Sleep, the new miracle drug

Would you like to look younger, lose weight, have more energy and cure yourself without taking a pill, going to the gym, or dieting? Does this sound too good to be true? In fact there is one thing you can do without lifting a finger. This miracle drug is called ‘sleep’ and most people don’t get enough of it.

Sleep is the most important activity for our health. During sleep we detoxify, heal and release stress. Without adequate sleep, at least 7.5 hours, a person becomes more susceptible to a whole range of chronic illnesses. Studies have shown people who regularly experience 7.5 hours or less are more susceptible to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity!

Sleep is the most important trigger for maintaining healthy biorhythms or balance in the body. The wake/sleep cycle or circadian rhythm triggers every other biorhythm to function correctly. Our bodies are creatures of habit. Nothing happens by chance. There are literally hundreds of thousands of biochemical reactions occurring every second of every day. A complex communication system exists of nervous and glandular tissues controlling these biochemical reactions which maintain our health. Glandular and nervous tissue act like conductors of an amazing orchestra. Adequate sleep is the key to maintain balance for all these functions.

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

 ‘If you could bottle sleep then a miracle drug would be born’

 If you feel unwell, have a headache, a fever or even a hangover. What do we do? Have a sleep and 9 times out of ten we feel better. The most profound affect from sleep is healing and repair. Daily activity creates a wealth of metabolic toxins, wear and tear. We accumulate stress and emotions in our muscles. Our bodies need to eliminate the physical and emotional toxins as well as repair any damaged tissues. A good sleep will do this.

The reason we sleep is to conserve energy to be distributed into healing biochemical reactions such as repair and detoxification. When there is inadequate sleep the body does not have the time or sufficient energy to perform these functions. During sleep a hormone is produced from the pineal gland called Melatonin. Melatonin levels increase during sleep and are responsible for the sleep cycles. Interestingly melatonin is a potent antioxidant. Antioxidants protect the body and assist in the healing and detoxification process. In a study of 82000 nurses it was found those who had six hours or less of sleep each night had a significantly increased risk of breast cancer. In separate research low levels of melatonin have also been linked to breast cancer.

When we wake in the morning our level of wellbeing and feeling of being refreshed depends upon our overall vitality. The more toxins which need eliminating, the worse you will feel in the morning. Often you will not feel like eating until the body has fully eliminated the toxins released the night before. The word breakfast comes from the concept ‘Breaking the fast’. This is why lemon juice in water is a great start to the day.

The quality of sleep is also an important issue. You may be getting eight hours, yet the sleep is disturbed and irritable. The level of emotional/ mental stress plays a role here. The body can be likened to a piece of rope. During the day it is twisted and twisted with mental and emotional stress. Unless this stress is released through exercise or relaxation, the piece of rope slowly unwinds during the night leading to a disturbed sleep.

The quality of sleep applies to the level of toxicity in the body and/or reactive foods. If there are high levels of toxins needing to be eliminated or reactive foods are being consumed the body often has a restless or disturbed sleep. The reason is the release of these toxins during the night has an irritative affect on the nervous system. This leads to a disturbed sleep. Most people eating a diet high in refined sugars, stimulants and junk food will recognise this phenomenon. Children who wet the bed commonly have food intolerances or consume junk food and soft drinks during the day.

Recent research has discovered a lack of sleep increases stress hormone levels. Elevated stress hormones have multiple detrimental affects on the body. Heart attack, stroke, migraine headaches, diabetes, cancer and reduced immune function have all be linked to high stress hormone levels. Long term elevated stress hormones also reduce metabolism. Research has shown people who sleep less than 6 hours per night are more likely to be obese! So if you want to loose some weight, get a good night’s sleep.

Long term elevation of stress hormones also disrupts blood sugar balance explaining the elevation in diabetes in people who sleep less than 6 hours a night. Disrupted blood sugar levels are a contributing factor to obesity and are a contributing factor to diabetes. It is interesting to note lack of sleep increases stress hormones and increased stress reduces sleep. It can be a vicious cycle and stress management is a key element in restoring balance.

The end result of poor sleep is reduced detoxification and repair, dysregulation of blood sugar, and elevation of stress hormones. These biochemical reactions lead to increased levels of inflammatory mediators. Increased long term inflammation is the major precursor to all chronic disease, particularly cancer!! If you are not sleeping soundly for at least 7 hours a night then look at getting your life back into balance and sleep will follow. If this is impossible at the moment then here are some tips to assist with getting a good night’s sleep.

