Circadian Sleep – Maximize Your Body’s Rest, Repair, and Recovery

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The way that your body cycles levels of activity throughout the day is called your circadian rhythm.  Various brain centers have internal rhythms that affect your body, and in turn are affected by personal habits such as your sleep patterns, activity level, and light exposure.  Since these lifestyle choices play such a large role in how your body functions, it is important to maximize your personal lifestyle habits to reflect how circadian rhythms are innately programmed.

Many activities inside your body vary based upon the time of day.  Body temperature, wakefulness, digestion, even cell division are all affected by circadian rhythms.  Nearly all of your bone growth as a child occurs at night!

Lack of a Healthy Rhythm
It is well known that those who don’t sleep on a healthy cycle suffer from health problems due to their schedule.  For example, those who work the night shift have a greater percentage of most of the major chronic diseases relative to those with a daytime work schedule.  Also, not sleeping enough is a powerful negative influence on your body.  For example, sleep deprivation is a strong promoter of obesity and weight gain.

Circadian Rhythms Also Effect Your Hormonal State
The hormone cortisol is emitted in a cycle throughout the day.  Cortisol is a hormone that your body releases primarily in times of energy usage.  In terms of your body’s circadian rhythm, cortisol reaches a peak output first thing in the morning.  On the other hand, the output of cortisol is lowest in the late evening.  The greatest output is around 5 a.m., while it is at its lowest point in a 24-hour period around midnight.  This is one reason why getting to bed before 11 p.m. helps your body sync up with your natural circadian rhythm.  And this helps to maximize repair during sleep. More

Napper’s Delight: Evidence to Support a Favorite Pastime

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The mid-day nap – some of us yearn for it, some of us never engage in it, and others aren’t sure what to think of it. Humans are animals, domesticated animals with more irregular sleep patterns, but animals nonetheless. If you have ever been to a zoo or wild animal park, you know that animals and napping go hand in hand, and humans are no different. In many cultures, especially those closer to the equator, a nap or a siesta is a way of life. What you probably didn’t know is that from the moment you wake up, there are chemicals circulating in your brain that are telling you to sleep; however, there are also chemicals telling you to stay awake. The hottest time of the day coincides not only with a post-prandial dip in blood sugar (your body’s response to eating a heavy lunch by releasing insulin and making you sleepy), but also with the time that our brain’s biochemistry is even in regards to sleep and wakeful chemicals. In this specific time is what Dr. John Medina calls the perfect “Nap Zone” and it usually takes place between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Dr. Medina states on his website dedicated to his book “Brain Rules” that this is not only the best time to take a nap, but also the worst time to give a lecture or operate heavy machinery; the most car accidents happen at this time.

The absolute best time to take a nap is between 2-3 p.m., but for how long? Well, there are many theories on naps; the power nap is a shorter nap with its focus on benefits to time ratio and on working on correcting sleep debt. To get the best performance post short nap, keep the power nap to around 20 minutes, but gauge this for yourself; everyone is different, and 15 minutes might be perfect for one person, while 22 minutes is great for another. Different nap times will improve different areas of cognition; for example, in the book by Dr. Sara C. Mednick called “Take a Nap! Change Your Life,” she says that naps around 20 minutes will “increase alertness and motor skills,” while a 40 minute nap will “improve memory,” and naps of about 90 minutes “improve creativity.” This all has to do with what type of sleep you get (sleep stages), ranging from slow wave to REM sleep.

In a UC Berkeley study, researchers found that a group who napped 90 minutes in the afternoon scored much better on memory tests and their ability to learn than the no-nap group. An associate psychology professor heading up the study, Matthew Walker compared what the nap did for the napper’s mind to someone clearing a full email inbox, thereby allowing for more; “It’s as though the e-mail inbox in your hippocampus is full and, until you sleep and clear out those fact e-mails, you’re not going to receive any more mail. It’s just going to bounce until you sleep and move it into another folder.”

This makes perfect sense because sleep is essential for learning. Research done with rats shows that while learning a specific maze, a rat’s brain will stimulate a specific set of neurons, and that at night (while sleeping), the rat will stimulate the same specific set of neurons in his brain over and over, thousands of time during specific types of sleep called REM sleep. If the rat is awakened during one of these stages of sleep, his ability to recall the way through the maze is compromised. “The rat seems to be consolidating the day’s learning the night after that learning occurred.”

As long as you don’t nap at your desk (and get fired) or in traffic, the benefits of napping far outweigh the risks. In terms of health promotion and prevention, nappers are much less likely to experience heart disease and other lifestyle diseases. Nappers also experience a dramatic increase in productivity, performance, memory, and learning with a decrease in sick days, reaction time, and stress.

Keep in mind – as long as you are napping for less than 90 minutes, it shouldn’t affect your night’s sleep, and if it does, make sure you are getting plenty of exercise.

When thinking about health-related decisions, it is important to always think about where we came from. Our genes haven’t changed in 40,000 years, making us the same as our hunter gatherer ancestors. This is important because they had relatively no lifestyle diseases. Our hunter gatherer ancestors would have tried to get out of the sun during mid-day, and because of all of their constant physical exertion, they would have relished in the afternoon nap.

