What is Effecting your ability to sleep...?

A 2016 Sleep Health Foundation Survey Study of Australian Adults found that females are 40% more likely than males (26%) to experience difficulty in falling asleep with little difference across age groups. Nearly half 47% of women wake often overnight, which is a problem that also increases significantly with age. Problems with waking early and not being able to easily get back to sleep also increase with age.

Here we take a look at what maybe effecting your sleep

Humans, along with most living creatures, have an internal clock that mirrors nature's cycles of day and night. The hypothalamus and area of the brain is our timekeeper which regulates many of our body's functions, like sleep, energy, and hunger. Cells in the retina of the eye detect sunlight and send messages to the brain that keep us in a roughly 24-hour pattern.

These light cues trigger all kinds of chemical changes in the body, changing our physiology and ultimately our behavior. When daylight starts to fade the hormone melatonin begins to increase and body temperature falls—both of which help us to become less alert and more likely to sleep. With the help of morning light, melatonin levels are low, body temperature begins to increase, and the hormone cortisol is released to help us feel alert and ready to begin our day.

Artificial light after dark can send 'wake-up' messages to the brain, suppressing the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and making it harder to fall asleep and just as importantly stay asleep. A recent study showed that even bright room light could have this chemical effect. And early sunrays begin to activate the body and can cause some of us to rise before we're ready.

Consider low-wattage, incandescent lamps at your bedside to help you wind down in the hours before sleep. Remove other sources of artificial light, for example, streetlamps or porch lights, the glow from the power buttons of electronics like TV's or bright alarm clocks. Consider blocking these to make the room completely dark while you sleep. Use block-out curtains or blinds to keep your body in sleep mode until it's time to wake up and start the day.

The world is full of gadgets and we love them! iPads, tablets, laptops and smartphones are never far from hand, utilising them for both work and entertainment. A recent poll by the National Sleep Foundation (USA) found that 95% of people use some type of computer, video game, or smartphone at least a few nights a week within the hour before bed.

Using TVs, tablets, smartphones, laptops, or other electronic devices before bed delays your body’s internal clock - circadian rhythm, suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and makes it more difficult to fall asleep. This is largely due to the short-wavelength, artificial blue light that’s emitted by these devices. The more electronic devices that a person uses in the evening, the harder it is to fall asleep or stay asleep. Besides increasing your alertness at a time when you should be getting sleepy, which in turn delays your bedtime, using these devices before sleep delays the onset of REM sleep, reduces the total amount of REM sleep, and compromises alertness the next morning. Over time, these effects can add up to a significant, chronic deficiency in sleep. This may help explain our 'need' for that morning caffeine kick! 

Our circadian rhythm appears to be especially sensitive to light with short wavelengths — in particular, blue light (460-nanometer range of the electromagnetic spectrum) This light, which is given off by electronics like computers and smartphones, and also by energy-efficient bulbs, has been shown to delay the release of melatonin. Explaining how electronic gadgets could keep you feeling 'wired' past bedtime.

Turn them off! for at least an hour before bed. It can take some time for the body to come down from technology's alerting effects. Read a book, take a bath or shower and let your body chemistry settle for the night.

2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults reported the following reasons for awakening from sleep:

Going to the bathroom - 60% 
Noise - 50%
Stress - 28%
Light - 27%
Pain - 25%
Thinking about work - 24%
Nightmares - 24%

Sleep experts agree that a cool room, approximately 18 degrees Celsius (65 degrees Fahrenheit) is best for sleep. During the course of a normal day, your body temperature rises and falls slightly. This pattern is tied to your sleep cycle. As you become drowsy, your temperature goes down, reaching it's lowest level around 5:00 a.m., climbing slightly as morning begins. This is why the air in your room can affect the quality of your sleep: if it's too hot, it may interfere with your body's natural dip and make you more restless through the night. Studies indicate that some forms of insomnia are associated with an improper regulation in body temperature. We all have a slightly different optimal temperature for sleep. 

While you sleep, your brain continues to register and process sounds on a basic level. Noise can cause you to wake, move, shift between stages of sleep, or experience a change in heart rate and blood pressure—so briefly that you don't remember the next morning. Sounds may or may not disturb your sleep depending on the stage of sleep you are in, the time of night, and even your feelings about the sounds themselves.

Research has shown that people are more likely to wake when a sound is relevant or emotionally charged. This explains why a parent can sleep soundly through her partner's snores but wake fully when her baby stirs.

There is evidence that certain smells may have an effect on your sleep - lavender has been shown to decrease heart rate and blood pressure, potentially putting you in a more relaxed state. In one study, researchers monitored the brain waves of subjects at night and found that those who sniffed lavender before bed had more deep sleep and felt more vigorous in the morning. Another study of infants found that they cried less and slept more deeply after a bath with lavender scented oils. A Diffuser / Vaporiser is an excellent way to diffuse essential oils into the atmosphere to scent a room helping your drift off to sleep - naturally.

