Why is Sleep Important?

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Sleep…specifically my pillow used to be my most favorite thing to look forward to when I was in my young adulthood. It was such a serine time to just lay in bed, fall asleep and wake up feeling amazing. There was also a time when I would wake up feeling groggy and would mentally have to yank my still sleepy body to get out of bed.

When was the last time you woke up – almost jumping out of bed feeling amazing and ready to take on the day? When was the last time you fell asleep right away or rather quickly when in bed and stayed asleep all night long (without the use of medication or other sleeping aid tonics)? When was the last night you had good quality, felt amazing in the morning, slept 7-8hrs. sleep?

Do but consider what an excellent thing sleep is…that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together. 

Thomas Dekker 

Why is Sleep Important?

During sleep is the time when the body is able to repair itself – thus the better quality of sleep one allows for the better their body will function and feel. Hold back on sleep or place your body in such a position that it cannot sleep properly due to various factors (expressed later on in this article in ‘Stress, Drugs and Bad food’) and your body essentially begin to wear down (Junger, A., 2012).

As soon as your body does not get the adequate amount of good quality sleep it needs it begins to malfunction. Insulin resistance, hormonal dysregulation and increased risk of developing cancer are just a few of the issues that a sleep deprived body will face (Gedgaudas, N.T., 2011). Below is a chart that the National Sleep Foundation provides to outline how much sleep an individual requires.

National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep Duration Recommendations :

RecommendedNot recommended

Newborns

0-3 months

 

14 to 17 hours

11 to 13 hours

18 to 19 hours

Less than 11 hours

More than 19 hours

Infants

4-11 months

 

12 to 15 hours

10 to 11 hours

16 to 18 hours

Less than 10 hours

More than 18 hours

Toddlers

1-2 years

 

11 to 14 hours

9 to 10 hours

15 to 16 hours

Less than 9 hours

More than 16 hours

Preschoolers

3-5 years

 

10 to 13 hours

8 to 9 hours

14 hours

Less than 8 hours

More than 14 hours

School-aged Children

6-13 years

9 to 11 hours

7 to 8 hours

12 hours

Less than 7 hours

More than 12 hours

Teenagers

14-17 years

8 to 10 hours

7 hours

11 hours

Less than 7 hours

More than 11 hours

Young Adults

18-25 years

7 to 9 hours

6 hours

10 to 11 hours

Less than 6 hours

More than 11 hours

Adults

26-64 years

7 to 9 hours

6 hours

10 hours

Less than 6 hours

More than 10 hours

Older Adults

≥ 65 years

7 to 8 hours

5 to 6 hours

9 hours

Less than 5 hours

More than 9 hour

These are of course guidelines to sleep, there are numerous athletes for instance who may require upwards of  9-13 hr of sleep a day. Most importantly even if you are in bed for the recommended 7-9 hours for an adult if the sleep you are experiencing is not of good quality  it will not matter how long you sleep for your body will reap no benefit.

Good quality sleep should ensure the following;

  • mandates how much an individual should eat
  • regulates the speed of ones metabolism
  • manages and controls body size
  • strengthens the immune system
  • enhances creativity and intuitiveness
  • boosts one’s ability to handle and manage stress
  • increasing the ability to process and understand information
  • allowing for the capacity to learn new information
  • memory
  • control and impact genes/genetic code

(Perlmutter, D., 2013).

Good quality, rejuvenating sleep is obtained by having a balanced circadian rhythm, which also requires the body to function optimally and in equilibrium. Sleep has been shown to be a preventative measure against Alzheimer’s Disease. When one sleeps the brain allows for cerebrospinal fluid to flood into the brain and make the channels between neurons accessible, resulting in the reorganization of neural networks and storing newly learned information and experiences. During this process, Alzheimer inducing plaque is also removed from the brain (Dow, M., 2015) (Greenfield, B., 2014). 

If the cleanup of cellular garbage is not able to occur in the brain the mind will grow into a disorganized jumble. This overtime will have a negative impact on the rest of the body as it will affect the function of numerous organ systems (Greenfield, B., 2014). 

Circadian Rhythm 

The circadian rhythm is your sleep cycle. It is part of your body’s clock, informing you when the best time to sleep and wake are. However, like any other system in the body it can get out of balance. 

Regulated by hormones, its efficiency is controlled by the health of the body – if the body is out of balance so will hormone production and in turn the sleep wake cycle will not perform as it should. 

