Winding Down to Sleep

 
  Deep restorative sleep comes to those who wind down before bed.

Deep restorative sleep comes to those who wind down before bed.

BRAIN WAVES

Prior to going to bed our body shifts into sleep mode in two fundamental ways. One involves the transition of our brain waves which progress from an alert beta wave to a relaxed alpha wave. Once our head hits the pillow we gear down in a light sleep theta wave, until our body is ready to sink into a deep sleep delta wave.

During delta sleep the body releases growth hormone to re-build muscle mass and bone, activate the immune system and stimulate the growth of the brain and internal organs, among other vitally important anti-aging processes. If we stay mentally alert or emotionally aroused before bed, the slow delta brainwave of deep sleep is much harder to attain.

 

SLEEP HORMONES

The second important shift that occurs before bed is the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Melatonin works alongside cortisol to keep us synchronized to the 24-hour circadian cycle of light and dark. Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant hormone which is also confers anti-aging and cancer-protective benefits during sleep.

Melatonin begins its work in dim light, building up in our system as the darkness of night progresses, until we are sufficiently drowsy for sleeping. Melatonin release is both delayed and strongly suppressed by light hitting the retina, specifically from the blue light spectrum.

Active attention in the hour before bed allows the stress hormone cortisol to remain in our system during the night. This lowers both our growth and thyroid-stimulating hormones and leads to greater inflammation in the body over time.

 

DARKNESS

Up until the late Renaissance period the night was completely unpolluted by light, except for the low luminosity of stars, moon and candles. Biologically speaking we have not evolved at the same dramatic rate as technology. According to the 2011 American Sleep Foundation poll, 95% of the people surveyed used some type of electronic device like television, computer or cell phone most nights of the week within the hour before bed. [1]

Consuming media from electronic devices forces our brain to remain alert and while being exposed to the blue light spectrum, this prevents our brain from gearing down into alpha wave and inhibits the release of melatonin.

 

TUNED OUT, TURNED ON

Most people who watch TV or surf the web before bed claim it helps them relax and decompress from their day. While they may be able to fall asleep using this method, the question remains as to whether they are achieving deep sleep or are waking up feeling refreshed. These are important concerns that warrant deeper scientific investigation.

Night time media consumption allows the body to be in a vegetative state, while the brain remains 'turned on'. This fools our stress biology into thinking it is supposed to keep us alert. So cortisol is released into our bloodstream, when melatonin should be.

We have evolved as a species to produce peak cortisol in the early morning to stimulate alertness and readiness for action and produce peak melatonin at night to encourage drowsiness and relaxation. If we with mess with this evolutionary program for long enough, health issues will ensue, along with low grade chronic burn out.

 

SLEEP DEFICIT

In recent years scientific studies have revealed that LAN or artificial ‘Light at Night’ is a carcinogenic pollutant linked to certain types of cancers, namely breast and prostate cancer.[2]  Light at night lets us have more work and leisure time, squeezing out hours for sleep.

Since 1960 the average American sleeps 1-2 hours less each night.[3] The reality is that many of us suffer from chronic partial sleep deprivation that has cumulative long-term health risks, which include hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack and stroke.[4]

 

SLEEP HEALS

In simple terms, the body heals when we are asleep. What are we really achieving by depriving ourselves of time to wind down for a good sleep? As each of us knows, the day after a bad sleep we are in a mental fog, functioning on less energy and working less efficiently. The one to two hours before bed are better spent creating a relaxing space to be in touch with any personal concerns and finding ways to let them go as we gracefully prepare for deep sleep.

Consider a ‘device detox’ before bed for a week, turn the lights down and find a simple activity that allows you to truly relax. Make note of the difference in the quality of your sleep. Learning how to achieve deeply restorative sleep is the most effective and least expensive way to boost your energy and overcome nagging health issues. The first step toward wellness is rest!


[1] National Sleep Foundation (2011) Annual Sleep In America Poll Exploring Connections With Communications Technology and Sleep. [Press Release] Retrieved from http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/press-release/annual-sleep-america-poll-exploring-connections-communications-technology-use-

[2] University of Haifa (2010) Light At Night and Cancer [Press Release] Feldman, Rachel. Retrieved from http://newmedia-eng.haifa.ac.il/?p=3501

[3] Medscape Education (2005) The Impact of Sleep Deprivation On Hormones and Metabolism. Retrieved from http://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/502825

[4] Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research (2006) Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Colten HR, Altevogt BM, editors.Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US) Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/