Updated: Aug 8, 2020
To find out this little owl's name or learn more about the conservation of owls and other birds of prey I recommend checking out Sadie's friends at Feathers and Fur.
Night Owl or Skylark?
Whether you are a night owl or skylark, struggle to get good quality sleep or sleep like a baby, you have an inbuilt sleep pattern, an internal body clock that regulates when to wake and when to sleep. This clock gets reset by the presence or absence of natural light. So what do we do, when we now live in a world that never sleeps? We can have light 24/7, we are in front of light-emitting screens any time of the day. Even if we could travel across different time zones we would still expect ourselves to be back in sync within a matter of hours and expect our bodies to still know when to wake up and when to sleep when it has not received the write signals at the right time to do it. Yet we still wonder why we feel shattered or more run-down than we feel we should. Meet little owl, a natural nocturnal character who is wide awake at night but prefers to conserve her energy and sleep during the day. I have always been a bit of a night owl myself, so I have always been at my brightest later in the day. Perhaps you are a skylark and love getting up bright and early but by mid-afternoon, your energy is starting to flag. Maybe you are a bit of both and it all depends on what is going on in your life at the time.
Stress and the natural ageing process can also impact your bodies ability to produce the right hormones at the right time to maintain your body's equilibrium even if the body is exposed to the right light levels at the right time. There is no right or wrong pattern and most of us change throughout our lives in response to what is going on around us. This is all a part of life but where we can come unstuck is when we try and fight against our natural body rhythms all the time, keep going and going like a Duracell (other battery manufacturers are available) Bunny or ignore the messages our bodies are trying to tell us. However, if we stop long enough to listen to our bodies. It would be telling us that we really DO need to get enough good quality sleep to function properly to be at our best. Lack of good quality sleep also impacts our immune system too but that is a topic for another day.
The Science bit
Did you know that we have a pea-sized gland in our brain that controls our sleep cycle?
We all strive to achieve balance in our lives. Our bodies are doing the same thing for us all the time. Interpreting external information and then signalling various parts of the body to take action based on the messages received to maintain homeostasis.
How it works
There is an almond-sized area of the brain called the hypothalamus located at the base of our brain that acts as a link between our nervous system and the endocrine system.
The endocrine system regulates many essential processes in our bodies but for this blog, let's focus on just one function. The production of hormones that regulate our sleep and wake cycles. Our sleep is supposed to be regulated by exposure to light. This stimulates a nerve pathway from the retina in the eye to the front of the hypothalamus. In the front of the hypothalamus is a very special centre called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN for short). It is this SCN centre or 'body clock' that kicks off the signals to all the other parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature and other functions that affect the entire body. All playing their part in making us feel sleepy or wide awake.
Once exposed to light first thing in the morning, this 'body clock' raises our body temperature and orchestrates the release of stimulating hormones like cortisol into our system. Although cortisol is usually known as the 'stress' hormone if present in very high doses, it is still essential for us to be wakeful and it also delays the release of other hormones like melatonin, which is associated with sending us to sleep at the end of the day when it is dark. It is the pea-sized endocrine gland, called the pineal gland that sits just above the middle of your brain that makes melatonin for us. This gland is asleep for most of the day. Even if our body tells the pineal gland to make melatonin, bright light directly inhibits the release of melatonin.
What else does the body need?
Amino acids are also needed in sufficient quantities to produce enough melatonin as well as the right environmental conditions.
What and when we eat can also affect the brain chemistry that promotes good sleep: There are 3 main chemicals to be aware of in the production of Melatonin. They are Tryptophan, Serotonin, and Melatonin.
What is tryptophan?
It is an amino acid found in the protein of foods like turkey, steak, chicken, and pumpkin seeds. It is also found in beans, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and milk in smaller quantities. When tryptophan reaches the brain, it converts to an important chemical called serotonin.
What is serotonin?
