Are you catching quality zzz’s every night and feeling refreshed each morning ready to go? Or are you on the mouse wheel of coffee to wake up in the morning and wine to wind down at night, hitting snooze repeatedly before you drag yourself out of bed?
Adopting a consistent sleep routine is one of the most important things you can do for optimal health and hormone balance and there are some simple changes you can make that are easy to implement, making a profound impact on the quality of your sleep.
First, a little lesson on the two major players in the sleep wake cycle- the hormones melatonin and cortisol. Think of melatonin as the moon and cortisol as the sun, while one is up, the other is down.
Remember our hormones are little chemical messengers that are constantly reacting and responding to our environment, what we do and even the way we think.
In response to darkness at night, the pineal gland in the brain produces melatonin which is calming and helps to put us into a restorative deep sleep. As melatonin elevates, cortisol depletes.
In response to daylight in the mornings, we ramp up cortisol production, our motivating, stimulating stress hormone. This is what gets you jumping out of bed ready to go for the day. The curve of cortisol elevation I look for on a DUTCH test around mid morning (the CAR or cortisol awakening response) also plays an important role in regulating immune activity, specifically in auto-immune disorders.
In the mornings, we are so often waking to jolting alarms, jumping in the shower and running out the door with breakfast in hand to get into the car to rush to the gym, get back in the car, to the office, back in the car and back home again. Where is the natural light exposure telling our brains that it is daytime and to produce the right hormones and the right end of the day?
Then at the other end of the day, at night time, instead of telling our brains to start increasing melatonin production, we are exposing ourselves to artificial light, especially the blue light of device screens, which is keeping cortisol elevated. If cortisol doesn’t wind down, melatonin is going to be suppressed. Cue crappy sleep and subsequently crappy energy to follow.
When life was more simple without so much modern technology, or you may have even experienced this if you’ve taken a break from the grid and gone camping, we would have found ourselves winding down after sunset and waking up as the sun rose. We were able to be more connected to our bodies natural circadian rhythm, which, interestingly is connected to all cycles in the body including the menstrual cycle.
Now, I realise this is not a realistic routine to live by in the modern world (unless you are a 4 year old!) but technology and the demands of modern life have thrown us so far from the ideal model that it is having a hugely negative impact on our health. Quality sleep is at the core of optimal health, you simply cannot repair, rejuvenate and restore effectively without it.
So, what can you do to encourage restorative, quality sleep at night and waking refreshed with energy for the day? I am religious when it comes to sleep routines because I feel the difference particularly in my energy, productivity and mental clarity. Here are some things that I do and commonly recommend to my clients:
1. adopt a morning routine
Getting sunlight in your eyes first thing upon waking is one of the simplest things you can start with to regulate your circadian rhythm. You might like to go for a walk in the sun or sit in a sunny spot to meditate, do some breathing exercises, yoga or journalling. Some other ideas for starting the day right would be dancing/singing, listening to music or red light therapy.
2. reduce your light exposure at night
At least three hours before bed, create a dim, warm environment to start winding down. Dim the lights, use lamps or candles or you can even change to red light globes. Use the “night shift” function on your i-phone and install f.lux on your laptop. I will even connect my laptop to my TV to watch Netflix so the screen is dimmed. Another bio-hack you can implement is wearing blue blocking glasses for the hours before bed. Mine are prescription and were an optional extra but you can buy non prescription glasses relatively cheaply online.
3. make your bedroom a phone free zone
For years we have had a “no phones in the bedroom” policy in my house, and for years I have not had to use an alarm. I put my phone on charge, switch it to airplane mode and leave it in another room overnight. This is the one thing a lot of people struggle with the most because of our addiction to technology but if you make the change you will definitely notice the difference. Get yourself a battery operated alarm clock if you need it.
4. avoid stimulation at night
Stimulating conversations, using mental energy or emotional energy and watching shows that are violent or suspenseful can increase cortisol at the time we are trying to wind it down. Set boundaries and choose wisely with what you expose yourself to at night, especially in those three hours before bed.
Consistency is key, so even if you start with one thing you can commit to doing every single day, it will start to have a positive effect.
Happy sleeping 😉
Skin & Hormone Specialist Naturopath
Read about Brooke here