ARE YOU GETTING TO BED ON TIME?
Light Sunshine = Cortisol release = Daytime activities.
Figure 1: Natural sleep/wake cycle.
As the sun rises, our cortisol levels also rise and peak around 6 - 9 a.m. (Figure 1). They then drop a little but remain high through midday, supporting daily activities. In the afternoon, cortisol levels begin dropping significantly, especially as the sun goes down. Decreasing cortisol levels allow the release of melatonin and increase levels of growth and repair hormones. If we follow our natural sleep cycles, we start winding down as the sun sets and should fall asleep by about 10 p.m. Physical repairs mostly take place when the body is asleep, between about 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. After 2 a.m. the immune/repair energies are more focused on psyche (mental) repair, which lasts until we awaken.
Disrupted Sleep/Wake Cycles
Figure 2 shows what happens if cortisol levels elevated above normal by internal or external stressors. The continual release of stress hormones may be a great idea for a mountain climber who is climbing hard to avoid a storm and is with a climb or freeze situation, but you don't want this response to be an everyday occurrence. Further, a brightly lit house, late night TV and working into the evening will keep the levels of stress hormones high past sundown. Fluorescent lighting and computer screens flicker on and off between 60 and 120 cycles per second, which your brain interprets as morning sunlight. Since cortisol can take hours to clear from your blood stream, this will prevent the normal release of melatonin and growth/immune hormones, cutting into your immune system's valuable repair time.
If you go to bed after midnight you've already missed over two hours of your physical repair cycle, which, as I said above, should start around 10 p.m. People working the graveyard shift or parents getting up in the middle of the night regularly have their psychogenic repair cycle disrupted. Such people commonly have a laundry list of nagging musculoskeletal injuries, an increased incidence of headaches, a sagging personality and even neurogical disorders.
A disrupted sleep/wake cycle can also result in adrenal fatigue. The adrenal glands are located atop the kidneys and produce hormones called glucocorticoids, of which cortisol is one. Chronic exposure to stress and light at night requires the adrenals to produce more cortisol than is normal. Excessive production of cortisol leads to adrenal fatigue, which presents itself in any number of ways, including chronic fatigue syndrome, viral infections, bacterial and fungal infections and headaches. In order to overcome adrenal fatigue, it's very important to respect your natural circadian rhythm and allow your adrenals to rest.
Factors That Can Disrupt Your Sleep/Wake Cycles
What do you do for a pick-me-up when you ae tired? Most people reach for something sweet, drink a beverage containing caffeine or smoke a cigarette. Some will have coffee with sugar addedâ€”while they smoke! Caffeine, sugar and tobacco are all stimulants, which excite your sympathetic nervous system (your fight or flight response). This triggers the release of (you guessed it!) cortisol! Remember, cortisol tells your brain that it's time to get up in the morning or that it's time for action!
The most popular form of caffeine is coffee. An eight ounce cup of strong coffee contains about 300 mg of caffeine. Caffeine has a half-life of about six hours. So, if you have coffee at 3 p.m., you'll still have 150 milligrams (mg) of caffeine in your blood stream at 9 p.m. Six hours later, well into the psychogenic repair cycle of immune function, you'll have 75 mg of caffeine stimulating your adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Ideally, you should not drink anything containing caffeine after lunch and throughout the evening.
One teaspoon of sugar has been shown to suppress your immune system for as long as four hours. When you consider that the average can of soda contains ten teaspoons of sugar, or that the average breakfast cereal is comprised of between 46% and 53%sugar, you can see how easily sugar finds its way into your diet.
A diet that does not match your metabolic type typically results in large fluctuations of blood sugar levels. Blood sugar levels elevate after eating, triggering the release of insulin to break down and store the blood sugar. This often results in an overcompensation response, which in turn leads to a blood sugar low. Unfortunately, your brain considers low blood sugar to be a dire emergency, a major stressor. Stress hormones are released to counterbalance the condition by triggering the liver to release stored glycogen, which elevates blood sugar. Meanwhile, most people feel the effects of low blood sugar, and, before their liver can do its job, they have another sweet snack or caffeine to keep them going. This cycle keeps cortisol levels high, preventing the body from winding down in the evening and getting a good night's sleep.
2. Electromagnetic pollution
Unless you regularly sleep in a cave miles away from human civilization, you are probably exposed to low frequency electromagnetic energies. Power lines, electrical circuits in your walls, ceilings and floors and electrical appliances such as electric blankets and TVs all emit such energies. This electromagnetic pollution can disrupt natural sleep/wake cycles.
Physiologists and medical doctors have found that you can be entrained, or synchronized to a dysfunctional schedule in as little as 7-21 days. This means that if you stay up until midnight for 1-3 weeks in a row, your internal body clock will become trained to wait until midnight to start reducing cortisol output and increasing melatonin production. Just because you didn't start the physical repair on time doesn't mean it's going to get jammed in. Your natural rhythms will automatically begin the psychogenic repair around 2 a.m., thus robbing your body of two good hours of physical repair. If your body gets used to going to bed late and you then decide to get to bed earlier one night, you'll probably find you have a hard time falling asleep at 10:30 p.m. Now you're faced with the task of entraining your system to release your sleepy-time chemicals early enough so that you can get to sleep on time for a full cycle of physical repair.
For some this is difficult. We live in a world where it's easy to move from one time zone to another just a few hours of travel. Some people find that their physiological rhythms, including their sleep wake rhythms, are synchronized to the rise and fall of the sun in the time zone where they were born brought up. This may be completely different from the place that they currently live. If you're suffering from chronic conditions or pain, and if you have difficulty adjusting to the natural sleep/wake cycle of the place where you live, you may have to return to the time zone where you were born and spent your early years to get better.
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