Serotonin is a chemical that carries messages between brain cells (neurones) and other cells. Decreased serotonin levels can result or be a symptom of anxiety, depression, and increased sweet/starchy food cravings and comfort eating. At night, serotonin undergoes two metabolic changes to become melatonin.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm and promotes restful sleep. It is produced from serotonin in the evening to help us sleep. If you eat protein foods together with a low to medium glycaemic index carbohydrate food it will optimise tryptophan levels.
So what can we do to reset our internal body clocks?
What do you do if you are feeling jet-lagged, work shifts, feel exhausted all the time, or are just have trouble sleeping?
1. Adjust your current routine to suit your natural body rhythm
If you are a night owl shift your day so you wake later so that your nocturnal habits don't impact how much sleep you are getting. If you are an early bird, go to bed earlier. If you feel tired earlier than usual, go with it and accept the messages from your body that it needs some extra sleep. This can happen for any number of reasons, for example, extra activity that day, increased stress, injury, or your body may be fighting off infection.
2. Expose yourself to as much natural light first thing as you can
Get outside for a least 15 minutes every morning to ensure you trigger the production of the right hormones at the right time. Don't wear shades. Let the light get to your eyes without staring directly at the sun.
3. Cut out the Alcohol, Cigarettes and Caffeine
Too much stimulant too late in the day will delay the production of melatonin. Try not to drink caffeine or eat chocolate after lunch. If this is too hard, then reducing it will still help.
4. Be off all your gadgets at least an hour before sleep
Blue light in devices impacts your sleep. Even if you think it doesn't impact you, the quality of your sleep will be poorer than if you had not been on them. If you have to use them, then try night mode of tinted glasses or a screen that filters out the blue light for you.
5. Snack before bed
This may seem to go against conventional advice but if you are struggling to sleep, a light snack including tryptophan-rich protein and a complex carbohydrate might help.
6. Develop a good sleep hygiene routine
Allow yourself plenty of time to unwind before going to sleep. Make sure your room is dark enough, bed comfortable enough, room cool enough. Make it a screen-free zone. Taking a hot bath can help. Stepping out of a warm bath into the cool air also aids restful sleep.
7. Try Reflexology
Reflexology, Aromareflex and acupressure are well known to support and aid sleep and can also offer additional self-help. Self-application of an aromareflex blends as part of your wind down and sleep routine can be very beneficial.
8. Other Complementary Therapies
There are many other complementary therapy modalities you may also like to try, in order to aid your sleep or as part of your sleep routine. To find out how Homeopathy can be used as another tool to support your sleep, I recommend taking a look at local homeopathic practitioner, Silvia Giunta's free guide Massage, acupuncture and the physical movements and breath work in yoga, pilates and tai chi are all also worth a look. Music, sound therapy, Zentangle, drawing and painting are all wonderful things to try to help you switch off a busy mind. Mindfulness and Meditation can also help you let go and accept any unwanted thoughts that may otherwise keep you awake.
Need more help?
I am running a FREE 5-day online sleep challenge from 24th August 2020. You can register to join me here https://www.feetdbfirst.co.uk/sleep-challenge.
You can join a Free Facebook community where you will get step by step guidance and support, video, lives, hints, tips and techniques including:
An overview of where you are with your sleep today.
A gentle reality check how much change you are really willing to make in order to improve your sleep this week, so we can work with what is realistic and feasible for you.
A personalised sleep improvement plan with achievable goals.
How Reflexology can be used to improve the quality of your sleep.
A review of how far you have come in just a week, together with a set of achievable and realistic actions and changes for you to be able to take away and continue to work on.
For more ideas on how to improve your sleep routine including, Breath techniques to try, Visualisation, Self-help Reflexology, essential oils etc. Do get in touch. I would be more than happy to help you put together a sleep improvement programme to suit your needs.
If you would like more guidance on this or information about my services pop your questions on my contacts page or hit the book now button for a free phone consultation or grab yourself a gift voucher from £5 towards the cost of any future face to face bookings.
Shelley Mason MAR