For a better night of rest, and a healthier mind, eliminate tech from the bedroom!
Seriously, a nice dark room is important. For some context, up until the 1980s, continual bright lighting was used in the neonatal units (NICU). When they finally decided to start turning down the lights for night, infants had a 50% improvement in oxygenation. They also got healthier quicker, leaving the NICU 2.5 weeks earlier.
If you already have a nice dark room, but find yourself lying there, staring into the void, it may be time to look at your stress levels. We are all stressed. It is part of our culture to burn ourselves out all day, stay up late, get up early. Relaxing is seen as a luxury….or just being lazy. However, stress can lead to an increased production of cortisol. If you never find a way to relax, you have persistently high levels of cortisol. This can lead to difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. There are ways to combat this such as behavioral therapy, meditation, and other forms of stress reduction. If you find that you are waking up in the middle of the night, your cortisol levels still may be spiking. You can consider a trial of Phosphatidylserine 400-600mg nightly, which may reduce those night time spikes.
Your first inclination for a poor night of rest may be to reach for sleeping pills, but I would caution against it. It is masking the issue as opposed to fixing it. Sleeping pills cause an unnatural sleep. It can increase the risk of cancer and mortality. It also reduces brain plasticity, which causes a reduction in memory ability.
To revisit sleep and diet, poor sleep decreases the amount of leptin you have in your body (the hormone that tells you that you are full) and increases the amount of ghrelin (the hormone that tells you that you are hungry). After a week of poor sleep, you are at risk for pre-diabetes as your body cannot drive glucose into the muscle cells. You also will tend to reach for less healthy options. A study was conducted where subjects were divided into 2 categories: those that could sleep only 5 hours and those that could sleep as much as they wanted. These 2 groups were then brought to an unlimited buffet. The sleep deprived people ate considerably more calories and much more junk food (such as pizza and ice cream) than there well rested counterparts.
Stay tuned next week for part 4 on our sleep discussion.
-Brooke Rieth NP