If you are still unconvinced, take a night to sleep on it. And start napping tomorrow!

Curing Insomnia – How to Achieve Pure Sleep

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6:45 p.m:  They arrive home from the evening commute.  She needs to quickly bathe, feed and put the children to bed while he quickly whips up some semblance of dinner so they can eat while the 8 p.m. news is on and be finished in time to “relax” as they catch the much anticipated 9 p.m. network series premier of “Psycho-Numbness.”

Problem!  WAY too much to do still and there will have to be some juggling if they’re going to join the “loco anesthesia” that’s taking the nation by storm prime time on Thursdays!  She has to call HIS mother to make plans for the Mother’s Day brunch in three weeks [or else…].  He needs to make one last phone call to the office to ensure the deal gets booked FIRST THING IN THE MORNING.  As he walked into the bedroom, he discovered that one of the cats played duck hunt in the down pillows AGAIN [that’s three sets in the last two months]!  Laundry was left in the washer that morning, and two loads must still be done before the night is out!  Before they know it, it’s 10:45 p.m. and they’ve missed the two most important segments of the Numbness premier because they were both off in other rooms taking care of “stuff” during commercial breaks.  They manage to plop down on the sofa just in time to catch the last 15 minutes of Numbness, which closes out with a GREAT cliff-hanger ending, baiting them well for next week’s episode.

11:00 p.m:  SLEEP TIME!!! !!!QUICK!!! – CHECK SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES, EMAIL, BANK BALANCES, AND SHUT OFF THE LIGHT!!! MORNING WAITS FOR NO ONE!!!

11:30 p.m:  Darkness…{Though no words are heard in the room, quietly from the back of consciousness like the low rumble of audience whispers as they await the opening act… }

“Uh oh…I forgot to put the grocery list together for tomorrow…does little Jimmy have a snack for tomorrow’s field trip?…did we ever pay that parking ticket?…why did we park there anyway?…who’s taking care of the kids while we go to the booster club meeting Saturday?…they don’t allow children there, do they?…I can’t wait to see what happens to Derek on Numbness next week…that was such a crazy ending…it’s really well written…”

1:00 a.m:  Dozing…dozing…z@zz!z&zzz[snort, snort]zzzz%zz*z#zzz…

And they wonder why it takes them so long to fall asleep…and why it’s so hard to stay asleep…

The scenario above isn’t a medical condition – sadly, it’s a way of life for many, and the battle with getting sufficient rest rages on.  The cares of life will usurp every minute we give them – including those that should be reserved for restoration and repair.  Our challenge is not to yield to them for any reason within our control, and ideally, for any reason at all except physical emergency.  Our mental and physical wellness depend on the sleep that we as a modern society have de-prioritized to make way for the “more important things” of life.  We need to re-establish and enforce rules of sanity around our primary sleep times to avoid propagating negative impacts of stress and scattered attention on our bodies and minds.

The first two “thieves” on the National Sleep Foundation’s “Sleep Stealers” list are Psychological Factors and Lifestyle Stressors.  Because of its many and varied causes, sleeplessness should be addressed FIRST through healthy lifestyle choices.  The Home Care section for adults in the World Sleep Foundation’s discussion of insomnia provides a number of tactics to give us a shot at a good sleep session and the foundation advises initially “Exhaust every possible option before resorting to drugs to cure insomnia.”  A US News and World Report article from March 2009 supports the approach with findings that though prescription sleep medication use increased substantially over a period of time, social concerns continued to rob Americans of sleep at a nearly unchanged rate in the same period.

Let’s set ourselves up for proper recharge and repair by properly preparing for our pure sleep times with environment and lifestyle choices incorporating proper wind-down sequences – when an aircraft skips the landing sequence and goes from 35,000 feet immediately to the ground, nobody calls it a “landing” – everyone calls it a “crash”…sound familiar?

Our physiology dictates our need for sleep and every little change toward achieving better sleep will improve our lives in ways we can only experience once we get there.

Morning Rituals – How to Start Your Day Off Right

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Wake time.  Six minutes to daybreak.

Rest was good last night.  Restorative Sleep has been in effect for a couple days now, and the new day is greeted with renewed energy.  All of the clothes for the day were selected and ironed last night; lunch is packed and ready to pull out of the fridge on the way out the door.  The alarm was set for a few minutes earlier today, creating the opportunity to approach the day on purpose, rather than by reaction.  There’s no need to rush around frantically getting things prepared…and the kids are still sleeping.

The sun is just about to break the plane of the horizon.  Morning is still and peaceful.

Draw the blinds and watch in silence as morning breaks.  Another beautiful day has arrived.  Thoughts of gratitude begin to flow as the new day introduces itself with a handshake of light.

A gentle stretch and a round of Life Extension Exercises open the lines of communication from the brain to the body, quiet instrumentals playing in the background.  A few minutes to quietly journal some initial thoughts for the day, and a chapter of reading from a book unrelated to daily life maintain the slow and steady pace of the morning.

