Now that I’ve caught your attention, with the lure of a sleeping puppy. Let’s talk about sleep!
Have you ever wondered why an injury may not go away or doesn’t heal as quickly as you’d have thought it would have? Why do you constantly feel tired and have no energy levels?
Well one possibility may be to do with your sleep pattern and quality of sleep.
Introducing the Circadian Cycle!!
What is the Circadian Cycle?
The circadian cycle can be thought of as our internal daily body clock. It is set by the rising and setting of the sun (even though it can still continue without external cues) and many internal processes of the body are linked to this, especially the release of certain hormones i.e. cortisol and melatonin.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that responds to stressors (both good and bad). It is involved in processes such as regulating blood pressure, sugar levels, inflammation and the good old flight, fight or freeze response.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone directly related to sleep and recovery. This is the yin to cortisol’s yang in relation to sleep. Along with growth hormones, melatonin aids in the body’s ability to recover and repair.
The relationship between cortisol and melatonin is interwoven. During daylight, cortisol levels peak at its highest when the sun rises (between 6am and 9am) and starts to decrease in the afternoon, after the ‘physical exertion’ part of our day has normally taken place. When cortisol levels drop, an increase in the release of melatonin and growth hormones is seen from approximately 6pm, peaking at around 10pm through to 6am
So why is the Circadian Cycle so important, especially in relation for our body to repair and recover?
Rewind the human timeline a few hundred years and you will quickly see that we lived and worked around the rising and setting of the sun. Our bodies simply evolved to work in harmony with this. However, now that we are living in an age where we don’t really stop. Artificial light has made it possible to ignore the rules of the game. Put simply, our bodies have just not had the time to evolve to these artificial changes and we are still working off of the old blueprint. Our bodies internal functions are still working with the Circadian Cycle, but there is the potential that we are counteracting this process with an array of stimulants and inhibiting our ability to enter the ‘winding down’ phase.
So how does this impact our body’s ability to repair?
There are many processes that we go through during the sleep cycle, among these are physical and psychological repair. Now, as a general rule (and like any rules, these are occasionally broken), our physical repair normally occurs between 10pm and 2am, with our psychological repair occurring during 2am and 6am. This means that if we constantly go to bed at 11.30pm then we are losing 1 ½ hours of sleep recovery.
‘Oh’, I hear you cry, ‘I can beat the system by just waking up later, haha!’ Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work like that, as the Circadian Cycle keeps on working even without the external cues. Meaning that we lose that 1 ½ hours, whether we wake up later or not. Our bodies are simply designed to match the light cycles (sunrise/sunset), whether we realise it or not.
We live in an age of technology that has brought and is bringing many advancements. However, there is a flip side to this. Tablets, phones, computers and the like, emit a light frequency (blue light) and you guessed it, can have an impact on the system, keeping us in a state of activity.
Blue light is a stimulant that encourages the continued production of cortisol. It is the equivalent of saying ‘walkies!’ to a dog. The artificial light acts like the sun and our body reacts to this, presuming that it is the ‘real deal’ and thus keeping the cortisol levels higher than they should be – in other words, it presumes we should be in a state of activity, not rest. This means that there is a potential for the adrenal glands (where the production of cortisol occurs) to become overstimulated. Symptoms of this overactivation may include infections, extreme tiredness and headaches.
When our body should be going into a state of relaxation, it isn’t and so therefore our internal reactions become disrupted.
You can now start to see why interrupting our sleep pattern affects our ability to recover.
A quote for thought...
‘A small change at the beginning of a design process defines an entirely different product at the end.’ Jonathan Ive
Fortunately, we don’t have to act like a vampire and stay away from the sun. There are a number of small, positive changes that we can reinforce to encourage a good sleeping pattern….
Get to bed by 10.30pm at the latest and wake up between 6am-7.30am
Turn off devices that produce artificial (blue) light or at the very least, purchase some blue light protectors
Avoid stimulants such as caffeine after midday, they stay in your system for longer than you think!
Sleep in a completely darkened room
Although there may be other aspects to your daily living that may need tweaking to achieve balance, sleep is an important part to this bigger picture. Why not give the above changes a go (if you don’t already!) and see if they will have a positive impact on you!