| Sleepless nights? Maybe you’re not doing it right
It completely baffles me when I see top-notch athletes down high caffeine energy drinks late at night, party hard till the wee hours of the morning and spend half the day tucked up in bed. I think to myself, no wonder then that sportsmen are popping their ankles and busting their knees at the drop of a hat. The body just has to break down as a result of inconsistent sleeping cycles, irrespective of how hard you train to prevent injuries.
And it is not just professional athletes; an unhealthy sleeping pattern is the bane of modern life, world over. More so, since people do not have a very accurate idea of how important a role a good night’s sleep plays in keeping one healthy.
One of the biggest obstacles I face when working with young athletes is making them understand the importance of getting to bed on time. Today’s world of late-night entertainment and bright lights at the touch of a remote makes us quickly forget that for thousands of years we lived in sync with the natural cycles of day and night. Going against these natural cycles can ruin our immunity, wreck our psychological balance and completely stress out our nervous system. Not to speak of the modern-day curses of back pain, neck pain and other musculoskeletal problems, all of which get augmented by unnatural sleep patterns.
A lot of people feel that getting seven hours of sleep is enough. They feel that getting to bed at 2am and getting up at 9am is perfectly all right. Of course, they can’t explain why that nagging headache in the early evening needs several cups of coffee to douse or that paunch keeps getting bigger every day. There is a silent promise to work out even harder on the treadmill in the gym or maybe get a really good personal trainer! And what about the lack of focus at work, the skin rashes that just don’t go away, the forgetfulness and the feeling of complete poop after exercise?
Dr William Timmins, a naturopathic physician and founder of BioHealth Diagnostics in San Diego, attributes such symptoms to the disruption of the circadian cycle and sleep deprivation. He is of the opinion that no matter what the cause of an ailment may be, unless you went to bed at 10.30pm and got a full eight hours of sleep, you would be wasting your time and money in the search of a true holistic cure for any health issue.
It is important to pay heed to the circadian cycle, the natural physical cycle of about 24 hours that persists even in the absence of external cues (Source: How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy by Paul Chek.)
I have tried to implement the restoration of the circadian cycle on my athletes and found a dramatic improvement in energy levels and concentration. And with two young boys, one with minor signs of dyslexia and the other with attention deficit disorder, making their sleeping hours compatible with natural cycles of day and night brought about marked improvements, corroborated by their physicians as well. This is not to say that the correct sleeping cycle is a panacea for all ailments. But it definitely plays a large role in healing and wellness.
The natural cycle of dark and light affects our body clock. Light stimulates our brain and hormonal system into thinking that it’s daytime and in response our hormonal system releases cortisol, an in-built response to stress. Cortisol levels see a spike with sunrise and a drop with sunset. And by the natural cycle, we start winding down with sunset and should ideally fall almost asleep by 10pm. People who struggle to get sleepy past that time, must realise that they have completely disrupted their hormonal cycles. This indicates raised levels of cortisol and is triggered further by loud music, flashy lights, fast driving, road rage, treadmill thumping, all of which prevent the release of soothing hormones that help us wind down. Chronic exposure to stress and light leads to adrenal fatigue, which presents itself in many symptoms, including fatigue, viral infections, bacterial and fungal infection and headaches.
J.R. Ram, one of Calcutta’s leading psychoanalysts, feels poor concentration, irritability, physical tiredness and listlessness are the commonest consequences of sleep deprivation.
Physical repairs mostly take place when the body is asleep between 10pm and 2am. After 2 am, the immune and repair systems are more focused on mental repair, which lasts until we get up (Source: Paul Chek). And that brings us right back to the point — we need to monitor our sleep timing and sleep cycles to ensure that we are healthy. A good night’s sleep means much more than just seven uninterrupted hours and to be healthy, we must pay adequate attention to it.
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