Sleep is a natural part of life that is so important to every aspect of our health. We need sleep to repair, rejuvenate, create hormones effectively, process memories at much more.
The amount of sleep each of us require varies with our age and individuality but most adults require between 7 and 9 hours of quality sleep per night. Children obviously need more sleep and the elderly less sleep. The following table shows the recommended amounts of sleep per age group.
|Age Group||Age Range||Recommended hours of sleep per night|
|Newborns||0-3mths||14 – 17 hours|
|Infants||4mths – 1 years||12 – 15 hours|
|Toddlers||1 – 2 years||11 – 14 hours|
|Pre School||3 – 5 years||10 – 13 hours|
|Primary School||6 - 12 years||9 – 11 hours|
|High School||13 – 17 years||8 – 10 hours|
|Young Adult||18 – 24 years||7 – 9 hours|
|Adult||25 – 65 years||7 – 9 hours|
|Elderly||65 + years||7 – 8 hours|
It’s not just the amount of sleep that we get but the time in which we sleep. Ideally, you should get to bed by 10pm – 10:30pm every night. The reason behind this relates our circadian rhythm and the times our body repairs itself. Our circadian rhythm is related to the daily 24hr cycle of night and day on the planet and internally is controlled by our hypothalamus in the brain. Our body repairs our physical and emotional requirements at different times. Between approximately 10pm and 2am the body concentrates mainly on physical repair and from 2am to 6am psychological repair is the focus. Being awake and stimulated through these times if detrimental to your overall health and repair of these areas.
Our body creates different hormones at different times of the day depending on the stimulus we are receiving. Sunshine is a major stimulus to our body, as the sun rises, and we are exposed to light and our body naturally produces cortisol to wake us up. The highest level of cortisol production is in the morning, between 6 and 9am, staying high till around midday and then declining to a low point around 6pm and staying low until the following morning.
As cortisol drops to a low point in the early evening, melatonin and other growth and repair hormones begin to increase to encourage, rest, sleep and repair. The trouble with modern life is that there is so much external stimulus that our circadian rhythm can be skewed and our natural hormone profiles disrupted. Television, computers, fluorescent lights, phones, ipad’s and the like all disrupt our sleep/wake cycles and encourage further cortisol production.
Cortisol can take hours to clear from our bloodstream and interrupt the release of our required melatonin, therefore causing issues with our sleep cycle. With excess cortisol in our system later into the night, the body’s repair cycles are not entered into as early or as efficiently and our overall health suffers. Continually having late nights or having an obscure sleep/wake cycle sets our internal body clock incorrectly. Studies show that in as little as 21 days we can reset our body clock through perseverance with regular sleeping times.
Major Sleep Cycle Disruptors
Use of computers, phones, ipdas etc. before bed should be discouraged. The blue light emitted by these devices has a similar effect to sunlight on our hormone production and stops us from winding down properly in the evening. Try being of all phones, iPad’s and computers at least 2 hours before bed. If you have to use the computer later in the evening, a program f.lux is useful to filter the light spectrum emitted from your monitor to more sleep friendly tones.
The use of coffee, sweets, smoking, alcohol etc. in the evening can all increase cortisol levels and therefore interrupt your sleep/wake cycle. Stimulants such as coffee stay in the body for a long time with the half-life of coffee being six hours. So, if you drank a regular coffee at 4pm usually containing around 200mg of caffeine, 6 hours later you would still have 100mg of caffeine in your system that will continue to stimulate your adrenal glands and produce cortisol, disrupting your melatonin production and sleep/wake cycle. If you are drinking coffee, this should be ideally be consumed before 2pm.
Exposure to lighting encourages the production of cortisol. Dim lights 2 hours before bed and try to sleep in a completely dark room to promote the production of melatonin. If you don’t have dimmer lights, candles and low output lamps are a great way to set the mood in the house and assist winding the body down before bed.
Exercise during the day is a great way to promote healthy and restful sleep at night. Studies have shown daily exercise to contribute positively to a better night sleep. Be aware that intense exercise later in the evening can have a detrimental effect on sleep through the impact of producing excess cortisol from exercise at an undesired time.
Electromagnetic radiation can also interrupt our sleep cycles. Be sure to turn all electronic devices off or on aeroplane mode at night to stop the electromagnetic emissions. In addition, electronic devices plugged in near the bed, electric blankets, power boards under the bed etc. can all emit disrupting electromagnetic frequencies and should be removed or minimised as best as possible from the bedroom. Also, schedule your Wi-Fi to turn off in the evenings when you are not using it.
In addition to the above areas that disrupt our sleep, other conditions such as adrenal fatigue, excess stress, blood sugar imbalances, thyroid disorders, neurotransmitter imbalances can all contribute to disrupting your sleep cycle. Use the tips above to assist in improving your sleep and if you are still having sleep issues, have your overall health position assessed by a suitably qualified practitioner.