Love Your Brain – Part 3: Rest
Today’s lifestyle deprives us of sleep: we’re constantly busy, we’re distracted by social media and technology, and we find ourselves working late at night, only to start another day the next morning after sleeping just a few hours. Can you relate? I used to do the same, and this lead me to burnout. Not fun.
Many of my clients have very similar routines, and they don’t know how to stop this vicious cycle. When we start working together, we replace bad habits with a new positive habit little by little. At first, they can’t believe that, by sleeping more, they can create more time for family, work, and for themselves, but this is simply how our body works. We are not machines, if we want to recharge, we can only do it by disconnecting and resting.
Being able to sleep between 6-8 hours every night allows your brain to recharge, and you will be more productive the next day. No need for coffee to increase your energy and to meet your deadlines, you already have the resources you need to feel energetic and vibrant, they’re all in your body!
Sleep is not only a resting phase (as many think). Sleep is also a restorative phase in our daily life: it’s needed to encode memory, to keep our immune system strong, to reduce inflammatory levels in our body and in our brain, and to cleanse and repair our cells just to mention some of its benefits. Thanks to the glymphatic system, the brain flushes out toxins that build up during the day. Isn’t that brilliant? Our brain is such an amazing organ …
The secret to wellness lies in the circadian rhythm. This is our internal clock that regulates our sleep-wake cycle every 24 hours or so, and it’s instrumental to keep our body (and brain) in tune. It tells us when it’s time to sleep and to wake up, and it also regulates hormone release, body temperature, digestion, blood pressure, and more.
For instance, poor sleep is associated with a decreased level of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin, two hormones that control appetite (leptin tells your brain when you’re full, ghrelin tells your brain when you need to eat). If you add increased levels of stress hormones and increased resistance to insulin when you don’t sleep enough, you can see how this process might contribute to weight gain (and prevent you from losing weight despite a healthy diet and regular exercise).
How the sleep-wake cycle works
When the evening (dark) comes, the eye’s retina sends a signal to our brain that it’s time to rest. This signal initiates our body’s physiological process to get ready for a good night’s sleep. Your muscles begin to relax, you start feeling sleepy, and your body temperature drops. Melatonin production (a potent antioxidant hormone that is involved with sleep) is increased and its levels keep rising through the night, then they fall during the early morning. That’s when the eye’s retina detects light and sends a new signal to the brain that it’s time to wake up. When that happens, cortisol production is increased, and this gives us the energy that we need for the day. Cortisol levels will slowly fall during the day, and another cycle will start in the evening.
A disrupted sleep-wake cycle (either caused by sleep deprivation or working night shifts), unfortunately, is very common – more than you think. This can cause dangerous consequences, in the long run. It can increase stress levels, it can negatively impact your immune system (and you may be more prone to getting sick), it can increase high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, and more.
How to improve your sleep
- Regular cycles of light and dark are critical to our health and well-being, and movement during the day can help improve your sleep at night. However, don’t exercise later in the evening: this may cause problems falling asleep because it’s a stimulating activity
- If you drink coffee or tea, make sure you stop in the early afternoon. Caffeine produces an excitatory effect, and you should stay away from it at least 6-8 hours before bedtime
- Relaxation techniques can also help, either during the day or before sleep time: try yoga, breathing exercises, or meditation
- If you need to work at the computer late in the night, install Flux. This wonderful tool changes the screen color based on your time zone to adjust/tint with red as the day progresses. If you have a PC with Windows 10 look for Night Light Settings
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even during weekends. Your internal clock will work better if you are consistent. Also, don’t think you can catch up on sleep during weekends; once your sleep is gone, it’s gone…
- Avoid screen time 1-2 hours before you go to bed: turn off your TV, your computer, your tablet, and put your phone away for the night. Why? Because the light from digital devices contains blue light, which prevents the production of melatonin, therefore, it disrupts your sleep-wake cycle. If you can’t resist binge-watching before you go to bed, buy blue-light-blocking glasses. My favorite brand is True Dark and you can also purchase a “daylight” model to stay away from “junk” light from electronic devices and artificial lighting.
- Remove TVs or computers from your bedroom, and cover up any LED screens such as your alarm clock
- If you use your phone as an alarm clock, then put it in “airplane mode”. This will reduce radiation from electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in the bedroom which can disrupt your sleep and limit the production of melatonin
- Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Dark drapes are recommended to block the outdoor lights and the early morning sunlight entering from your window
- If you absolutely need a source of light during the night (maybe you need to go to the bathroom or maybe your little child wakes up crying) then you can use a nightlight, but make sure it has a red bulb. You should put the nightlight in a hallway or another room, if possible
If you have kids, here’s a full and easy-to-follow guide with tips and best practices to help your children develop better sleep hygiene and how to create the perfect space for a good night of sleep.
Next week we’ll be talking about REFRAME where you can learn more about stress, anxiety, and burnout.
Do you need help to optimize your brain with sleep? I’m here to help. Schedule your FREE Clarity Call with me today!
As a Holistic Precision Life Coach and creator of the Life-Work Balance System, I empower ambitious professionals and high achievers like you to optimize themselves and unlock their full potential, fostering enhanced well-being and productivity in their lives and careers. I combine innovative methodologies (epigenetics, neuroscience, chronobiology, and positive psychology) to facilitate profound lifestyle transformations.