We are going to cover this topic in more detail in next weeks blog. It is wise not to eat right before sleep and avoid stimulants.

Stimulants include:

  • Caffeine - Is a stimulant and it's effect on the body lasts for many hours, for this reason is it best best not to consume it after the mid-afternoon. Caffine is found in Tea (Green, Normal Tea) //  Coffee // Soft Drinks (Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Red Bull, V, Mother) Chocolate - Dark Chocolate contains more caffeine) including Cocoa and Hot Chocolate drinks.
  • Food - Allow 2-3 hours between your evening meal and going to bed
  • Nicotine - Is a stimulant and makes it harder to fall asleep and to stay asleep, try avoid for at least 2 hours before bed.

Alcohol - Can make you drowsy and help you fall asleep, but it can actually make it harder to sleep deeply and continuously throughout the night and should be avoided at least four hours before bed. Alcohol is in a class of drugs called sedatives, it binds to receptors within the brain that prevent neurons from firing their electrical impulses. Alcohol sedates you out of wakefulness, but it does not induce natural sleep. 

Many women report that it is more difficult to sleep well during the menopause and or peri-menopause. They say that it is not as easy to get to sleep or to stay asleep and they also tend to wake up earlier than planned. This may be due to less oestrogen in the body. 

During the menopause, the levels of hormones in the body change. This means that the body temperature is less stable and sometimes there are surges of adrenaline. When this happens, a hot flush is felt. All of these can happen during the day or at night. Women tend to wake up just before a hot flush occurs. Experts think that both the waking up and the hot flushes are caused by the same thing. It can help if you sleep in a cool room where air can flow through freely (e.g. using a fan). Avoid heavy bedclothes or tight bedspreads. If you can put your feet outside the blankets, it will help cool down from a hot flush. Sleep in light sleep wear. Cotton is best.
Good news is after the menopause, sleep will improve. 

Up to 7 in 10 women say that their sleep changes just before their period. The most common time for this is 3 to 6 days before having the period.

Women may feel that it is harder to get to sleep and stay asleep. They may have restless sleep in the days leading up to their period. Some women say they are sleepier during the day. We know that the amount of REM sleep - which is when we have most of our dreams – is less in this part of the menstrual cycle. Hormonal changes at this time (progesterone levels suddenly drops) affect the body’s temperature control - core body temperature is increased over the two weeks following ovulation. In addition, core body temperature increases to it's maximum each day between approximately 9pm and 10pm. 

Some women with PMS may have low Melatonin levels. If this is the case then taking melatonin may help your sleep symptoms. You should discuss this with your GP.

While pregnant you need more sleep than usual along with the changes to the body that occur during pregnancy, there are also changes in sleep patterns. Rising progesterone levels may partly explain excessive daytime sleepiness, especially in the first trimester. As the pregnancy progresses, women have less deep sleep and wake up more often during the night. Sleep is less refreshing, which is why expectant mothers should spend more time in bed asleep. An afternoon nap of an hour or two will help. 

According to Sleep Scientist Matthew Walker [Book Why We Sleep] - Sleeping pills, old and new, target the same system in the brain that alcohol does— the receptors that stop your brain cells from firing— and are thus part of the same general class of drugs: sedatives. Sleeping pills effectively knock out the higher regions of your brain’s cortex.

If you compare natural, deep-sleep brainwave activity to that induced by modern-day sleeping pills, the electrical signature, or quality, is deficient. The type of “sleep” these drugs produce is lacking in the largest, deepest brainwaves. Adding to this state of affairs are a number of unwanted side effects, including next-day grogginess, daytime forgetfulness, performing actions at night of which you are not conscious (or at least have partial amnesia of in the morning), and slowed reaction times during the day that can impact motor skills, such as driving.

The waking grogginess can lead people to reach for more cups of coffee or tea to rev themselves up with caffeine throughout the day and evening. That caffeine, in turn, makes it harder for the individual to fall asleep at night! worsening the insomnia. When the drug is stopped, there is a withdrawal process, part of which involves an unpleasant spike in insomnia severity. In Summary "Sleeping pills do not provide natural sleep, can damage health, and increase the risk of life-threatening diseases."

CONCLUSION: Understanding why we need sleep and how our bodies get ready for sleep helps us to identify reasons as to why we maybe struggling to get to, and stay asleep. A few simple tweaks here and there, changing your 'attitude' towards sleep, and creating a bedtime routine can make a profound difference to your long term health and daily quality of life. 


Until next time..

be human | be kind | be you








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