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Less sleep than ever before

As a population we are all sleeping less now than ever before. 31% of us are sleeping less than 6 hours per night and 69% of people have insufficient sleep. The problem isn’t just that we are waking up earlier; much of the issue has to do with when we choose to go to sleep and how we decide to do so.

When you consider that we started using fire 1.8 million years ago, our evolutionary biology had time to adapt to the extra light at night the fire emitted, but it is just under 100 years since the electrical light bulb came into existence, changing our sleep patterns forever. The invention of television, computer screens and other electronic smart devices then changed everything regarding our sleep patterns, sleep cues and seasonal changes and this in turn affects our biology and biochemistry.

The contrast of daylight and night is more important than most people realise. The darkness in our lives from sleep synchronises our biochemistry for healing, weight gain or loss, vitamin A & D production, as well as fertility. The amount of sleep dictates to the body the seasons – the more sleep we get indicates winter time and the less sleep we get indicates summer.

Lack of sleep impacts health

Many of us are night owls, and our bedtimes get later and later as time goes by. We often hear of many people boasting that they can live off only three or four hours sleep per night. That might be good for late night productivity, but it’s all too common that they feel less alert first thing the next morning. What they also don’t realise is that a lack of sleep has a significant impact on their health. We have not adapted to the extra light and screen time and sleepless nights. When we spend time with a blue-light-emitting device, we are, in essence, postponing the signal to our brain that tells it that it’s time to go to sleep.

Some of us are well aware of what lack of quality sleep can do, as you may have experienced symptoms like decreased coordination, judgment is lost, a foggy brain, a down regulated immune system so you may experience colds, flus, a sniffily nose or even a headache and additionally, the bodies biochemistry changes. When we don’t get quality sleep we change the body’s night and day circadian rhythms, thus seasonal adjustments, which can impact many facets of our health.

Summer signalled the abundance of daylight and food and the body stored additional fat to prepare itself for fertility. Women became pregnant in the summer and then gave birth in the spring when food was once again readily available after the lean winter months (in nature this still happens). When the sun went down they slept, as that stops the production of serotonin and increases the production of melatonin (the sleeping, healing hormone). There were no artificial lights shining in eyes to summon the production of serotonin and the stopping of melatonin, only the sun coming up signalled this. However these days it would be nothing for someone to wake in the middle of the night to check their phone or go to the toilet and put on the light, thus changing the body’s biochemistry.

Did you know that just 10 minutes of sunshine a day is enough for the body to produce all the vitamin D it needs for health. However, without at least eight hours of full darkness no matter how much sunlight you get there will never be enough Vitamin D produced.

At the end of the day, if a person is sleep deprived, their immune system will never reach its full potential. Sleep is so important for healing and it’s FREE!

Tips for a good night’s sleep

The following factors may need to be considered to get a good night sleep.

  • Make sure your room is dark—it should be near pitch black as this allows your circadian rhythms to get back in sync with their natural rhythms. Make sure you have no lights, dimmers, bright clocks or streetlights shining near or around your bedroom. If your blinds or curtains let in any light, cover them with a blanket to block it out.
  • Do not eat late, if you are eating meat or fish then consume these at least three hours before bedtime.
  • Don’t consume too much food or too little or no food, as either can impact the quality of your sleep.
  • Aim to get to bed by 10 pm as the two to three hours sleep before midnight is much more important than the time you get after midnight.
  • Do not consume stimulating drinks after lunchtime; instead drink calming herbal teas especially winding down to bed (but not too much so you don’t have the need to wake in the middle of the night to go to the toilet).
  • Screens, smart phones, bright lights all interfere with the body’s ability to sleep and for the brain to turn off—keep all screens out of the bedroom and try to stop using them at least two hours before bed.
  • Alcohol can interfere with sleep; try a month of no alcohol to see how much better you sleep.
  • Don’t eat chocolate or sugary sweets late into the night or before you go to bed, as these can also be stimulating and start an addicting habit.
  • A diet rich in real foods rather than refined and packaged foods will ensure your body is functioning well in order to get a good night’s sleep.
  • Cotton sheets and cotton night cloths are best for sleep. A natural cloth will not irritate the skin and keep you awake.
  • Appropriate bedding for the seasons is also important so that you don’t over heat or get too cold.
  • Try meditation before bed.
  • Look at your medication side effects as many of them impair the restorative value of sleep.
  • Have a bath with Epsom or magnesium salts for 15-20 minutes each night. 
  • avender oil rubbed onto the soles of your feet before bedtime also works wonders.
  • Is your bedroom filled with EMFs? Such as your laptop, iPad, kindle, mobile phone, electric blanket, radio or alarm clock etc. If so remove immediately as current research is finding they have negative effects on our bodies and our sleeping cues and patterns.
  • If you would like to learn more about EMFs and how to protect yourself from the damage they can cause, please follow this link to begin educating yourself: http://www.buildingbiology.com.au/index.php/Biology/Electromagnetic-Fields.html
  • Begin increasing your exposure to sunlight by walking in the morning or on your lunch break and reduce your exposure to electrical lighting at night. This will begin to turn your internal clock and sleep times back and make it easier to wake and be alert in the morning.
  • Go camping regularly without any technology and use sunlight and camp fire as your only source of lighting to get your bodies circadian rhythms back on track. Check out our blog ‘Try Camping to Reset Your Body Clock’ to find out more.

Happy Changing Habits, 

Cyndi

Cyndi O'Meara

Cyndi O'Meara

Founder at Changing Habits
Not your typical nutritionist, Cyndi disagrees with low-fat, low-calorie diets, believes chocolate can be good for you and thinks cheating and eating yummy food is an important part of a well-balanced diet. Cyndi must be doing something right because she maintains a healthy weight and has never (in her whole life!) taken an antibiotic, pain-killer or any other form of medication. Cyndi is a passionate, determined and knowledgeable speaker on health issues and uses her education and experience to help others improve their quality of life so they too can enjoy greater health and longer lives.
Cyndi O'Meara
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