Amanda Chocko, NTP
Seeking the Sandman-how to sync your natural body clock so that you can get a good night's sleep
Are you familiar with this scenario? You are exhausted from a busy day and can't wait to hit the sheets. You turn out the lights, tuck into bed and PING! You are staring at the ceiling unable to fall asleep. I know that I certainly can relate.
Now there have been numerous reasons why a good night’s sleep has evaded me over the years. One reason has been the incessant, borderline irrational chatter that enters my head around 9:30 every night (usually attributed to my sons’ latest antics).
Another reason for my sleep disruption is my husband’s snoring, which I have yet to find a cure.
But the real culprit turns out to be that my natural body clock was completely out of sync-also known as Circadian Rhythm.
THE RHYTHM DANCE
Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in our environment. This internal body clock schedules hormone secretion as well as controls digestion, blood pressure, fat utilization, appetite, mental energy, and a host of other important functions. Most importantly, circadian rhythms help to regulate our sleep cycle. It does this with the help of two hormones -Melatonin and Cortisol.
Our brain naturally produces melatonin in the evenings as daylight wanes. It tells our brains and bodies that it is time to go to sleep. It slowly declines through the night and exchanges places with cortisol which (if functioning properly) peaks at day break. Cortisol signals the body that it is time to wake up.
When your circadian rhythms are in sync, sleep is a beautiful thing. But because of exposure to artificial light and attachment to our devices, our circadian rhythms are all out of whack.
Studies show that exposure to the blue light expressed by electronic devices in the evening hours results in a 25% reduction in melatonin production. This melatonin suppression may result in difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or difficulty obtaining quality deep sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with a host of problems that include:
Loss of will power and resolve
Poor decision making/concentration/creativity
Increase risk of Obesity, Diabetes, Heart Disease, Alzheimers
Long term decrease in life expectancy
WHAT'S A GIRL TO DO?
The best way to sync your circadian rhythm is to have a consistent sleep schedule. This means tucking in at the same time every night, and waking up at the same time every morning. Even weekends.
You will also want to power down your screen time at least 60 minutes before bed time. This includes scrolling your Facebook feed and watching TV. Dimming the lights in your house will also help.
If this is not your style, I have a couple of tricks for you.
These blue blocking glasses have been my savior. They are designed to block blue light and simulate darkness. This helps to normalize our melatonin production and circadian rhythms.
I have been wearing them consistently for the last four years (much to my husbands dismay). I put them on at around 9:00 every night while watching TV or reading my Nook.
BACK TO THE LIGHT
The light that prevents us from falling asleep each night is the same light that signals our brains that it is time to wake up.
Since I do not always have natural light cascading into my bedroom every morning, I have purchased a Philips Go Light. I activate it as soon as I hit the snooze button on my alarm clock and bask in its glow for about 10 minutes before getting up. I later put it on my vanity while getting ready in the morning. And viola-alert and ready to kick butt.
Since embracing this routine of glasses before bed, blue light in the morning, I have succeeded in setting my circadian rhythms. I am ready to crash at 10:00 like clockwork (which makes me a blast at parties) and wake up naturally at 6:00 each morning (most of the time).
Now all I have to do is find a cure for my husband’s snoring.