Written by our in-house Naturopath, Holistic Nutritionsit and Medical Herbalist Emma Gibson, from Nala Holistic.
In today’s glamorised fast-paced and full lifestyle, many of us have been led away from prioritising (let alone promoting) the quantity and quality of our sleep. And, the factors that can disrupt our natural sleep-wake cycles are on the rise.
Poor quality sleep can affect how we think and feel, how we show up to others, mental and physical performance, and in the long-game it can contribute to the development of ill health and dis-ease. In other words, sleep is critical to our mental and physical health and performance, now and cumulatively in the future… and let's be honest everything feels better when we’re sleeping well.
Read on to learn more about the sleep-wake cycle, why sleep matters, what's disrupting it, and 5 simple ways we can regulate our circadian rhythm and promote restorative rest daily.
What is the circadian rhythm?
A 24 hour rhythmic pattern that governs our sleep-wake cycle, as well as appetite, hormonal homeostasis and metabolism.
Our sleep is made up of sleep cycles. Within a sleep cycle there are 5 distinct stages; 4 that make up non-REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep, and 1 REM sleep stage. Altogether these stages take between 60-120 minutes. During a night’s sleep you’ll typically go through 4-5 of these cycles, with about 20-25% of this being REM sleep.
Why does sleep matter?
While we are sleeping, the brain and body slow down and focus primarily on rest, recovery, and repair. What happens during sleep has far-reaching effects on all of our core body processes.
Each phase has its importance, from processing memories to building emotional resilience, critical growth and repair of our cells and tissues, the brain is flushed of any residual debris, and the body systems are supported in their optimal functioning.
If you read no further - if you want to take better care of yourself and your health, start prioritising your sleep!
Key factors that govern the sleep-wake cycle and tools to optimise it:
Morning waking is largely driven by a natural increase in core body temperature, which (along with light exposure) stimulates a rise (and ideally peak) in cortisol. How can we optimise that body temperature piece? Get into cold water for 1-3minutes in the morning. This might be an ice bath, but can also just be a cold shower OR dip in a nearby body of water. Why cold? Because your body will adapt by increasing core body temperature.
LIGHT - DARK
AM: One of the most powerful things you can do to regulate your sleep-wake cycle is ensure exposure to bright natural light, first thing on waking (or at least within 30-60 minutes), for at least 5-10 minutes. This sends a clear signal to the brain to increase cortisol, essentially sets an internal timer to encourage sleepiness at the end of the day, and washes away any lingering melatonin. If you struggle getting to sleep at night, try this!
PM: It is critical we take a look at our use of backlit devices in the evenings and assess whether it is urgent or necessary to use these so close to sleep time. Backlit devices are not bright enough to elicit the same morning cortisol response above BUT they are bright enough however to disrupt your sleep if used before bed by suppressing melatonin production. Aim to turn off your devices at least 1-2 hours before you sleep.
AM: Having a nourishing morning meal, ideally protein-rich, supports your biological clock by waking up your metabolism and increasing alertness earlier in the day. Our faves are a protein powder smoothie or omelete.
PM: Eating an excessively large meal in the evening or too close to bedtime (2 hours or less) can also disrupt sleep. Aim to have your last meal at least 1-2 hours before bed. TIP! If you feel you need something after dinner, Bone Broth is a nourishing protein-rich hug in a cup, rich in the amino acids that help us produce melatonin, our sleepy hormone.
Among its many benefits, movement increases core body temperature and makes us feel more alert. Earlier in the day, this is great! Later in the day, it can delay sleep onset.
Coffee has a 5-8 hour half life, meaning that whether you feel its alertness effects or not, if you go to bed around 9.00pm and have had a coffee after 2-3pm, half of that coffee is still in your system and WILL affect the quality of your sleep. Genes, medications, and other individual differences can mean for an even slower processing time. It does this by directly interfering with your natural sleepiness substance (adenosine) in the brain.
Tip. Switch to Mitchells Digest Soothe Tea, Bone Broth Powder, or Bone Broth Protein Hot Choccy as an afternoon cuppa!