Wake up with the sun, sleep with the sun, and say no to tea, coffee, alcohol, sugar, and of course ubiquitous gadgets. What for? To sleep tight and wake up light. Luke Coutinho, Holistic Lifestyle Coach — Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine and founder of ‘YouCare -All About YOU’ gives a detailed insight into why sleeping a certain way matters and how to get there
It is common knowledge that sleep is essential as part of the rest to the body. Is it necessary to sleep only at night or does any other phase of the day also work?
Sleeping at any other phase of the day might be good for our minds, but it cannot replace the magic that happens in our body when we sleep at night. Daytime naps or afternoon siestas are a good way to recharge ourselves when we feel tired mentally, but it is not meant to replace night time sleep.
Sleep is an extremely light-dependent process, and it's only in absolute darkness our body starts secreting melatonin, a sleep hormone that’s responsible for not just putting us to sleep, but several other functions as well in the body – right from immunity to detoxification, rejuvenation to anti-cancer effects.
During the day, the melatonin secretion is suppressed, and so none of these essential functions can occur in the body. This is how our body and nature are designed. Even if you keep your room dark during the day, wear an eye mask, have thick curtains put on, it definitely cannot replace the benefits of sleeping at night.
What do you have to say to the corporate world - 'night shifts at work' has become common.
While 'night shifts at work' has become a common scenario, it is working against our body’s natural cycle and the circadian rhythm. Our bodies just aren’t designed to stay up at night, let alone work. Today science is classifying 'night shifts' as a carcinogen, meaning cancer-causing. When we sleep, melatonin – the sleep hormone - kicks in, and this hormone has anti-cancer properties. There are some cases, where working late nights isn’t an option like for pilots and nurses, and which is why it’s even more necessary to adopt specific lifestyle changes for those who work at night because their nature of job challenges how nature has been designed.
Should sleep follow a routine? Say go to bed at the same time every day and wake up at the same time? If yes, how does it help?
Yes, having a solid sleep routine and going to bed and waking up at the same time not only helps build discipline but it helps align our lifestyle to the circadian rhythm too.
Every process in our body right from digestion to detoxification is based on the circadian rhythm (sunset and sunrise) and setting up a bedtime routine helps align ourselves to that. Maintain sleep timing and see how the mood, emotional health, weight blood pressure, digestion, and more aspects get better.
How does one determine if one has slept well or not?
The body is the best indicator to determine if one has slept well or not. Ask yourself – Do you feel rested and energetic upon waking up? Or do you still feel sleepy and tired? If the answer to your first question is no, then it’s a clear sign that your night time sleep wasn’t a good one. Also ask, do you feel the need to have coffee or tea to wake up? If your answer is yes, then you haven’t slept well.
There are other signs as well like feeling groggy and irritated leading to snapping at people, feeling confused and forgetful, soreness in the muscle post workout, puffy eyes/face, and dark circles.
“Pinch of nutmeg with water and a tablespoon of fennel with a pinch of cinnamon boiled in water and consumed some thirty minutes before sleeping could be one way to sleep better”
How to sleep better?
Sleep is a natural process and must happen naturally. And that natural flow comes when our habits and lifestyle is aligned to nature and the circadian rhythm. To fall in the flow, wake up with the sun and go down with the sun. Get some sunshine. Try looking directly at the sun at early sunrise or sunset when the sunlight is not too strong. This helps in absorbing sunlight through the eyes and in turn resetting our circadian rhythm which is crucial for us to fall asleep.
Drink less water post sunset, and avoid stimulants like tea, coffee, alcohol, and sugar as they can hamper your sleep. A lot of people use alcohol as a nightcap, but it’s a burden for the body to metabolize it and can prevent the body from falling into a deep sleep state. Sugary foods can excite our brain and prevent the process of falling asleep. Exercise regularly but do not exercise just before going to bed. Practice deep breathing to shift your body to a relaxed and calm state.
Observe a tech detox at least an hour before sleep and switch off artificial light and all screens as they emit blue light. Gradually move to dimmer lights or night lamps.
Sleep in complete darkness.
Could you recommend some changes in eating habits as well?
There are some foods that help promote sleep. Say herbal tea – chamomile, lavender, lemongrass for its calming and relaxing properties. Then our spices also help, like nutmeg and saffron. Pinch of nutmeg with water and a tablespoon of fennel and a pinch of cinnamon boiled in water and consumed some thirty minutes before sleeping could be one way. A word of caution here- avoid over using nutmeg as excess of it could work as a hallucinogen.
Tryptophan-rich foods such as eggs, salmon, spinach, banana, seeds, milk, and nuts. Magnesium-rich foods also help in relieving stress – cacao, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables. Vitamin B6-rich foods. A small amount of complex carbs for dinner also helps.
I have an observation to quote- while the quality of sleep at night is at times good and at times not-so-good, the quality of sleep during the daybreak and other phases of the daylight is always very fulfilling. Could you throw some light on this?
We often have an urge to take a nap during the daytime when we are either very tired or overstuffed (food coma) or haven’t slept well at night. This is because our body is demanding to take some nap. After all, it runs out of fuel and needs to recharge. This nap that lasts for about 20 mins to an hour, is usually a good one. At night, we are so overstimulated because of gadgets, social media, information, news, etc that we don’t give our body and mind a chance to feel tired. To add to that, those who don’t work out, aren’t even physically taxed or tired.
What happens if one doesn’t sleep well?
Lack of sleep means poor health. When we sleep, our hormones balance, the brain detoxifies, the body heals, rejuvenates, muscles repair and grow, the body detoxifies. Sleep fuels our immunity. A chronic lack of sleep can eventually lead to weak immunity (even one sleepless night can cripple our immunity to 50%), increased inflammation, faster aging, weaker emotional health, cravings and increased appetite, hormonal imbalances, weight gain, decrease in cognitive function, elevated blood sugar levels, elevated blood pressure, and changed bowel movements.
That's a lot of problem!