INTRODUCTION: HUNGRY, EAT. TIRED, SLEEP.
Two young disciples sat under a tree meditating in hopes of learning the secrets of the universe. One was interested in harmony and the other in power.
The first disciple opened an eye to look at the other and began to brag of the greatness of his master.
Disciple 1: “My master can perform all manner of incredible feats. He can place characters on paper with gestures from a hundred paces away. What about your master?”
Disciple 2: “Yes, mine too. He does all manner of fantastic things. When he is hungry, he fills his stomach with rice. When he is tired, he closes his eyes.”
IMPORTANCE OF SLEEP
Sleep is as biologically essential as food or water and affects nearly all systems and functions of our body. This includes metabolism, immune function, mood, cognitive performance, self-awareness, and disease resistance, among others. Research shows that chronic lack of sleep and poor quality sleep increases disorders including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity. In fact, healthy adults limited to six hours a night of sleep had cognitive abilities fall sharply compared to those with eight hours of sleep. After only 4 hours of sleep, your ability to operate a motor vehicle is the same as driving with double the legal alcohol limit.
Different people require different amounts of sleep. Here are some general sleeping recommendations:
We should have 5-6 sleep cycles in a night. Each sleep cycle lasts about 90-minutes and consists of non-REM followed by REM sleep.
Non-REM sleep allows the body to repair muscles and tissues, stimulate growth and development, boost immune function, and build up energy for the next day.
REM sleep is dream time. Our brain experiences wakeful-like brainwave activity so that we can process new memories into long-term memory and consolidate new learning.
REM sleep occurs progressively longer towards the morning so multiple cycles are needed to optimize learning.
MECHANISMS OF SLEEP
Sleep can be as elusive as a dream, or as inescapable as a tsunami.
There are two key processes underlying the need to sleep.
The first is a homeostatic system that builds pressure to sleep over time awake. The more we are awake the greater the pressure is to sleep. Sleep reduces that pressure and thus promotes a propensity for wakefulness. Of course, we can interfere with the homeostatic system with such things as a coffee, allowing anxiety to take hold of us, or being carried away with excitement.
The second biological process is our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is a group of physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour pattern responding primarily to light and darkness. Physiological markers like melatonin, cortisol, and body temperature, reflect are different at each stage.
Health and wellness depend on us not interfering with these natural processes through our environmental stimuli or lifestyle choices.
HEALTHY SLEEPING LIFESTYLE HABITS
While many of us look to improve our waking life, the answer may not be in our waking rituals.
1. Expose yourself to adequate natural lighting. We are evolved in such a way to be in rhythm with the sun.
2. De-stress. Diffuse lavender oil. Meditate for a few minutes to invite serenity, peace, and calm. Say a prayer of gratitude. Cortisol, the stress hormone, will fall and reduce alertness.
3. Avoid chemicals that interfere with sleep like alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine.
4. Take a warm bath. The increase and decrease in body temperature help signal the circadian rhythm and stimulate sleep neurochemicals.
5. Turn off the TV, put away the gadgets, and turn on white noise.
HEALTHY SLEEPING NUTRITIONAL APPROACHES
Vitamin A: Studies suggest vitamin A deficiency alters brains waves in non-REM sleep causing sleep to be less restorative.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): In clinical trials, supplementation of healthy individuals that had marginal B1 deficiency improved their sleep.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Increases REM sleep and improves both quality and quantity of sleep by converting tryptophan to serotonin.
Folate & Vitamin B6: Both are cofactors for several neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin and dopamine, many of which regulate sleep patterns.
Vitamin B12: Normalizes circadian rhythms.
Magnesium: Improving magnesium status is associated with better quality sleep, mimics the action of melatonin, and alleviates insomnia due to restless leg syndrome.
Zinc & Copper: Both interact with NMDA (sleep-regulating) receptors in the brain and a higher Zn/Cu ratio is linked to longer sleep duration.
Oleic Acid: This fatty acid is a precursor of oleamide, which regulates our drive for sleep and tends to accumulate in the spinal fluid of sleep-deprived animals. Oleic acid also facilitates the absorption of vitamin A.
Live in harmony with your environment. Paying attention to your personalizing factors on how you choose to live your life, from hydration, to sensory input, to relaxation, to supplements. Sleep when you are tired and eats when you are hungry. Unclutter your life so you can more easily identify your needs.
CURRENT ISSUES IN ADOLESCENT SLEEP
Adolescents are undergoing incredible changes in their bodies and minds. They are under intensifying academic pressures and escalating social pressures. Depression tendency spikes as kids become teenagers. A great deal of money, time, and energy are poured into addressing adolescent violence, suicide, substance abuse, and unsafe sex with little to show for it. Scientists have shown that lack of sleep causes problems with mood, behavior, increases a proclivity for risky behavior, and even engenders cheating. Therefore, researchers are asking the fair question of what role can adequate sleep have in finding a solution to greater well-being for adolescents. Read more on this issue in the New York Times.