There are a few key player (hormones, neurotransmitters and amino acids) in the circadian rhythm;

Tryptophan

An essential amino acid (meaning it cannot be produced by the body and needs to be derived from the diet) that is the precursor for serotonin. It is required for normal growth as well as balancing nitrogen levels in the body. It crosses the blood-brain barrier. It is helpful in the treatment of depression, nightmares, headaches/migraines, fibromyalgia and mood swings. 

5HTP

5 HTP or oxitriptan, like tryptophan is a precursor for serotonin, however, unlike tryptophan it is just one step away from the conversion to the hormone serotonin (and eventually melatonin). It is also helpful in the treatment of depression, nightmares, headaches/migraines, fibromyalgia and mood swings. 

Serotonin

This neurotransmitter is found within the brain, intestines and blood of the body. It is created in the raphe nuclei – found at the midbrain. Its manufacturing begins when tectum (also in the midbrain) is stimulated by light (deficiency in serotonin often occurs during months when there is less sun – winter months, as well as if the individual in questions spends a large amount of time indoors). Serotonin is a precursor for melatonin, which is the essential sleep hormone. 

 

Melatonin

Secreted by the pineal gland located in the brain, this hormone is essential at regulating the circadian rhythm of the body. Good quality, healthy sleep is strongly dependant on the levels of melatonin in the body. Apart from balancing the sleep-wake cycle it is also essential in regulating  metabolic action and behaviour as well as female reproductive health. 

Melatonin is also an essential antioxidant that aids in the fight against cancer (prevention and recovery). If there any source of light in the room that an individual is sleeping in (and said individual is not wearing an eye mask) an inadequate amount of melatonin will be produced. Over time this can become a severe issue in both depleting the immune system and depriving the body of good sleep. 

Leptin

Hormone the is responsible for the coordination and regulation of hunger, metabolism and the use of food as either fuel or fat. It controls the functioning of the hypothalamus, located in the brain, which is in charge of the bodies rhythmic activities (such as the sleep-wake cycle). When the diet is high in refined sugars, carbohydrates and bad fats (such as the Standard American Diet) leptin becomes less receptive in the brain and this disrupts a many hormonal functions in the body. 

Cortisol

Best known as the stress hormone, it is essential for the health and proper functioning of the body. However, when this hormone is out of balance it can cause serious problems in the body. 

This steroid hormone is manufactured in the adrenal glands (when they become fatigued they can either over or under produce cortisol). Cortisol is essential for the strength, structure and functioning of bones, the nervous and immune systems, stress response as well as the breakdown and utilization of fats, carbs and protein in the body. 

Norepinephrine

This neurotransmitter, which is manufactured in the adrenal glands is responsible in aiding the brain in both focus and the ability to solve problems. It is also essential for it aids in the dilation of the pupils (when it gets darker) which allows for the change of serotonin into melatonin. 

When adrenals are fatigued the levels of norepinephrine are reduced. This subsequently affects the levels of melatonin and thus affects sleep quality. 

All of these hormones, neurotransmitters and amino acids need to be in perfect working order so as to reap the full benefits of a good nights rest. Where does one begin in the understanding of the sleep-wake cycle. It is important to remember that healthy sleep is reliant on melatonin stores, without them proper sleep cannot be had.  Let’s look at what a good quality sleep cycle should be like. 

When cortisol increases in the body melatonin production begins to fall. Cortisol begins to slowly build up again in the body when one is asleep until it reaches its peak, which is about the time that an individual wakes up between 6 and 10 o’clock. This is why one should feel energized, refreshed and alert when they wake up in the morning (Kharrazian, D., 2013). At this point your digestive system starts turning again – you get a natural increase of ghrelin (hunger hormone) and your heart rate increases (Greenfield, B., 2014). 

Cortisol production from that point tends to taper down (if everything is functioning optimally) until it has reached its lowest point right before bedtime. At this time several amino acids, neurotransmitters and hormones are set into gear. Norepinephrine as the day grows darker increases pupil dilation so as to allow for more light to enter into the eye. This action stimulates the conversion of serotonin into melatonin in the pineal gland (Kharrazian, D., 2013) (Dow, M., 2015). If cortisol levels are too high (as a result of stress, diet or drugs) serotonin will not be able to bind to receptors in the brain resulting in less melatonin secretion (Dow, M., 2015). Furthermore, high cortisol levels also prevent the release of growth hormone (essential for repairing the body) leading to premature aging (Holford, P., 2007).  

