We live in a sleep deprived age. Go back just a couple of hundred years and mankind lived the way they did for all their evolution – sleeping with the ebb and flow of day and night and the changing seasons. Why is it that we’ve gone from that to a multitude of sleep problems in which insomnia tops the list but also opens the doorway for so many other degenerative illnesses to get in?
The secret of sleep is starting to be unlocked by modern science. Nowadays it’s apparent that humans, like most life on Earth, don’t live in isolation from the heavens. Movements in the sky control many of our functions and one important cycle is known as Circadian Rythym. This refers to the way the Sun comes up and goes down in a pattern that varies according to the time of the year and where we are on the planet.
For those of us in Western climates, the summer days start early and run till late. By winter the Sun doesn’t come up till later and it goes down all too soon, leading to short days.
For humans, along with lots of other mammals, this triggers hormone cycles in our bodies. Sunlight touching our skin or entering our eyes makes us awaken by clearing away prolactin. Prolactin is what suspended our need to use the bathroom while we slept and is why most of us go very quickly after awaking. In the evening, the lack of light allows the serotonin created from carbohydrates eaten for dinner to be converted to melatonin, a hormone which makes us drowsy and sleepy. With enough melatonin we reach deep sleep, producing both prolactin and hGH, or Human Growth Hormone, a powerful regenerative substance that makes the difference between rejuvenating sleep or merely closed eyes.
In the modern world, we run by clocks rather than the sunlight. The sun may go down but we switch on our lights, turn on the telly or fire up the internet. Result? Our evening melatonin production gets wiped out, resulting in insomnia and restlessness. It’s actually very hard to avoid light too! Even if you didn’t turn your lights on, the street lights, car lights and ambient light from the city tends to filter in. Is this serious?
Studies would suggest yes. One Norwegian study compared cancer rates for women with varying degrees of vision. The visually impaired women were less susceptible to melatonin destruction by evening light by virtue of not absorbing the light through the eyes. This supported the hypothesis that melatonin has an anti-cancer function or effect. Further science like that exposed in the documentary Resonance shows how melatonin is a powerful player in the body’s nature systems against cancer and that damaging the levels of melatonin may be implicated in a reduced capacity to ward of cancer.
For myself, I have no cancer and long may it stay that way. Perhaps more immediately pressing is the need to sleep well so I can work hard and contribute to society. I’d also like not to age too quickly. To that ends I’ve looked into this area and what I do to promote better sleep having suffered from frequent bouts of insomnia in my younger days is this:
- Get off of the computer/mobile phone/tablet/telly at night. Switch to reading or having conversation only from at least an hour before you want to sleep. We aim to shut off these light emitting devices by 9pm most nights although sometimes we’ll go wild on a Friday night!
- Fit your bedroom with blackout curtains. These are thick curtains that sit behind your normal curtains and cut out light. I find I often have to use a hair clip to hold my curtains together to cut out all outside light otherwise it creeps in through the crack.
- Get rid of light emitting devices in the bedroom or cover them at night. No glowing alarm clocks, no mobile phones with a light that comes on while they charge, no multi sockets with LEDs. If it has to be in your room, put a thick jumper on it so no light escapes.
- Eat carbohydrates as part of your evening meal. Bananas are an especially good source of serotonin, the precursor of melatonin and these carbs will help you feel good, a further aid to good sleep.
- Do not drink caffeine after 3pm. No tea, no coffee, no cola and definitely no Red Bull! Just don’t do it to yourself. There is an initial energy rush from these drinks but later it wears off however as the caffiene passes through our colon, parts of it are reabsorbed. This can easily cause restlessness.
- Take Asphalia For Natural Sleep. This is a product made from organically grown grasses in Wales. These grasses naturally contain melatonin and so taking this supplement an hour before bedtime increases our melatonin levels. Just don’t screw it up by looking at bright lights which destroy melatonin, whether it’s from Asphalia or from your own production!
- Use an eye mask when sleeping. The eyes are the most sensitive to light so it’s no wonder that women who use eye masks regularly keep their looks for longer – it’s a habit that helps deep sleep and supports hGH production.
- Always switch off your mobile phone, wifi network and any DECT cordless phones at night. Scientific studies have shown that the EMFs from these devices interferes with melatonin and therefore sleep patterns. And besides, you’ll be asleep anyway so why waste the electricity?