Today it is customary to go to Mr. Google to consult his opinion on any matter. Even if that matter is related to health, more and more people are tempted to check the internet instead of going to a doctor.
Thousands of years ago, solutions were sought in nature. To be able to find answers, man observed the behaviour of animals, as well as the effect that the consumption of plants had on them or on himself. The rhythms marked by nature were respected and everything flowed in a harmonious way. Today, on the other hand, we have made progress of all kinds, but harmony is scarcer than ever.
Over time, when something does not work, I have learned to stop and try to find answers in nature. Although I have never had real problems with sleep, people come to me asking for advice on the subject. So I do the same, and invite them to observe and reflect on what happens in the natural environment.
If we are designed to sleep and spend a third of our lives sleeping, it must be for something good, right?
But we strive to be Supermen and Superwomen, believing it is important and productive to keep the agenda well-loaded. We use phrases like “I’ll sleep when I die” when in fact many of us are already more dead than alive during our lives, lacking sleep and vitality.
What led us to disconnect from the biological sleep pattern?
It all started with the arrival of artificial light at the end of the nineteenth century that disconnected us from our sleep pattern, and disturbed our the circadian rhythm.
The frenetic pace of productivity-at-all-costs has only made things worse.
All human beings have a biological clock that marks rhythms and that we cannot ignore. This watch regulates our physiological functioning and our behaviour thanks to the secretion of hormones. In turn it is regulated by several factors, with light being the most important.
Our genetic code carries the information that activity should be done during the day and that the night time is for resting. However, exposure to artificial light, always constant and of low quality, seriously alters our circadian rhythm, especially sleep, hindering physical recovery and optimum health.
What happens while we sleep?
We mistakenly believe that during sleep the corporal activity diminishes but it goes on intensely:
- Stimulated by the darkness, hormones like melatonin are released, which cause sleep and in turn stimulate the secretion of human growth hormone (HGH).
- The muscles, released from tension, are relaxed and regenerated.
- Blood pressure drops.
- The heart rate decreases.
- The vessels of the skin dilate.
- The digestive system activity increases.
- Cells regenerate.
What does a good night sleep bring?
I wonder to what extent we are aware of the benefits of a good, restful sleep.
Many people are willing to buy expensive lotions and creams for their skin, try out expensive pills, do a crash diet, spend large amounts on supplements, and do sports until they fall, but incorporating healthy sleep habits seems a couple of bridges too far.
If they were told that the effects of what they seek can be achieved without moving a single finger and without spending a cent, they would not believe it.
But I believe that no drug can achieve what a restful sleep can do in just one single night:
- Improve the ability to memorize, learn and solve problems
- Promote cellular regeneration
- Accelerate physical recovery
- Improve mood
- Improve our attitude to daily stress.
- Improve athletic performance
- Raise energy levels
- Reduce the risk of falling ill (the immune system is more active at night)
What happens if you do not get enough sleep?
Each person is different, but generally, sleeping enough means sleeping at least six to seven hours a day in the summer. In winter you should add up to two more hours. Adapting to the seasonal rhythm helps regulate the functioning of the biological clock.
But what really matters is sleep quality. It’s of no use spending eight hours in a bed if you do not wake up refreshed and full of energy.
Staying up to watch the thousandth chapter of your favourite series, if you do it frequently, will end up costing you a lot.
When you choose not to get enough sleep or not to adopt healthy sleep habits, the picture is pretty bleak:
- Increase the risk of psychological illnesses such as depression.
- Cause chronic inflammation of low grade usually due to an unhealthy lifestyle. The danger of this type of inflammation is that it silently damages the tissues, the process can last for years without being noticed, and the symptoms do not appear until a loss of function occurs.
- Prevent the body from managing the oxidative stress that we live in every day.
- One study showed that I can even shrink the brain.
- Increase blood pressure.
- Increase the risk of diabetes. When you sleep very little for long periods, the body’s ability to process glucose in the blood decreases. There are studies that demonstrate that low glucose tolerance is a risk factor for diabetes type 2.
- Increase the risk of obesity. According to the studies below mentioned, performed in large populations, the relation between a sleep shorter than usual (less than 8 hours) and an increase in body mass index was observed. Reduced sleep duration was associated with changes in the hormones that control hunger; For example, levels of leptin (appetite-reducer) were low, while levels of ghrelin (appetite stimulant) were high. In addition, the less you sleep, the more time you have to eat and drink.
- And even increase the risk of mortality according to this study.
Before using drugs, it would be advisable to analyse your habits and your exposure to sunlight. This is the first step. It is very likely that with a few changes, you will notice improvement.
In the next article, I will propose many practical tips for you to try that can help you get more sleep and/or better quality of sleep.
In the meantime, learn from nature, but above all, do not lose the rhythm!
And now tell me, what is your biggest challenge when it comes to sleeping keeping up with nature?
Van Cauter E. et al. (2007): Impact of sleep and sleep loss on neuroendocrine and metabolic function. Hormone Research 67:2-9
Knutson K.L. et al. (2007): The metabolic consequences of sleep deprivation. Sleep Medicine Reviews 11(3):159-62