Number One is taken care of.  This will be a good day…


As Dan Strutzel of Nightingale-Conant shares with SUCCESS Magazine, a morning ritual of starting the day slowly helps de-stress the day before it even begins.  We’ll give ourselves a better shot at a great day if we wake with a series of preparations to get ourselves geared up physically, mentally, and spiritually before jumping in.

Morning rituals create a buffer between our minds and the noise of modern existence, giving our bodies a chance to start up in peace, rather than under stress.  One of the greatest benefits is that the personal time they create allows us to focus on ourselves before we attend to everyone else’s needs and demands.  Very often in modern life, we suffer because we are not afforded this time for self-attention.

Our individual needs for dedicated “me” time differ as much as our personalities, but the good news is that there is no prescribed set of activities that need to be included in anyone’s morning rituals.  We all enjoy starting our days differently – some like a quiet, calm, relaxed start, while others prefer a quick, high energy start (and some just need the quick start to keep from falling back asleep in the quiet of the morning).  Whichever way we prefer to begin the day, when we take care of our own needs before we are presented with everyone else’s, we’ll be able to address theirs much more efficiently.

A few questions we can ask ourselves to help us find the components of our morning rituals are:

• If this were a vacation, what would I most enjoy doing as soon as I woke up? (Why not let a morning ritual have that “vacation”feel?)

• What is something I want to do today for myself that I won’t have time for once the “noise” of the day begins?

• Is there an aspect about this particular time of the day that I don’t want to miss? (ex:  sunrise, glassy ocean, gentle breeze, clean air)

• Is there something I am pondering that requires quiet and my greatest clarity of thought?

In answering these, we’ll doubtless find some very attractive rituals to incorporate into our daily slow-and-steady wake up sequencing, and in doing them, we’ll set ourselves up to greet each day with purpose, fulfillment, confidence, and peace.

Let’s wake up earlier tomorrow and start the day with Number One!

Related Resources:

Thank God

How To Wake Up Without An Alarm

3 Wake Up Stretches To Do In Bed

The Magic of Solitude

Unique Morning Exercise Routines

Week 2 Spark Insight: Restorative Sleep

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ESSENTIAL ELEMENT:  Restorative Sleep

Critical Concept:  Go to Bed
For thousands of generations, the cycles of the sun and daylight dictated the rhythm of our lives.  When the sun went down – so did we.  The world was a dangerous place in the dark, so our ancestors would grab their mate, head back to the cave, and call it a day – early.  There was no modern appliance or electronic technology to keep them up – so nightfall signaled the end of the day.  Very often in the modern world, sunset simply marks the beginning of the second half of the day.

Late night television, the internet, 24 hour drive-thrus, and 60-hour work weeks have created a cultural norm of nocturnal living that is unrecognizable to our ancient hard-wiring.  If you are like most people, your body expects and requires more sleep than it gets.

In fact, Dr. John Medina author of Brain Rules says that 90% of Americans are chronically over-tired.  Although this has noticeable implications in our day-to-day lives, like midday head bobbing and black circles under your eyes, the silent damage you’ll experience with sleep deprivation is a real killer – literally.

Our body uses sleep to rest and repair our tissues.  Our brain requires sleep to process the information from the day.  Critical sleep cycles involve hormone balancing that affects everything from your energy and moods to your metabolism and ability to regulate your body weight.  Sleep deprivation is actually a predictor of obesity.

Healthy sleep patterns promote complete sleep cycles.  Your brain goes through different sleep phases when you rest.  REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) involves dreaming; non-REM sleep is the deepest and most critical phase of sleep.  This is the time that your most vital repair and recharge takes place.  The more complete sleep cycles you experience, the better.  For most of us, that means getting back to the cave – earlier.

In order to ensure maximal complete sleep cycles, humans thrive best when we follow the Circadean Rhythm that is coiled deep inside your DNA.  Dictated by the light of the sun, this rhythm is a physiological set point that has promoted early to bed, early to rise, for millennia.  Getting to bed before 11 p.m. is a best practice followed by the healthiest, most energized people in the world.  Tallying seven hours or more of quality sleep has been shown to increase longevity.  And, lo and behold, the afternoon nap turns out to be one of the most effective and productive methods for increasing energy and improving cognitive skills and focus, while mitigating the adverse effects of chronic stress by lowering circulating stress hormones like cortisol.

Try going to bed fifteen minutes earlier for 21 days.  Studies show that a new habit can be formed within 21 consecutive days.  Repeat this every 21 days until your target “bed-time” is reached.  This vital behavior is effective in conquering the late night habit that leaves you nodding off at the wheel.

Help nudge yourself into bed on time by creating a sleep sanctuary.  Invest in a quality sleep surface, a high quality pillow, and comfortable pajamas.  Practice an eFast (no electronics) 30 minutes before bed – in fact, keep the TV, Blackberry and computer out of the bedroom all together.

Avoid foods or drinks, such as caffeine or alcohol, that disturb healthy sleep patterns.  Keep conversations relaxed and loving; discuss or focus on the things that went well that day; never argue before bed – emotional upset is the most common cause of “social insomnia.”  Journal, pray or visualize a better tomorrow and be grateful for today.