Dear Insomniac, (Part 1)
This is a blog post written to you, for you, to give you the low down on the biological necessity for good sleep & addressing underlying causes.
THE GLYMPHATIC SYSTEM
The Glympatic system is a new term coined by scientists in 2015 that discovered the lymphatic effects of brain detox. The glymphatic system is active predominantly during sleep and mostly inactive whilst awake.
It is a very small cleaning system in our brain that plays an important role in regulating the central nervous system (brain, spinal chord & brain stem). Whilst we sleep, our brain (astroglial) cells shrink to form peri-vascular pathways between them to clean up debris that has accumulated neuro-toxic waste over the course of the day.
Whilst all that gunk is being taken out, the blood vessels facilitiate the update of glucose, fats, amino acids, growth factors and neuromodulators that are integral for optimal brain and nervous system function.
Ah-Ma-Zing. Biology doesn’t mess around.
THE CHINESE MEDICINE ORGAN CLOCK
⏰ The organ clock holds the answers to the circadian rhythm: your appetite, mood, energy levels .. our connection to the sun and the moon. Basically everything 🙏
The detox process occurs throughout the whole night. during this time your blood pressure drops and the focus moves inward towards the vital organs and central nervous system. This is parasympathetic and autonomic activation mediated by the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
The gallbladder phase (11pm - 1am) is all about processing waste, assimilating emotions and bile production .
The liver phase (1am - 3am) is all about cleaning out waste, rebuilding, repairing and re-modelling (protein synthesis, hormone production etc), processing emotions .
The lung phase (3-5am) is all about immune modulation, integrating emotions and restoring energy for a refreshed morning wake up.
This is why when you wake up in the morning your urine is dark and yellow. This is why you should empty your bowels in the morning. Your liver has broken down waste and passed it onto your kidneys to further filtrate. What doesn’t need to be re-absorbed is placed into the digestive system to be eliminated.
If you wake up during certain times of your sleep cycle- there could be a dysfunction or imbalance in that particular organ system. .
THE STAGES OF SLEEP
👁 NREM stands for non- rapid eye movement / REM stands for rapid eye movement. 👁 .
NREM makes up the majority of your sleep, roughly 80%.
When you first fall asleep you drift into the NREM phase. During NREM sleep your brain produces slow waves (SWS) where brain activity, blood pressure, heart rate, respiration all reduce and your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in. This correlates to the gallbladder and liver times on the Chinese Organ clock.
The other 20% of your sleep consists of REM, you progressively drift into REM by going through the lighter - deeper phases of NREM. .
During REM sleep: your heart rate, airways, blood pressure, body temp all increase and decrease as needed. Your sympathetic nervous system increases. This correlates to the immune modulation / influx of nutrients and energy production phase of the lung time on the Chinese Organ clock.
If you sleep for 8 hours, the percentages translate to roughly 1.5 to 2 hours of REM sleep per night
I love how the science and chinese med overlap.
CAUSES OF INSOMNIA
1. Excess carbs, sugars and refined fats
2. Lack of amino acid and protein (anaemia)
3. Nutritional deficient: B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin D and zinc
4. High cortisol (chronic stress) causing poor melatonin production
5. Oxidative stress, anxiety, depression and mood swings
6. Old age (aches, pains, need for sleep decreases)
Chinese Medicine diagnosis
1. Heart Qi deficiency
2. Liver heat
3. Lung deficiency
4. Yin/ blood deficiency
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP ROUTINE & HYGIENE
INSOMNIA CHECK LIST:
Have you got the TV on and lights lit up in the house?
Your bedroom is warm and stuffy?
Scrolling through your insta feed?
Had your afternoon coffee hit?
Perhaps even your 4th cup of coffee for the day?
Had a late dinner?
Didn’t exercise much in the earlier part of the day?
Didn’t get outside much to get catch some rays? .
No wonder you can’t sleep!
Here are some of my favourite and handy tricks to a more peaceful sleep
1. Wake up with the sun rising
Open your window blinds and allow natural sunlight to enter
Make your bed or clean your filthy sheets!
If you leave the house early, don't wear sunglasses for a bit - this is naturally increasing your cortisol and activating light receptors that let the pineal gland know it's time to create some energy for the day ahead.
2. Exercise is some form
It's early to mid morning, so now would be a great time to do some exercise. Preferably something low impact such as a walk, pilates, light jog or yoga.
3. During the day stay away from your bedroom
Your bedroom is for sleeping only (and other things I won't get into).
4. Keep hydrated
Water > coffee. You'll dehydrate yourself and play catch up for the rest of the day if you don't drink sufficient water. We absorb water best in the morning anyway and our brain needs it to function!
5. Coffee before 1pm
Cortisol starts to lower slowly after midday, so make sure you don't spike it up with afternoon coffee hits.
6. Reserve vigorous exercise for later in the day (between 3-6pm preferably)
This is the best time to exert yourself and sweat it all out
7. In the early evening put on your blue light blocking glasses or even reduce exposure completely
That means turning off the tv or putting down the phone. In the evening: dim the lights in your house and adjust the temperature in your bedroom - the cooler the better.
8. Commit to a sleeping routine that best suits you for winding down
That could mean a bath / shower / reading a book / skincare / diffusing some essential oils such as lavender or vetiver / meditating .. whatever suits your fancy
9. Darken your room as much as possible
You may even want to wear a fancy eye mask. Nasal breathing before bed activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Allow yourself to surrender!
10. Other factors: avoid eating late at night, get a customised or good quality pillow and mattress, reduce your alcohol intake and deal with psychological stressors.
Until next time,
Dr. Alana Green (Chinese Medicine)