Sleeping less? Feeling worse? Does sleep deprivation affect our health, our healing and our well-being?
We do know that sleep deprivation affects our mood and energy, but it also affects many other aspects of health, such as: –
· Glucose intolerance, diabetes and weight gain.
· Effective liver detoxification.
· Blood pressure.
· Recovery from training.
· Behaviour in children, eg. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Research reveals that we are sleeping less than a decade ago; averaging seven hours sleep rather than eight.
Would seven and a half be a better option? I will answer that later.
In 1999 the University of Chicago examined the impact of chronic sleep deprivation on the body by measuring the rate of metabolism and the level of hormone secretion on a group of subjects.
Dr. Eve Van Cauter, Professor of Medicine and director of the study said, and I quote, “We found that the metabolic and endocrine changes resulting from significant sleep debt mimic many of the hallmarks of ageing”.
She goes on to say, ”We suspect that chronic sleep loss may not only hasten the onset, but could also increase the severity of age-related ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and memory loss”.
Chronic sleep deprivation is very stressful and results in adrenalin and cortisol release. From research of Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa, as described in his book “Brain Longevity”, we know that cortisol is a neuro-toxin, which damages the brain, causing memory loss and accelerated ageing.
(NB. Excess glucose from too much sugar and refined carbohydrates also damages the brain neurones.)
Also, we know that glucose intolerance is more common in the sleep deprived. Glucose intolerance is a pre-diabetic state and is related to brain ageing.
According to Dr. Avi Sadeh, writing in Child Development, “An hour less sleep a night can have a measurable effect on a child’s mental performance”.
ADHD-type symptoms are commonly seen in children who are sleep deprived. With some children, enlarged tonsils and adenoids upsets breathing, which in turn affects their sleep patterns, leaving them sleep deprived. This results in poorer performance at school and can be akin to ADHD.
Often the intake of dairy or wheat can result in nasal congestion and enlarged tonsils and adenoids.
In fact, I read about a Sydney Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, who was treating ADHD children and found that approximately 80% of them had enlarged tonsils or adenoids. When he removed them, their sleeping and behaviour improved. It would be far simpler and less invasive to remove the dairy and the wheat from their diet for 3-4 weeks to see if their sleep, behaviour and well-being improved.
Also, the accumulation of mucous decreases their ability to hear, resulting in poorer attention in the classroom and in the home. Naturally, it impedes their progress at school.
However, let’s return to sleep in general.
7 hours, 8 hours or 7.5 hours sleep?
Humans sleep in cycles of approximately one and a half hours. Hence, we commonly sleep for 3 cycles (4.5 hours), 4 cycles (6 hours), 5 cycles (7.5 hours), and 6 cycles (9 hours) and so on.
Each cycle has two basic facets and can be described as follows: –
1. During the first half of the cycle, we are in deep sleep and can be very difficult to wake.
2. During the second half of the cycle, we are in R.E.M. (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep or dream state. This is not as deep as the first stage, so that we are easier to awaken, but we wish to complete the dream before waking up. Hence, we don’t like being woken by a person or some form of alarm.
3. At the interval between two cycles, we are in a very light sleep mode and we can be woken easily.
This is the best moment to time your awakening, either naturally or via some form of alarm.
If you wish to get up at 6.30am, you would be wise to plan on falling asleep at 9.30pm (6 cycles), 11pm (5 cycles) or 12.30pm (4 cycles), so as to be able to waken naturally with minimum stress.
Chemistries of sleep
The main chemical that triggers the sleep cycle is melatonin. This is produced by the pineal gland and is released when it is dark.
Melatonin is made from another neuro-transmitter called serotonin, which is turn comes from an amino acid (tryptophan) from protein, which can be eaten at any part of the day, although there is good reason to consume your protein predominately at breakfast and at lunch. Your brain functions better if you feed it protein earlier in the day. The body stores the tryptophan away and then converts it into serotonin and then further into the hormone, melatonin. Carbohydrates trigger transporting of the serotonin into the brain, so having some of these in the evening meal assists your sleep chemistries.
Various vitamins and minerals drive these reactions. If you are deficient, then your sleep chemistry will be compromised. Space doesn’t allow me to list which ones are required and their appropriate doses.
Adequate exposure to the sun during the day assists serotonin to be better activated, which sets you up for the melatonin branch line, when darkness descends.
Melatonin and Health
The advantages of melatonin are far more wide-ranging than merely to press your sleep buttons.
Melatonin supervises metabolism at night and homeostasis during the day. Daily biological rhythms and sleep/wake cycles are determined by melatonin. Mice experiments demonstrate the anti-ageing affects of melatonin. When a young pineal gland is transplanted into an old mouse, they live longer. In another experiment, when melatonin was added to their nightly drinking water, their lifespan increased by about twenty percent.
Also, melatonin-fed mice showed greater resistance to disease. Additionally, melatonin has been shown to act as an anti-oxidant.
Melatonin can be purchased on the Internet.
Other factors include: –
· A regular sleep / wake routine
· An absence of stimulants in the evening (coffee, tea, cola drinks etc.)
· Stress busting exercise in the evening, but at least 2 hours before bed.
· Eating at least two hours before bed.
· Doing something relaxing before bed.
· Having a relaxed alkaline body, supplementing with the cool fat (fish oil) and the relaxing mineral (magnesium).
Many of the ingredients in “Brainfood” assist in the chemistries listed above, such as making serotonin, improving body alkalinity, assisting liver detoxification and so on.
Well, I hope that this overview on sleep assists your rest and recovery.
Jeff Cox, Foodcoach
Dip of Pharmacy