SLEEP: Your Day Depends On Your Night

…while your night depends on your day.

“An uninterpreted dream is like an unopened letter from God”. The Talmud.

Sleep is a pleasure and a necessity. Enjoy seven to eight hours of regularly timed, sustained sleep. If you want dependable function from your body, you must in turn provide it with consistent, supportive rituals. Wake at a similar time, go to bed at a similar time and precede sleep with a period of quiet, calm and dimmed lights.

Insomnia is defined as impaired sleep onset or impaired sleep maintenance. If worries or other stressors impair the quality of your sleep then this can lead to sustained high cortisol levels. This adrenal hormone keeps the body on red alert, less capable of relaxation and more prone to erratic energy levels and poor mental function. This significantly diminishes the protective IgA levels and other immune support factors along one of the body’s most critical sites: the small intestine. A weakened intestinal membrane or ‘leaky gut’ cannot effectively repel pathogenic invaders. Inflammatory disorders of all kinds become more likely, while the absorption of vitamins and minerals lessens (see HEALTH STORE for: How To Thwart Invaders and Build Strong Immunity).

High cortisol also encourages insulin resistance and the especially dangerous, trunkal weight gain. Alcohol is a sedative at first but if stress and cortisol are chronically high then about four hours later it stimulates the release of more cortisol, which wakes you up. In contrast regular daytime exercise can discourage excess weight (which can be hidden as visceral fat in thin people) and hormonal imbalances, while it encourages swift release into replenishing sleep. Just don’t exercise in what should be the calm of the evening.

Young people need more sleep than old; women usually need more than men. Most people require 5 cycles – about one and a half hours each – of ever deepening, uninterrupted sleep. These involve two phases: REM (when eyes move and dreaming occurs), and non-REM. This latter phase involves progressively slower brain wave activity, interspersed with ever-longer phases of active REM. People deprived of REM show increased irritability, depression, anxiety as well as greater appetite (most frequently for rapid burning forms of carbohydrates). With sufficient deprivation there are severe personality changes.

Reviewing your dreams can be like analysing a bizarre but instructive morality play. Their exaggerated images allow you to view what may be an otherwise hidden, or underestimated priority. Set aside a quiet, solitary 10 minutes each day to contemplate and process any lingering issues or concerns – or when conscious distractions have ceased, they will rise like demons in the night for your attention. Insomnia and most forms of physical and psychological discomfort are well intentioned warnings about internal issues that require your scrutiny.

Brain Repair

The brain is more than 50% fat (mostly DHA, a form of Omega 3) and thus is prone to excess oxidation – deterioration similar to when food fats go rancid. Eat top quality fats, especially Omega 3 sources such as linseed, dark fish and seafood. Omega 3 is anti-inflammatory and highly protective of the brain’s trillions of cells. Minimise all damaged fats (overheated, rancid or non-cold-pressed; see TIPS for The Fats of Life).

Sleep is a singular opportunity for the otherwise busy brain to do critical repairs. This work is accomplished by antioxidants, which are especially high in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, as well as in top vitamin E sources (nuts, seeds, and rice bran powder – see my Linseed Cereal from The Shape Diet). Sufficient minerals are needed too for achieving easy, sustained sleep and relaying nerve couriered messages necessary for supportive preliminary states such as calm and contentment. Calcium is needed to relax nerves and muscles and initially fall asleep, but if the problem is only that of waking in the night, then far more magnesium may be required. Calcium supplements – even with some, but far less magnesium – can then worsen the problem.

If the adrenals are under-functioning (fatigue and low blood pressure can be indicators) or over-functioning (excessive drive and high blood pressure are then common) then they require B vitamins – especially B5 and B6 – and vitamin C, magnesium, potassium (see TIPS for …Check Out Your Adrenals), and the overly maligned sodium and dietary cholesterol. Yes, some people are too low in healthy forms of sodium (consider seaweed, fish, miso), and cholesterol – such as found in egg yolks, organ meat, and shellfish.

Regulating Food, Light and Dark
These nutrients additionally help you manufacture serotonin: a hormone and neurotransmitter, which relays messages of happiness, calm and pain relief. The amino acid tryptophan is also needed for its production. This requires sufficient protein at each meal and snack (but not too much to tax your liver) and minimally processed carbohydrates (use legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruit and wholegrains) that slowly break down into blood sugar to sustain this fuel supply throughout your active day and the brain repairs of night.

