Holistic Healing: Reprograming Your Circadian Rhythm & Sleep
Do you fumble at night, your body tired but you’re mind restless for sleep? Do you crash, wake in those wee hours and have difficulty maintaining quality sleep?
Have you been moody & stressed not sure if your emotional state affected the latter or if the lack of quality sleep exacerbate them both?
You are not alone.
Check out this staggering numbers.
- 50-70 million US adults have a sleep disorder.
- 4.7% reported nodding off or falling asleep while driving at least once in the preceding month
- Drowsy driving is responsible for 1,550 fatalities and 40,000 nonfatal injuries annually in the United States
- 25 Million U.S. adults have obstructive sleep apnea
- 9-21% of women have obstructive sleep apnea
- 24-31% of men have obstructive sleep apnea
Insomnia is the most common specific sleep disorder, with short term issues reported by about 30% of adults and chronic insomnia by 10%. Insomnia is when you have difficulty falling asleep, maintaining asleep or waking up earlier than what your body needs, feeling tired when you wake up.
Why have we become so sleep deprived?
SLEEP AS A LUXURY
In our fast-paced, hustling world, the mantra seems to be do what you’re meant to do, work more than you should. The worldly buzz to hustle like a fly pestering your ears keep you from hearing whispers of your body for balance and gentleness.
In many ancestral communities, siesta (mid-afternoon) naps are the standard. In Spain, business establishments close for nap time. Growing up in the Philippines, I napped until my adulthood schedule can no longer accommodate it. But even on those days, afternoon naps during the weekend seem to just happen naturally.
You might wonder… but our hunter-gatherer ancestors also hustled for food and constantly work.
True to that but research show that they relied on nature, temperature, the amount of light & dark in their environment to lean into their body’s needs.
In our modern world, all these “natural alarm clocks” can be easily manipulated.
If it’s too hot outside which prompts siesta in many cultures, you can simply turn on the airconditioner tricking your body like a shot of expresso.
In the morning where our pupils should be summoning light, many of us get up later or choose to stay indoor summoning our laptop lights instead.
When it gets darker which nature’s way of signaling “downtime,” you may keep going with light exposure through your phone/computer stimulating brain activity, exactly what your body needs to slow down from in preparation for sleep.
In this regard, adults in our modern world unconsciously program their childhood to similar stimuli.
In America, most children no longer nap by age 3.
How much sleep do you get and does sleep serve its purpose for you?
Meaning, rest, energy, vitality.
Here’s a table of how much sleep we need by age:
Adult: 7 – 9 hours
Teenager: 8 – 10 hours
Child 6 – 12 years: 9- 12 hours
Child 3 – 5 years: 10 – 13 hours (including naps)
Child 1 – 2 years: 11 – 14 hours (including naps)
Infants 4 -12 months: 12 – 16 hours (including naps)
(Source: American Sleep Association)
Just like anything with statistics, the above table is a standard, if you’re off a smidgeon, you’re fine. The key is that sleep is doing what its supposed to do for you.
SLEEP AND MOOD
Toddlers who get cranky may not need another scoop of ice cream but a nap. Our mood affects sleep and sleep affects our mood.
Substantial evidence tells us that quality sleep and happiness are closely linked and that improved sleep can mean improve mood.
In children, poor sleep leads to emotional dysregulation and as you can imagine, a less happy child.
Mood disorders, like, depression, bi-polar, PTSD and even in acute trauma, sleep disturbances is a common symptom. Although, in these cases, a holistic care that involves both the body and mind need to be in place, improving sleep can give the much needed relief to keep going.
Another common and easy to spot why you may be dysregulated is being off balance with your circadian rhythm.
This is the 24 hour cycle that governs your mental, physical and behavioral changes.
It is best to explain this without the jargon by using an infant as an example.
Babies in the womb don’t have (yet) the stimulus of light and dark exposure in their mommy’s pouch so they sleep whenever, and, ofcourse, it’s a biological need for fetal development. Often, some pregnant moms shriek in fascination that in their sleep their unborn baby seems to be doing somersaults of some kind.