How to get a good night sleep

  1.  Massage and spa treatments can have a profound affect on reducing stress levels and encouraging healthy sleep. The Ayurvedic treatment Shirodara is an excellent remedy which induces a natural sleep in even the most hardened insomniac. Talise spa offers a range of treatments such as Shirodara to improve sleep duration and quality.
  1. Exercise is the simplest and most effective way you can get a sound nights sleep. If you have a lot of mental activity or emotional stress during the day exercise is essential to release this tension. Make certain you are exercising regularly. Exercising for at least 30 minutes everyday can help you fall asleep. Don’t exercise too close to bedtime or it may keep you awake.
  1. Listen to relaxation music or perform a guided relaxation. Stress is one of the biggest inhibitors of a healthy nights sleep.
  1. Avoid television before bed and even better remove the television from the bedroom. Television is too stimulating and disturbs the pineal gland function which is needed to produce enough melatonin for a good nights sleep.
  1. Avoid eating your evening meal too late. Sleep may come quickly however if your blood sugar falls too low you may wake up and have difficulty getting back to sleep. Avoid bedtime snacks for the same reason.
  1. Sleep in a room which is as dark as possible. Even small amounts of light can reduce the production of serotonin and melatonin. Also keep the light off when you use the bathroom.
  1. Avoid loud alarm clocks. It is stressful to be woken up suddenly. Ideally you should wake slowly with the sun rising. If this is not possible there are alarm clocks called sun alarms which slowly increase the amount of light in the room allowing the circadian rhythm to adjust.
  1. Avoid caffeine. Caffeine and other stimulants obviously can keep you awake. Some people however do not metabolise caffeine until up to six hours later so beware an afternoon coffee may be keeping you awake. Try a relaxing cup of herbal tea such as valerian, passion flower, camomile or peppermint to help with sleep.
  1. Try and go to sleep at a similar time each day. As you have learnt the body is a creature of habit. If you go to sleep every night at 10pm, your body will naturally produce serotonin and melatonin at this time even if you may not have done all the right things prior.
  1. Wear socks to bed in a cooler climate. This prevents the body getting too cold and prevents night waking. Also try and keep the temperature constant in the room to avoid overheating or cooling.
  1. Keep a journal. Recording the days events can help to eliminate any stressors and help you plan for the next days activities rather than thinking about then when going to sleep or when you wake up.
  1. Increase exposure to bright light and sunshine during the daytime. This does not mean go out in the midday sun, rather in the mornings and afternoon make sure you stand in the sun for a while. The natural sunlight enhances melatonin production of an evening and vitamin D levels which have been associated with insomnia and mood disorders when deficient.
  1. Avoid electromagnetic stress EMS. This means keep alarm clocks away from the bed, avoid heated blankets, check cabling and transformer location. EMS can affect glandular function and hence melatonin and serotonin levels.
  1. Avoid alcohol and drugs. The body needs to get into a sleep cycle naturally. Drugs and alcohol induce an unnatural sleep and become addictive. Alcohol often causes people to wake up later and not get back to sleep. Also alcohol and drugs prevent much of the healing potential of sleep as the body is dealing with the chemicals rather and detoxifying.
  1. Don’t drink fluids two hours before going to bed. This will avoid the chances of waking up to use the bathroom.
  1. Take a hot bath or shower. Water has a relaxing effect and washes away the day’s stressors. Use some essential oils proven for insomnia such as lemon balm, camomile, lavender and valerian.
  1. Keep the bed for sleeping. Avoid work and discussions which may increase your awareness.
  1. Buy a new mattress. Studies show approximately 60% people with mattresses 1-4 years old are likely to exercise the next day while on 6-8% of people with a mattress 8-10 years old. More people with newer mattresses where likely to get 7.5 hours or more sleep.

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Twitter: @jeffbutter

Jeff Butterworth B.App.Sc, N.D Chief Spa and Wellness Officer, LUX* Resorts

The past 20 years in the health and wellbeing industry as a Naturopathic Doctor has given me a lot of insight into the essential elements needed to maintain and improve vitality. Please allow me to share some of these insights into how to lead a balanced, active, healthy lifestyle.

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