Waking Up from Modern Sleep-Debt
When is the last time you woke up and thought, “Wow, that was a really great nights sleep”? How often does that happen to you? Did you used to sleep well, but at some point that changed? Our quantity and quality of our sleep has declined steadily over time, with in-home technology being a key marker for its disruption. A lot happens while we sleep--body processes that we could not do without, so the implications of good sleep are huge for our health, safety and quality of life.
I would like to invite you to read and analyze your own ‘sleep hygiene’, and from there make a few (likely simple) changes to get you resting, waking and living well. It’s important to understand sleep, identify your barriers to it, and start with 2 or 3 tools to shift it. Try it for a week and see how you feel. The change in your outlook alone could have you hooked!
“The way you feel when you are awake depends in part on what happened while you sleep.”
Obvious, right? Well, here is what your body is TRYING to do while you sleep:
Removal of toxic residue from your brain.
Helping you process and remember information.
Creating new neural pathways--physical, mental and emotional. This is a BIG one! When it comes to healing and positive change, your brain needs time to pave the way!
Physical tissue healing and repair. Whether you are aware of it or not, your body's tissues need time to focus on repairing normal or situational damage.
Hormone release and regulation, including the balance of leptin and ghrelin.
Immune regeneration and repair. Your immune system has a big job during the day and needs the night shift to catch up.
Liver function shifts from detoxifying to building and synthesizing.
*Your brain releases melatonin, triggered by the dark, which relaxes the body and prepares it for sleep. Cortisol is triggered by light, which gives you energy for the day.
The hypothalamus, which needs melatonin to function, secretes hormones for the anterior pituitary, which in turn secretes hormones for the thyroid, adrenals and ovaries (which then secrete OTHER hormones!).
This is really a short list, and we know that by what starts to happen when you are sleep deprived:
Causes mood swings, depression, suicidal feelings/behavior, general lack of motivation, increased stress.
Increased blood pressure and incidence of heart disease and stroke.
Increased incidence of obesity and diabetes.
Hinders healing and immune function.
Reproductive and fertility issues in both women and men.
Causes ‘microsleep’ (i.e. not remembering parts of your commute, a lecture, a conversation). THIS IS NOT SAFE! An estimated 100,000 car accidents/year are linked to fatigue, as well as large scale disasters, such as plane crashes and nuclear reactor explosions.
After 4 days of sleep debt, your thyroid levels rise and your glucose clearance goes down 40%.
With less than 5 hours of sleep/night, 2 nights/week, risk of heart attack in women goes up 82%, and 200-300% in men.
*Light from LED screens suppress the release of melatonin. Because we are now inundated with light, particularly well beyond dusk, our sleep is disrupted and potentially causing disease.
Study after study has linked nighttime work shifts to an increase in rates of breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. These shifts provide a perfect study group, and we can see how those same functions are compromised in all people with poor sleep.
~Average hours of sleep per night in US in 1900: 9.0
~Average hours of sleep per night in US in 1963: 8.5
~Average hours of sleep per night in US in 2002: 5.9
(Sunday through Thursday) and 8.0 on weekends~
an average of 6.9 to 7.2 for week.
The Chinese Sleep Clock:
Chinese medicine has been healing people for 5000+ years using, in part, systems of energy that run through the body called meridians. Many people are familiar with acupuncture as a way to address almost any type of disease or quality of life issue. Part of the wisdom of this system says that, while there is always energy running through each meridian, there are peak hours each day for each one, and this is a time to support its function in different ways. Here are the various organ systems and their corresponding timeblocks of cleansing, with the rest/sleep-time ones in bold:
9-11 pm: Triple Heater
11 pm-1 am: Gall Bladder
1-3 am: Liver
3-5 am: Lung
5-7 am: Large Intestine
7-9 am: Stomach
9-11 am: Spleen
11 am-1 pm: Heart
1-3 pm: Small Intestine
3-5 pm: Urinary Bladder
5-7 pm: Kidney
7-9 pm: Pericardium
So clearly you don’t need to be sleeping during all of these time periods, because that’s not what they all need for support. For example, the large intestine peaks from 5-7am, which is why healthy bowels tend to evacuate shortly after you rise, and it’s best to be awake for it! In terms of systems that DO benefit from rest while they peak, it is good to slow down by triple heater time (9-11pm) and be asleep by gall bladder time (11pm).
