Sleep, although a natural process, is a really complex one, not always coming “naturally”. In a well-performed musical, all the actors and actresses need to be in place, in tune, and organized for a standing ovation. The same is true for sleep, so that you, the star of the show, can feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and fully awake in the morning. There are specific physiological compounds and processes in the body involved with the sleep process that everyone should be familiar with. Here are five physiological tips for sleep, simplified, with tips on how to support them to get all the sleep benefits that are possible.
Melatonin is a sleep hormone that the human body produces, although people do supplement it with over-the-counter melatonin products. It is secreted with darkness and inhibited by light, no supplements necessary…when on a regular sleep-wake rhythm.
Sleep Tips: Dim the lights after dinner and turn off screens one hour before bedtime. Go to bed at the same time every night so melatonin release can stay on a schedule.
Adenosine is an organic compound involved in energy production in the body (the very same adenosine in ATP). During wakefulness, adenosine levels rise, inhibiting arousal and causing sleepiness. Adenosine levels decrease during sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep and feel tired throughout the day, it’s likely that your body didn’t get a chance to clear out the adenosine.
Caffeine suppresses sleepiness by competing with adenosine for receptors in the brain. This is why a crash can result when caffeine is used to supplement sleep.
Sleep Tips: Get at least eight hours of sleep every night to clear out adenosine and consume caffeine before lunch so as not to put a blindfold over fatigue. If you are tired during the day, get more sleep at night.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that rises in the early morning to wake us up and ideally lowers at night so we can sleep. It is also produced special when experiencing emotional or too much physical stress, when ill, and anytime the body needs extra energy to cope with life.
When cortisol is elevated beyond normal levels during the day, it can remain high at night, causing wakings, short sleep or insomnia. If you can’t fall asleep, stay asleep or wake up before 6am, it’s likely cortisol levels are abnormal.
Sleep Tips: Delay caffeine until after breakfast to allow cortisol levels to rise naturally in the morning. Manage stress during the day so it doesn’t show up at night. Maintain a regular sleep schedule to keep cortisol on a rhythm.
GABA is a central nervous system inhibitory transmitter that influences sleep and relaxation. In short, it is calming. Dis-regulated GABA is often rooted in lifestyle factors, epigenetics, and/or digestion.
Sleep Tips: Meditation, exercise, and certain foods (fish, eggs, walnuts, mushrooms, etc.) support GABA production.
Low core body temperature equals sound sleep. The body naturally does this, but you can enhance it or inhibit it depending on the choices you make.
Sleep Tips: Perform exercise three hours before bed or earlier if you notice it is impacting sleep. Take a hot bath before bed to raise and lower core body temperature. Keep your sleeping room temperature around 65 degrees, give or take some depending on comfort.
The human body is fascinating and so it the way it sleeps. Learning about the mechanisms behind sleep and how to work with them instead of against them can be a game-changer for health, well-being, and energy.