At around midnight is when melatonin production hits its peak, and allows leptin to enter the hypothalamus – from where it stimulates the thyroid to upregulate thyroid function. This hormone is essential for metabolism and weight control among other things (Greenfield, B., 2014) (Perlmutter, D., 2013). At this time cortisol also begins to slowly rise. When one sleeps, it is cortisol’s job to break down glycogen in the liver so as to provide the body with energy in the form of glucose (Kharrazian, D., 2013). With this action the cycle begins again, with cortisol surging around 6-10 o’clock waking the individual up and beginning a new day. 

Stress, Drugs and Bad food – turning back your C.R.Clock

Think carefully to the last day that you felt truly well, a day that did not feel the strain of fatigue. If it was this morning, or yesterday did you consume foods high in sugar, caffeine and other artificial stimulants? Such substances are incredibly stimulating and hide the feeling of fatigue – though you may need to constantly supply your body with such stimulants in order to get through your day (Fuhrman, J., 2011).

Caffeine

Although caffeine may allow you to go through life with less sleep and still function as a human to some degree, it hinders deep sleep and over time the effect speeds up the aging process and increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol (Fuhrman, J., 2011).

Negative side to caffeine

  • inhibits glucose metabolism
  • increases insulin resistance
  • advance heart disease problems
  • promotes overeating

Alcohol

Alcohol places a strain on your body, particularly your liver. There may be a grey zone of okay quantity however for the most part ‘If you don’t drink, don’t start for your health’. As your body slows down during sleep and repairs are being made alcohol can have a hand in inhibiting this activity. Moreover, instead of wake up feeling great you often wake up feeling sleepy and sluggish, perhaps even a little bit tipsy. The consumption of alcohol can also impair sleep quality often individuals either do not get enough sleep or simply not enough good quality sleep (waking up frequently at night) (Greenfield, B., 2014).

Natural Alternatives

GABA

This wonderful calming neurotransmitter can assist in making one feel a greater sense of relaxation and happiness. When GABA runs low in the body an individual can begin to feel anxious, depressed and/or tense, this over time can result in difficulty with sleeping. GABA aids in moderating breathing and heart rate to the point where the muscles can relax (Holford, P., 2007).

Recommended dosage – 500mg x 2 day

Melatonin

Although a powerful antioxidant, that aids in the fight of cancer and jet lag, if taken too often it can cause issues with the bodies production of melatonin. If this supplement works incredibly well at putting you to sleep it is a direct indicator that your body is low in melatonin stores. Further down the line, this issue can indicate that perhaps serotonin production is poor (very common with women with high estrogen) (Kharrazian, D., 2013).

This supplement is good to take if you are trying to boost your immune system or as an alternative to a sleeping pill. It is important to work on the root causes of sleeping problems instead of using a bandaid for the solution. 8 mg+ over the course of a period of four days has been shown to influence changes onto the hormone serotonin (Murray, M.T., & Pizzorno, J., 2012).

Recommended Dosage – 1-3 mg x 1 day //before bedtime

Vitamin B6 (or Potent B Complex)

A deficiency in this vitamin can result in an individual not being able to recall dreams. There can be severe strain on the nervous system as well (Holford, P., 2007). B6 is also essential for the natural secretion of melatonin in the body. Without it little to none will be produced and sleep deprivation will get worse.

Recommended Dosage – 200 mg x 1 day

Food and Drink
Milk

A glass of organic, grass fed/pastured milk can be very beneficial as a sleeping aid. Milk is a source of both B6 (required for melatonin secretion) and tryptophan (precursor to melatonin). (Holford, P., & Colson, D., 2010).

Teas

Chamomile, Valerian and Passion flower teas work wonders at placing the body in a calm, relaxing state before bed (Hoffman, D., 1990). An equal combination of Hops, Valerian, Passion Flower and Spearmint drunk throughout the day at a cup at a time is a great way to ease the body softly into a relaxed state ready for sleep (Tierra, M., 1998).

Essential Oil Blends

Herbal oil blends are wonderful to either add to a bath, place in a diffuser or lightly sprinkle onto your bed and pillow. Oils from Clary Sage, Chamomile, Lavender and Mandarin are very sleep stimulating and relaxing.

It may happen an individual has a hard time sleeping as a result of built up anxiety. If this is the case an essential oil blend with Ylang Ylang, Frankincense, Geranium, Vetiver, and Lime can relax the mind and thus the body. This will aid in bringing about sleep. It can also be either applied to a bath, in a diffuser or sprinkled onto the bed and pillow.

 
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