You can actually use this information to identify an area of stress if you always wake up at the same time in the middle of the night. What system is supposed to be clearing then? Research estimates that for asthma sufferers, there is 100x more chance of an attack in the very early morning hours, about the timeframe of the lungs (4-6am).
I am particularly motivated to talk about this in relation to quality of life issues. They are less measurable, and not as often studied, but no less important. If you are in chronic sleep debt, and experiencing some of the side effects, it is most certainly affecting your general energy level, mood, tendency for overwhelm and outlook on life. I believe that many people are stuck in survival mode...because they simply don’t have the energy to thrive!
So now it’s time to look at YOUR sleep and then go over some tools for change. Here are some questions to ask yourself, and also to prepare for a conversation with your healthcare provider if necessary (herbalist, naturopath, homeopath, primary care provider):
How often do you have trouble sleeping and how long have you had the problem?
When you go to bed and get up (on workdays and days off)?
How long does it take you to fall asleep, how often you wake up at night, and how long does it take you to fall back asleep?
Do you snore loudly and often or wake up gasping or feeling out of breath?
How refreshed do you feel when you wake up, and how tired do you feel during the day?
How often do you doze off or have trouble staying awake during routine tasks, especially driving?
Tools for the Slumber Toolbox:
Regulate your sleep schedule, even on weekends.
Develop a bedtime routine. (I embolden these two things because they might be all you need! Count backwards from when you want to be asleep and try to stick with it for a trial period. (i.e. if you want to be asleep by 11, no food after 8, no screens after 9, low or no light by 10:30).
Make your bedroom a sweet place, free of clutter and projects.
Use and actual alarm clock, or put your cell phone in the next room in airplane mode. There are many options now for clocks that don't wake you to the sound of a 5-alarm fire! Or go with a good old-fashioned bird, if you can handle their persistence!
Get lots of light exposure during the day, particularly natural light...go outside!!
Use blue light blocking glasses or app’s after dusk or if you are a night shift worker or using screens.
Sleep in the dark! Put energy into resolving every light source you can.
Make sure that WHAT you are sleeping on isn't causing problems! There are a million different opinions about this, so find hat works for you.
If physical tension, pain and/or mental/emotional stress are keeping you up, COME IN! Let's address it with bodywork.
Caffeine, nicotine...best to scrap, but certainly not in the latter part of the day.
A small, strong cup of bedtime tea at least an hour or two before sleep. (i.e 2x strength, ½ liquid...2 teabags in 4 oz water).
Napping is a short term solution to sleep debt. Try to stay awake during the day, so you can sleep at night.
Get stronger herbal support. skullcap, passionflower, valerian, melatonin...these are just a few of the options, and no one is right for all, so I recommend consulting with an herbalist or trying them one-by-one to feel their effects. Again, they are not a total solution, but can help get you regulated or through a patch of irregularity. Some of them have side effects or contraindications, so be sure you are informed and supported.
As you can see, getting good sleep in profoundly important to good health. This article is meant to illuminate, educate and inspire...but is not a prescriptive formula for everyone. Your lives and lifestyles are very diverse, humans, but it is important to know what biological functions are trying to act within you. Make one or two changes at a time and be consistent about them so you can feel any changes, then go from there!
Lecture, Paul Bergner and Tania Neubauer, ND, Moonflower Herbfest 2016: http://naimh.com/moonflower/Medical-Herbalism-Therapeutic-Order-final.pdf
Explore Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency, National Institute of Health, 2012:
Get Sleep. Division of Sleep Medicine at the Harvard Medical School, 2008.
Live In Sync with Your Body’s Circadian Rhythm. Aylin Erman, 2013:
Your iPhone Prevents you from Getting a Good Night Sleep. Katherine Martinko, 2014:
Circadian Rhythms Affect Digestion, Heart, and Lungs. Dr. David Williams, 2016:
Circadian Rhythms, the Chinese Clock, and How to Live in Sync: Chad Dupois, 2010:
Moon Cycle and the Menstrual Cycle. Barbara Loomis, 2016:
Circadian Rhythms, National Human Genome Research Institute.
Lawn Rooster, Psyberartist.
© November 2016. Rachael Wilder, LMT. Please credit me with my name and a link to this page when using this material. Thank you!