Like I mentioned in my last post, one of the side effects of chronic stress is Insomnia which is simply defined as an inability to sleep, but at what point does not being able to sleep cross the line from being a nuisance and move into dangerous territory? And how much sleep do we really need? The National Sleep Association recommends this much for these stages of life: 0-3 months:14-17 hours, 4-11 months:12-15 hours, 1-2 years :11-14 hours, 3-5 years: 10-13 hours, 6-13 years: 14-17 years 8-10 hours, 18-25 years: 7-9 hours, 26-64 years: 7-9 hours and 65 years and above: 7-8 hours.
But how many of us really and truly get that much sleep in this stressful fast-moving day and age where it seems like if you blink a whole lifetime of events has happened. Insomnia is something I have dealt with far longer than I would like for a confluence of reasons, firstly I have an extremely hyper active mind and it is a challenge to shut it down, plus I am a very light sleeper and the slightest noise will not just wake me up, but keep me up, not to mention my extreme aversion to even the slightest heat which along with insomnia in of itself are both symptoms of Graves’ Disease (severe hyperthyroidism) which I deal with.
There have been times I’d stay awake for 24-48 hours straight, no matter what I did, I just couldn’t fall asleep. I’d be up all night and spend the days in a heightened state of raw nerves, irritability, exhaustion and alternating bouts of hyperactivity and extreme lethargy, shaky hands, heart palpitations, anxiety attacks, crazy mood swings were par for the course of my everyday life, my mind was jumbled, sentences incoherent, many bad decisions were made but when I began having blackouts I knew it couldn’t continue like that.
My first option was over the counter sedatives, Tylenol PM, Advil PM, ZZQuill etc. at first, they worked great, until they didn’t anymore and would actually make it worse, so it was time to bring in the big guns Valium, Lexotan, Mogadon but it was all the same. One day, I’d had enough and went to see a pharmacist with some insight into my very complex medical history who understood how much of a tightrope a prescription for me is. Upon seeing the walking ball of angry, exhausted energy I'd become, he gave me Tramadol, which to me was familiar territory as I’d had prescriptions for it, used regularly and had been weaned off it easily after each of my surgeries abroad with no issues….perfect! However, these tablets looked different from what I was used to, but hey I was sleep deprived and extremely desperate so I didn’t make a fuss or ask any questions and just used one. I woke up 10 hours later, slightly groggy with a fuzzy head, kind of like one feels after waking up from mild anesthesia, not an altogether nice feeling but nothing a cup of black steaming coffee couldn’t sort out, so I was just fine. When you've been on medication for as long as I have, you develop a healthy fear of chemical dependence or addiction and become reluctant to use pills unless when absolutely necessary, so I skipped using another one for the next 2-3 weeks; sleep was elusive though not impossible which sucked but the main thing is I was sleeping.
Until this fateful day, I’d been averaging 3-5 hours for the past week and my body was telling me ENOUGH, I was exhausted and had a 9 a.m appointment the next day so I'd have to wake up much earlier than usual. Off to bed i went deliberately early around 7 pm determined to sleep by fire by force, but by midnight I was still tossing and turning, by 2 a.m. there I was still wide awake and I could clearly see where this was going. But I needed to be up, alert and coherent in a few hours, so I just HAD to get at least some shut eye, I'd settle for the same lousy 5 hours I was complaining about at this point, so I got up and used one Tramadol…a HUGE mistake!! In less than 1 hour, I started having palpitations, it felt like I was hallucinating, I could feel my veins bulging through my skin, sweating even though the AC was on and I couldn’t talk or move not to talk of getting help so I began to pray in my heart that I made it to the morning. Eventually, I can’t tell you when, although it seemed like years later I fell asleep and woke up to what I can only describe as feeling like the worst hangover on earth (this awful feeling lasted for the next day or so). Needless to say, there was no meeting that morning, there was no way I could go and embarrass myself like that, plus I looked like absolute crap, I had bags the size of valises under my eyes plus i couldn't string together a coherent thought let alone a sentence so no need. I explained that I was ill, the meeting was rescheduled and the rest of the tablets were flushed down the toilet immediately…..I was done with both prescription and OTC sedatives…it was a wrap!!
A week or so later, I spoke to my Endocrinologist who berated me for taking all these medications she hadn't prescribed. She told me to speak to my Ayurvedic doctor because she would not be giving me any medicines and I had to figure something out fast because the lack of sleep was wreaking havoc on my TSH levels (she'd apparently been wondering why the last Thyroid Function Test results I’d emailed to her were so off, so now it made sense to her). I got another telling off from the next Dr but he was much nicer than my endo (that woman doesn't play and I adore her)and advised that I go back to incorporating alternative therapies e.g. meditation, aromatherapy, exercise, hydrotherapy, massages, yoga etc as part of my life style. All this stuff I'd done before but my health had vastly improved before the silly insomnia got out of control so I just couldn't be bothered with them any more and i'd tossed them to the side.
