Getting a good night’s sleep is an effortless technique to create longevity and health. Deep rest during the night helps you fight stress, maintain a healthy weight, and keeps your energy levels high. Timing your sleep is like timing an investment in the stock market – it doesn’t matter how much you invest, it matters when you invest.
The deepest and most regenerative sleep occurs between 10 p.m. - 2 a.m. After 2am, your sleep becomes more superficial. If you are not getting the deep, regenerative sleep that occurs between 10 p.m. - 2 a.m., then you may wake up between 2 a.m. – 3 a.m., when the sleep cycle naturally becomes more superficial, and have trouble falling back to sleep. If your body is chronically deprived of the regenerative sleep between 10 p.m. - 2 a.m., then you may still feel fatigued when you wake up in the morning.
You have an internal clock lodged deep within the brain that regulates your sleep – the pineal gland. The pineal gland receives information about the sun through your eyes via the optic nerve. As the sun sets, the pineal gland is able to sense the change in light transmitted through your eyes and it begins to secrete a hormone, melatonin, to prepare your body for sleep.
Exposure to bright light prevents the secretion of melatonin and darkness promotes it. Typically, within one to two hours after the sunset, you will begin to feel drowsy as the melatonin levels rise. This is the body’s signal to go to sleep. By midnight your melatonin levels have peaked and there is a gradual decline in melatonin levels after midnight.
At 10 p.m., your body goes through a transformation following the rise in melatonin production. This transformational phase of sleep is associated with an increase in the “internal” metabolic activity that is responsible for the repair and restoration of your body. A reduction of your mental and physical activity is necessary for this 10 p.m. shift to occur. If you are still awake, the “second wind” phenomenon occurs at 10 p.m. because there is a rise in mental activity and energy at this time. However, the true value of the “second wind” can only be experienced if you are asleep by 10 p.m.
Scientists are just beginning to discover the antioxidant role of melatonin. Your body produces numerous natural antioxidants that prevent cellular and DNA damage, which ultimately causes disease. One of the powerful nocturnal antioxidants produced is melatonin. As you sleep, your body is removing the effects of free radicals that have been produced by stress throughout the day. This natural, nocturnal clean-up crew maintains physical balance without any effort. All you need to do to benefit from this process is to sleep when your pineal gland sends the melatonin signal.
If you are awake past 10 p.m., this process of free radical removal becomes interrupted, and your body’s ability to remove the effects of free radicals is significantly impaired. First of all, most people who stay awake past 10 p.m. are usually working on the computer, watching TV or reading. All of these activities result in an exposure to light and therefore interrupt the production of melatonin. Secondly, the metabolic energy that becomes available at 10 p.m. for the removal of free radicals is expended and now unavailable. It gets dissipated in the “second wind” phenomenon and is lost as mental energy rather than used as metabolic energy for the purpose of removing free radicals. So rather than allowing our bodies to maximize its natural cycle of repair during sleep, we interfere with it. This results in a state of night vigilance where you are alert during the night and groggy during the day. This cycle is extremely harmful to health.
Typically, if you miss the 10 p.m. bedtime, it will take much longer to fall asleep. The quality of sleep will also be less refreshing and there will still be a sense of fatigue in the morning. Even adjusting your bedtime from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m. will make an enormous difference in the quality of your sleep and enhance your feeling of wakefulness the following day. The reason for this is that you are taking advantage of the natural wave of neurochemistry that is already well on its way before 10pm and you get the added support of the metabolic changes that occur at the 10 p.m. mark.
If you are currently falling asleep well past 10 p.m., make it a goal to sleep earlier by 15-30 minutes each week until you hit the 10 p.m. goal. If you are also waking up after 6 a.m., it is important to wake up 15-30 minutes earlier so you feel ready for bed by 10 p.m. If you are having problems with insomnia, there are several things you can do to help reset your sleep cycle:
1. Do not watch TV or work on the computer later than 9 p.m. (ideally 8 p.m.). Both of these activities are stimulating to the mind and significantly impair the secretion of melatonin due to the strong light they emit.
2. Remove the TV from your bedroom. The environment of the bedroom should reflect the activities taking place there – sleep, relaxation and sexual intercourse. Having a TV in the bedroom is counterproductive to all of these activities. Although many people look to television as a way of relaxing, from a neurochemical standpoint, it has a stimulating effect.
3. Watch the sunset daily. Even if you are able to only take a 10-minute walk as the sun is setting, this is a very powerful way to enhance melatonin secretion. Once you are waking up earlier, also watch the first 10 minutes of the sunrise. Your brain is able to differentiate between the setting and rising rays of the sun and initiates a chain of biochemical reactions to support your natural daily cycles. An easy way to prevent jet lag is to watch the sunset and sunrise for the first 24-48 hours in your new destination.
4. Stop drinking caffeine. Caffeine disrupts your natural sleep cycle. Even drinking caffeine in the morning interrupts your sleep because, over time, it causes a chemical shift towards a state of excitation. Caffeine taken in the second half of the day is an even bigger obstacle to deep sleep during the night. Stopping caffeine abruptly can be quite stressful to the nervous system so slowly taper off your caffeine gradually over 4-8 weeks.
5. Eat a small dinner. You now know that your digestion gets weaker as the day progresses. Eating a large dinner interrupts your ability to fall asleep because your body is contending between two different processes – preparing for sleep and restoration versus managing the undigested food in your stomach.
6. Avoid naps during the day until you are able to fall asleep before 10 p.m. If you still need a nap during the day even though you have adjusted your bedtime to before 10 p.m., then a brief nap is okay. If this is predominantly happening after meals, then you need to work on strengthening your digestion. Once your digestion is stronger, you will not feel tired after meals.
7. If you have problems with frequent urination at night, do not drink any liquids after 7 p.m. The liquids you drink are typically processed by the kidneys are ready for excretion within 90 minutes.
8. If you are still having problems sleeping after all of the above recommendations, then you can make an evening milk drink that will aide your sleep: Pour one cup of milk (soy, almond or other milk substitutes are okay for those who do not consume cow’s milk) into a pan and add a pinch of each of the following ingredients: turmeric powder, nutmeg powder and cardamom powder. Add natural sugar if desired for taste.