Saturday
Jul052014

Sleep, Blessed Sleep

The quick answer:  To eat better, sleep better.  A non sequitur?  Here's the logic:  If you get adequate sleep in the dark, you’ll crave wholesome nutrients more than sugary stimulants. 

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Sleep

This blog rotates through 13 themes each quarter of the year.  Thirteen weeks ago we discussed sunshine, the natural source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D from sunshine is reported to last twice as long in our body as vitamin D from pills—so it seems there is a physiological difference with sunshine that may be beneficial.  The full spectrum light from sunshine was addressed last year in the post, Let There Be Light

This time we address the opposite theme—the importance of time in the dark, sleeping.  I’m surprised how often we find guidance on how to live by the Creation account in Genesis:

“And God said, ‘Let there be light; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.  And the evening and the morning were the first day.”  (Genesis 1:3,4)

The division of light from darkness was important, I believe, but in our time, with electric lighting, true darkness has been much reduced and the division compromised. 

Melatonin

 Melatonin is the master hormone of the night, a blessing of adequate sleep.  When we close our eyes in a darkened room the pineal gland, a sort of third eye, is triggered by darkness to produce melatonin.  The production of melatonin peaks in the fourth hour of sleep, which then produces other beneficial hormones that restore and prepare us for the coming day.  Basically, you make melatonin for 4 hours; the other hormones do their work the next 4 hours.  (In infants, melatonin production stabilizes in the 3rd month, enabling them to sleep through the night, at last.)

Melatonin is also a potent antioxidant, a protection for your DNA.  Though our understanding of melatonin is incomplete, it seems important to health to not shortchange the body through insufficient sleep, in a darkened room.  The division of dark from light in the Creation is important today also.

Sleep Deficiency

Scientists have linked some chronic diseases to insufficient sleep, as discussed in the post, Blessed Sleep.  These include depression, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and overweight, heart disease and cancer.  There are also mental effects including dementia and impaired judgment. 

Losing Fat

I connect the growing dependence of stimulants like caffeine and sugary drinks in the last century to our decline of adequate sleep in a darkened room.  If sleep is not fully refreshing we crave stimulants to get going, more than nutrients.  A sugary breakfast cereal, a mid-morning soft drink, and candy snacks during the day will seem the right answer.  If you get adequate sleep, 8-9 hours per night, you’ll need less sugar and this will lower your insulin level thus allowing your body to release and consume fat for energy.  When insulin is high, sugar is stored as fat; when it’s low, fat is released for consumption.

A 2010 University of Chicago study of dieters found that those who got the most sleep lost twice as much fat as those with the least sleep (8.5 Hrs. vs. 5.5 Hrs.).  As excess fat is a widespread problem in America, adequate sleep in the dark may be the cheapest health aid available.  A prior post, The Skinny On Overweight, argued that rather than the pain of repeated dieting, it would be better to first try eating a wholesome diet combined with exercise. 

Please comment:  Are you able to get adequate sleep?  How much do you need?  Have you experienced sleep-related health issues?  Do you eat better if your sleep better?  What did you do to improve your sleep habits.

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Reader Comments (5)

Ah, sleep...glorious sleep. It really is so remarkable how much better I feel with a fair amount of good sleep. I can't think of the last time I had 8-9 hours (though I dream of that!)...but little things like a consistent bedtime and wake-up time have helped. And it sounds crazy, but some nights a sound machine (I like straight air/fan rather than synthetic sounds) or even a sleeping mask make all the difference.

As always, thanks for the insightful post!

July 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

My two biggest deterants to quality, lasting sleep are a family that's older and not likely to shut down early enough, and that blessing that comes with aging: nightly trips to the bathroom. Were we to figure solutions for either or both, I'd be one happier Mom/wife/person. i know some of my issues are related to inconsistent sleep.

So, I have to ask, is supplementing with Melatonin an option, or risky? I have taken a 5mg time release when I know I absolutely have to get some sleep, but otherwise I work with what I'm given.

July 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLizA

Hi Liz A
Nice to hear from you.
Melatonin is the master hormone of the night, slowly building in the first hours of sleep and then triggering many other hormones that prepare us for the next day.
We know that sleeping in the dark optimizes melatonin so that is the starting point.
Do pills help?
Wish I was qualified to advise but that's for the doctors.
Personally I avoid pills whenever I can but there are times when I'm grateful for meds.
Often we are the best judge of what makes us work better.
Best to you,
skip

July 6, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterskip hellewell

With very young children, this is a challenging one! Especially with the sun going down late right now, they don't want to go to sleep at their normal bedtime. I know I would feel better with more sleep.

I have a question for you: do you recommend taking measures to make your bedroom darker at night? I live in the suburbs; it's not super bright, but also not totally dark. I'm wondering if blackout curtains are a good idea. I kind of like waking up with the sun shining in my window, but I remember you talking before about the importance of total darkness at night.

July 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey

Hi Lindsey
Night time light pollution is one of the banes of civilization. Our community is rare for not having streetlights. I like that but also plead guilty to unscrewing porch lights left on when neighbors are gone.
You ask a good question--how to enjoy darkness at night but still wake up to the sunrise. Have you considered wearing night shades. Perhaps a reader will share their experience.
Let us know what you decide.

July 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSkip

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