In all honesty, it wasn’t like simply making the decision to incorporate these therapies made everything immediately okay, nope! It took almost 3 months if not longer of trying different things before I was able to get my circadian rhythms relatively back on track. After another bout of 48 hours of no sleep, a friend came over, saw the state I was in and panicked, so we went to a spa and I sat in their steam room for almost 30 mins long story short I don’t know how I got home, up the stairs or into bed I just woke up the next morning wondering what happened. Over time I tried various things like full body or foot massages, meditation, drank herbal teas at night, listened to those YouTube podcasts which promise to help you fall asleep (some really work, some being the operative word), got my chakras realigned, aromatherapy, exercise, long showers, I honestly tried all sorts of stuff some were life changing and I still use till now, others were an utter waste of time.
The importance of sleep is grossly underrated but so very vital to healthy body function. If our bodies don’t get enough sleep or our Circadian Rhythms get out of whack it can be detrimental to overall health and manifest negatively on the skin and hair. But what is this Circadian Rhythm of which I speak and what happens to our body while we sleep?
Our bodies go through a continuous cycle of 4 different stages of sleep throughout the night, each cycle accounts for various stages of restoration, repair, regeneration and healing.
Stage 1 happens in the first 7 minutes of every cycle and accounts for 5% of the cycle, it is that light sleep when you are half awake and half asleep when the slightest noise or disturbance wakes you up, every time you enter this stage is when you can easily be woken up.
Stage 2 lasts 10-25 minutes and accounts for 45% of the cycle, you are just actually relaxing and falling asleep, brain activity is slowing down, heart rate and breathing regularize, the body temperature drops, it is when your body produces the Human Growth Hormone (HGH) which increases muscle tissue and metabolism. You are officially drifting away into the land of nod, but you are only just getting ready for deep sleep, so you can easily be woken up because it is still light sleep.
Stage 3 lasts for 20-40minutes and is when most of the magic happens, it is the deepest sleep when your muscles are relaxed, blood pressure drops, tissue growth and repair occur, blood supply to the muscles increases, hormones are released. This is when the body resets and repairs itself, in short, most of the restoration occurs during this cycle, it becomes difficult to wake you up and accounts for 25% of each cycle.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) which lasts for 10-60 minutes and accounts for the last 25% of the cycle is stage 4 and is when your brain begins to wake up occurring every 90 minutes lasting longer each time. At this stage energy is provided to the brain, the body becomes totally relaxed and it is as if your muscles are temporarily paralyzed, it is also when the brain is most active which is why you dream. If you’ve ever looked at someone in deep sleep and their eyelids are fluttering like they are about to open, its because they are in REM and their eyes are rapidly moving back and forth involuntarily, the human body is such an amazing thing!
According to The National Institute of General Medical Sciences; Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle. They respond primarily to light and darkness in an organism's environment. Sleeping at night and being awake during the day is an example of a light-related circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are found in most living things, including animals, plants, and many tiny microbes.
Our Rhythms tend to coincide with day and night time and work best with regular sleeping habits but most adults experience an energy dip around 2-4am when most people are asleep anyways and between 1-3pm which is why after that lunch break you get a bit drowsy and are staring at that computer screen or struggling to keep your eyes open in that important but oh so boring meeting, don’t worry you are not alone nor are you lazy, its just biology. It can also be affected by your nature, in my case, I’m a natural night owl so my dip comes later, early risers may experience a dip earlier but, if you get the proper amount of sleep for your stage in life, you won’t experience the dips so acutely.
It works like this, when it is dark outside your eyes tell the hypothalamus(in the brain) that it is about that time to shut it down, your brain then tells your body to release Melatonin and you become tired, it is not up to you like I said it is biology. Things like Jet lag, excessive caffeine intake (my major vice), drug abuse, alcohol, loud noise, having young kids, stress, anxiety, staying up late, pain, Restless Leg Syndrome (this sucks, I'll tell you about it later), neuro-degenerative and other types of diseases or illnesses also affect regular rhythms.
I'll continue next post on the effects of sleep deprivation on the skin, hair and over all health, what you can do to regularize your Circadian rhythms, effective alternative therapies which help promote sleep and other information.
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Until then, remember; We only have one body, when we treat it well it returns the favor.
Be good to yourself and others.
Until we chat again,
Peace & Love
Photo: Alex Boyd References: https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-needhttps://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/circadian_rhythm.htmhttps://www.nigms.nih.gov/Education/Pages/Factsheet_CircadianRhythms.aspx