About 95% of serotonin is produced in the small intestine so ensure good digestion from start to finish. Particularly investigate any possible food sensitivities (contact this office for an allergy test). If a food is poorly broken down then fragments escape through the gut wall. These are viewed as dangerous invaders. Your immune system defense forces and overworked adrenals rush to deal with the resulting inflammation. The adrenals also signal the liver to release stored blood sugar to manage the crisis. A brief rise in energy can occur. The sudden ‘lift’ can encourage an attraction to these foods and under stress you may eat yet more. Like heroin to an addict they can temporarily make you feel better but at long term cost.

Serotonin also helps you produce another multi-tasker melatonin, necessary for deep sleep, libido, fertility, and cancer prevention (an antioxidant, it protects your DNA 60 x more than vitamin C or E). This hormone rises with the dark of night especially between 9 and 10 pm and needs to be inhibited by the light of day. If you have sleep troubles then go out into natural light each morning. When your eyes detect increased light the pineal – a pea-sized gland in the brain – triggers serotonin production helping you to be fully awake. Regular rhythms of light and dark provide a template for the endocrine and nervous systems on how and when to awaken, sleep, regulate temperature and other functions. This is especially true for people prone to depression, or the winter blues of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

For everyone natural light is needed on the eyes (without sunglasses) to reach and regulate the pineal and the nervous system. An example of the power of these pathways is that blind children due to less hormonal activation by light are more prone to impaired growth, pubertal development, and later, thyroid dysfunction and infertility. With similar imbalance, sighted children who are regularly up late with lights on tend to enter puberty too early and become overweight.

Spending time outside (shade is fine) is important, as well as going to sleep in the dark and waking early. Cortisol is naturally released about 6 am and peaks at 8 am, so sleep after that time will be wearying rather than renewing – a common pattern with depression. Shift workers, and those who stay up late even 3 nights per week, are much more prone to hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast and prostate (while blind people have far less risk). If your sleep is poor or your adrenals in suboptimal condition due to prolonged stress, then be in bed in a thoroughly darkened room by 10 pm (you don’t have to be immediately asleep). You may have experienced being tired all day, but if you stay up past this hour your adrenals are forced into releasing a second wave of cortisol. You will get a ‘second wind’, but at cost. If the lights are on then melatonin, your natural sedative, is inhibited and unable to peak between 2 and 4 am. This worsens and deepens the depleting cycle. Dim all lights (including covering your clock radio by the bed) and avoid electronics at least 1 hour before sleep.

Your Liver and Kidneys Can Help or Hinder

By lunchtime pass on stimulants such as Caffeine (TIPS), which takes the liver 8 hours to process. Most people do not even produce the liver enzyme necessary for the efficient breakdown of caffeine. Coffee is not the only culprit. Caffeine is found in black leaf tea, ‘energy’ drinks, chocolate, soft drinks, as well as many cough, cold and other medicines. Some people are also sensitive to all types of green tea which – even if labeled “caffeine-free” – still contain caffeine-like components called methylxanthines, which likewise stimulate the nervous system (this is especially likely for the ENTHUSIAST body type; see The Shape Diet).

If your bladder still pressures you into wakefulness then avoid all beverages for 2 – 2 1/2 hours before bed. Ensure key alkaline foods, drinks, and minerals; and avoid highly acidic substances such as refined sugar; see TIPS: …Care for Your Kidneys. As further support for your energy-and-repair-generating friend the liver, do not eat too much too soon before bed. Digestion is a huge task to demand right before rest. Waking unrefreshed can be a symptom of sluggish liver function (see TIPS…Love Your Liver). Aim to have 3 hours between dinner and sleep.

Enjoy preparing and lingering over a delicious dinner. Try prawns or boiled eggs in a curry and cashew sauce, and drape this over a carrot and pumpkin mash. Accompany with a spinach, red pepper, pear and fig, micronutrient-rich salad. Follow this with calming music or a contemplative book, perhaps a relaxing bath, and snuggle up for some deeply therapeutic rest and renewal.

Maria Middlestead Reg.Clinical Nutritionist, Auckland Call Today!

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