Your Sleep-Wake Cycle

natural ways to sleep better

“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I’m reborn.”

~Mahatma Gandhi, Indian Lawyer, Anti-Colonial Nationalist, and Political Enthusiast

Focusing on Sleep Quantity + Sleep Quality = Better Sleep

Sleep issues are one of the most common symptoms reported in our modern times  Finding natural ways to induce sleep can feel hard.

There are a number of pharmaceutical medications used for sleep disorders, including central nervous system (CNS) depressants, melatonin receptor agonists, anxiolytics, hypnotics, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines. But many folks are looking for natural ways to sleep better, and maybe you are too!

For those not on or who choose not to use medication, chances are other substances may be used such as alcohol, which can temporarily calm the nerves and sedate the CNS. But alcohol backfires on restorative sleep as it causes cortisol to rise, which is not what you want if you’re trying to get deep sleep.

Perhaps you’ve gone the natural route and you use melatonin, a hormone that is better used for acute sleep disturbances versus on-going sleep challenges.

Natural ways to induce sleep: the two main criteria

When you look at your overall sleep pattern, there are two factors to take into account to maximize restorative sleep.

First, you want to look at the QUANTITY of sleep you are getting each night. Next, you want to evaluate your sleep QUALITY.

To calculate the quantity of sleep you get is pretty straightforward: how much time is there between when you fall asleep (not when you go to bed) to when you wake up in the morning to start your day. Generally the average human benefits from 7.5 to 8.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. Less is indicative of sleep issues, more can be indicative of other health challenges.

  • If you wake at night though, you will want to subtract the amount of time you are awake from the total time, to get a true indicator of the actual quantity of sleep you are getting.

Sleep quality, on the other hand, is much more nuanced. It has to do with achieving various stages of sleep, including both deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the deepest stage of sleep.

Sleep depth is important as there are a number of reparative physiological processes taking place overnight. The body is designed to sleep for one third of your day for this very reason!

No one can get around needing both adequate sleep quantity and appropriate sleep quality. And if you try to skimp on sleep, eventually you will pay for it in terms of long-term health consequences.

What Your Daytime Fatigue Is Telling You

Did you know your daytime energy directly relates to your nighttime sleep?

Your day time energy levels are correlated with both the quantity and quality of sleep you get. So if you aren’t getting great sleep, you won’t have great energy.

And conversely, if you don’t expend energy properly during the day, you won’t get great sleep!

This is why we focus on supporting a healthy sleep-wake cycle as the key to get better sleep, long-term.

The sleep-wake cycle, referred to as the circadian rhythm, is a 24-hour cycle your body goes through, which includes both healthy energy levels during the day and deep restful sleep at night.

Here are some indications of a healthy circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle):

  1. you wake rested
  2. begin the day without the use of stimulants
  3. you ride the wave of natural energy through the day
  4. the natural energy gradually lowers as the day goes on (9am highest, 12pm high, 5pm low, 10pm lowest)
  5. eventual tiredness sets in after dinner
  6. and last, but certainly not least, you fall asleep easily and sleep for 7-8 hours

The Two Main Hormones Influencing Daytime Energy & Nighttime Rest

These are the two MAIN hormones influencing the “wake” and “sleep” part of the cycle.

Cortisol:

is an energizing hormone, that rises when you are just about to get up, and peaks around 6-8am. Levels gradually decline over the course of the day, with the lowest level being around 10pm-12am.

Cortisol has many jobs in the body, but for simplicities sake we are going to look solely at its influence over the sleep-wake cycle.

  • Cortisol slowly declines over the course of the day, with the lowest amount being right before bedtime.
  • Looking at your salivary adrenal hormones can give you great insights into how your circadian rhythm is currently operating. It can show you where to focus if you are experiencing sleep challenges.
  • MANY people have a cortisol rhythm that is not optimal. I’ve seen so many variations here. One person may have low morning cortisol and high cortisol at 7pm at night. Another person may have normal morning cortisol, very high afternoon cortisol, and overly low cortisol at night. Another still may have normal cortisol over the entire course of the day except right before bedtime when it spikes high.
  • But no matter if you have labwork or not, if you’ve got daytime fatigue and some sleep challenges, doing the things mentioned in this article will prove to be quite beneficial!

Melatonin:

on the other hand, is a sedating hormone that really has the opposite effect of cortisol.

Melatonin peaks right before bed and remains elevated while you are sleeping. Again, for simplicites sake, we aren’t going to get into all of the things melatonin does, just sleep promotion…(btw, did you know melatonin helps your body detoxify? How cool!)