When a child is born, one of the first assignment of parents is to teach infants the difference between day and night. This helps the infant get used to their circadian rhythm. In the first few months, the parent paces with the child and slowly, usually by the fifth month the baby sleeps during the day in small increments (naps) and a longer stretch at night.
I prefer doing this in a gentle way for children. It’s more important to attune to your child’s needs slowly. Compare it with diets, crash diet can get you the results rather quickly but the weight can creep back as fast as they dropped. A steady pace entails listening to your body and getting used to its natural rhythm making the transition long-lasting.
If you listen to your body’s natural circadian rhythm, the body needs movement and light in the early parts of the day and slowing down usually after 3pm leaning into temperature and shadows of darkness as nature’s “alarm clock.”
REPROGRAMMING YOUR CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
*disclaimer: Roanne is Certified Mental Health Integrative Medicine Provider which means I have general training in nutrition & sleep as a Mental Health professional but I’m not a sleep expert. If you need additional resources, visit the Sleep Foundation.
There are many reasons why your sleep can be disrupted, a recent trauma, jet lag, a new baby are among others. The recommendations here are more suited once you are a back to your “usual” routine and has the focus on resetting your circadian rhythm.
Also remember to pay attention to your geographical location and the seasons of the year, for example, winter has longer nights. This might explain why you might sleep more during winter and are more active during summer (longer days=more light).
SOME RECOMMENDATIONS TO REPROGRAM YOUR CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
- Journal when you have a jolt of energy and when it plummets for at least 5 days. To get reliable information, if you usually take a stimulant, aka, coffee after lunch, switch to decaf or tea for gentle transition. By journaling, you get an idea when your body is slowing down, take note of the time and plan to heed during those times to reprogram your body’s natural rhythm.
For example, if you notice your energy is low at 1pm, do not take another cup of coffee or boost your energy with an energy bar, instead plan to chill or nap even for 20 minutes. If you’re employed, laws cover you for a lunch break. Do it in your office by bringing a folded bed or in your car if possible.
- Expose your retina to light by 10am, teaching your body to attune to nature’s alarm clock. You can start slow by just opening your windows to eventually stepping out in your backyard. Too early? Just step out of the light as soon as you can.
- Reduce sunglass use during the day. People who have low moods have the tendency to block off light during the day.
- If you need to use your devices at night, use blue light blocking sunglasses at night to reduce eye strain but more so to minimize incoming light to your retina. Ideally, you want to give your eye and brain a rest three hours prior to bed time.
- During periods of limited exposure to light, for example, during the winter or you’re just in the slumps, use a light therapy box at home. Of course, there is no better alternative than natural sunlight. But to start, more light is a good start.
- Try magnesium epsom salt bath at night. Magnesium plays a role in improving de restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep. Research indicates supplemental magnesium can improve sleep quality, especially in people with poor sleep.
Ask your doctor for a melatonin supplement. It helps reset your sleep.
Over-all trying one thing at a time and sticking with it can promote a more sustained improvement in your sleep.
Whether you’re feeling more depressed because of lack of sleep or the other way around, the truth is what you do for your body, you do for your mind. What you do for your mind, you do for your body.
Western medicine is slowly transitioning to the ancestral wisdom that caring for the self means holistically caring for all parts of thy self.
The separation of body and mind is a dichotomy that makes natural, un-natural.
By decluttering your busy mind, attuning to your body, leaning into the whispers of nature, you can be on your way to your unique holistic healing.
Cheers to that!
Roanne has been a Psychotherapist for more than 13 years. She has frequented at least 500 Filipino homes and counting. She is the author of the Ebook: 5 Pinoy Love Languages and the creator of the presentation entitled: Filipino Core Values & Considerations in Culturally Responsive Care. Check out her Free Webinar Speak the Pinoy Love Language here.
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