We spend a third of our lives sleeping. During the 1950s, graduate Eugene Aserinsky used a electroencephalograph (EEG) to discover that whilst we sleep, our brains remain hard at work, healing our bodies mentally, physically and spiritually. He found that during sleep, we progress through a number of stages and this natural healing process is only effective, if this pattern is undisturbed.
There are 7 stages of sleep but here I have simplified them into 3 main stages.
Stage 1 is light; you begin to shut down and relax and this lasts around ten minutes.
Stage 2 sees your breathing and heart rate begin to regulate, your body temperature start to cool and the brain waves begin to burst into life. According to The American Sleep Foundation, 50% of us remain in this stage of sleep throughout the night.
Stage 3 and our blood pressure drops, our muscles are relaxed and REM (rapid eye movement) occurs. On average, if we are fortunate enough to reach this stage, we will spend ninety minutes repairing our brains and strengthening our memory.
What if these stages are disturbed?
Broken sleep can feel like mental and physical torture, especially if it is prolonged. Just some of the symptoms include:
– Liver detoxification is compromised (as most of this work is done at night time). An encumbered liver may leave you feeling angry or frustrated.
– Cortisol, the stress hormone, is released through sleep deprivation, leading to depression.
– Weight management is impaired, it is more difficult to lose weight without adequate sleep. The body stays in sympathetic nervous system dominance and therefore dysregulates the thyroid which controls metabolism.
A huge reason for broken sleep these days is WI-Fi. The constant exposure to electro magnetic frequencies means that we rarely get into our deep rested phase of brain activity. The best solution for this is to regularly do a presence practice to relax the sympathetic nervous system and yoga nidra. Otherwise called psychic sleep. Here is our favourite 30 minute Yoga nidra meditation video to enhance deep sleep.
Understanding my patient’s sleep patterns is extremely helpful for treatment. Naturopaths can balance the body bio-circadian rhythm with herbal medicine to treat most sleep disorders. Diagnosis does however depends on a thorough naturopathic analysis of the hormones and the Chinese medicine body clock. Traditional Chinese Medicine understands that sleep disorders can be related to certain weaknesses in the body. The Chinese Medicine “Body Clock” is built on the principle that within the 24 cycle, each bodily organ has a two hour window of heightened energy (Qi).
While we sleep, Qi is drawn within to restore the body. Between 11pm and 1am, our gallbladder is at its height, then between 1 am and 3am the liver begins to detoxify toxins and manufacture biochemical processes. If you have been drinking heavily, you may find yourself waking at around this time – as the liver is overwhelmed. At 3am – and for the next two hours – the Qi moves through the lungs and we should be sleeping soundly. However, as the lungs are connected with grief it is particularly common for those in emotional turmoil to awake at this time.
Our body clock (The Circadium Clock) has a natural rhythm, primarily reacting to light and dark in a 24 hour period. Long before light pollution, and the modern age, our ancestors would sleep in tune with this rhythm, rising with the sun and sleeping at sunset. This principle is still relevant to our sleep patterns today, presenting us with a number of narrow ‘windows of opportunity’ to fall asleep. However, this rhythm alters, every hour bed-time is delayed – taking longer to fall asleep, as each window closes. So whilst you are likely to fall asleep within ten minutes if in bed between 9.30pm and 10pm, this will extend significantly, the later bed-time occurs.
One last thing to note with the clock is that every hour before midnight, counts for two hours after midnight. Going to sleep between 9.30pm and 10.30pm is optimum for good health.
The Chinese Body Clock