  • Natural light reduces the release of melatonin from the pineal gland. When it is bedtime, there should essentially be very little natural light impacting your pineal gland, and hence optimal melatonin is released.
  • Unfortunately, with the invention of blue light and even just light emitting gadgets, light at night is an all too common phenomenon, which is likely negatively impacting your body’s own release of adequate melatonin.

Having both your cortisol and melatonin in balance is the foundation for natural ways to induce sleep.

Melatonin and cortisol are really antagonists to each other. So, when your cortisol is high, your melatonin will be low, naturally. And vice versa.

Optimizing your daytime cortisol levels and your nighttime melatonin levels is going to go a long way to help get you more daytime energy and nighttime sleep!

This is how you support natural ways to induce sleep!

Influencing the Sleep-Wake Cycle: Your Key to Naturally Better Sleep

One of the main culprits of poor sleep is a poorly regulated sleep-wake cycle.

We live in a pick me up world, constantly being stimulated, constantly looking for stimulation. This makes it hard to get the body to calm down naturally at the end of the day.

When your sleep-wake cycle is off, even though you are exhausted at the end of the day, your body and mind can’t relax enough to fully sleep. This can cause both difficulty falling asleep as well as difficulty staying asleep.

So when you focus your habits on better sleep at night and optimal cortisol during the day, you get amazing daytime energy and enjoyable deep slumber.

Getting the sleep-wake cycle in sync is one of the best natural ways to induce deep sleep. Using herbal adaptogens is another great way to support healthy sleep cycles.

5 Natural Ways to Induce Sleep

In order to truly heal your adrenal glands and get rid of fatigue, you must re-regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Getting functional adrenal health lab work run can be helpful in understanding what your circadian rhythm looks like over a 24-hour period.

Often, many people end up having low cortisol during the day and/or high cortisol at night, because of living a very busy lifestyle. Coupled with inadequate rest and rejuvenation time throughout the day/year, there is no replenishment to the adrenals or downtime for the stress response to be reset.

Whether you have sleep difficulties, because you are exhausted during the day or because your cortisol is elevated at night (or likely both), focusing on re-regulating the sleep-wake cycle will be one of the primary tasks in restoring health to both your sleep and your energy.

1. Timing of Sleep:

  • Go to bed roughly the same time every night – for best results try not to differ by more that 30 minutes each night. This sleep-wake cycle is a routine, and your adrenal glands and stress response LOVE routine. So go ahead and give them what they need!

2. Bedtime Routine:

  • You need a “getting ready for bed routine” or “wind down routine”
    • Set your room for success: the temperature should be no higher than 64F, the room should be pitch black and there should be no electronics anywhere near your bed.
    • Your body and mind want to wind down before you try to go to sleep so if you are someone who thinks a lot while trying to sleep, get yourself a notebook and as part of your wind down routine, write out all your thoughts: the thoughts from the day, the thoughts about tomorrow. Anything, and all of it. Get it out of your head and on paper. You don’t need to do anything with this notebook other than use it as a tool to sleep better.
    • Shut off any electronics 60 minutes before bed. If you can wear blue light blocking glasses from the time it gets dark until bed time, even better. These glasses help reduce the impact light has on your pineal gland, thereby helping you release all the melatonin. The goal is for your body to release as much melatonin as possible before bed, and that happens in a dark environment.

3. Get Up Time:

  • You want to wake up around the same time each day, remember your adrenals like routine! It is ok to sleep in a little on the weekends, but waking up at 5am one morning and 9 am the next is just setting up your body for complete disaster. I mean it: blood sugar goes all over the place, cortisol and the stress response become heightened, weight loss become hard and anxiety and irritability can ensue.

4. Natural Light When You First Wake:

  • You want to get natural light on you as soon as you wake up. This could be as easy as going over to a window or door with windows and basking in the light. This will immediately impact the pineal gland and tell it to stop releasing melatonin more effectively.
    • Ya know how on grey rainy days you feel more “sleepy” – well the sunlight has the power to reduce melatonin whereas the clouds don’t quite allow as much light through.
    • This is why those who are impacted by seasonal affective disorder benefit from full spectrum lights. It improves mood while also improving daytime wakefulness and energy.

5. Expend Energy Daily

  • Exercise – in any form. There are so many options. If I had to tell you what to do, I would say make it short and effective. Personally, I like high intensity interval training because you get a lot of good brown fat activation and healthy hormone release. But I also love cardio and encourage walking as a daily activity as well. Whatever you do make exercise a priority. You’ll experience better sleep if you do. 

 

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