Sleep, Circadian Rhythm and your body- Part 1

Many years ago, when I was juggling yoga teaching and a part time desk job, I found myself being pulled in opposite directions. I still woke up at 3 a.m and went to teach yoga, and then worked at the desk job from noon to the evening. Every afternoon, to fight my tiredness in the office, I would drink a cup of tea, which was new to me, and get through the afternoon. I started waking up through the night, responding to mails. It was also the first time I had a Facebook account, and I was sucked in to the world of wanting to respond to every remark and commenting on everone’s post. 

Not getting sleep

Well, what happened next was that my health spiralled downwards drastically. I found myself lying wide eyed and awake through the night, what I now understand as being wired and tired, with my Adrenals on high alert. I ate all what I shouldn’t, not because I loved any of it, but because I was craving sugar, my immune system collapsed and I had 5 infections in one year, with one being so bad that I had an IV cannula attached to me for 5 days to receive intravenous antibiotics. I became angry and depressed, and all day long I was tired. But when I went to bed at night to sleep, I couldn’t wind down or get sleep. If I did, it was for a short while and then I would lie tossing and turning all night long.

I know that many of you have problems with sleep. I’m seeing this more and more in both my practices, of yoga teaching and functional nutrition. Either it is a conscious reason where you are out late many nights and stretching that golden hour of bedtime, perhaps thinking that you are young and can handle it, or you have a job which keeps you awake at odd hours with calls or stress about your job. Perhaps you have took some medication to help you sleep at some point in time, and it then became a habit, and now you need some medication to help you sleep every night.

Unable to sleep

Perhaps like many people today, your adrenals have become so stressed that no amount of sleep is rejuvenating you. Or your adrenals are in a hyperfunction mode, where you find it difficult to have deep sleep, however tired you are. Whatever the reason that you are not sleeping, I want you to understand what happens in your body physiologically if sleep is affected. I want you to be empowered with this knowledge, so that you can prevent or even reverse multiple symptoms that are impacting your body and your mind. It might take some time to get back to sleeping as blissfully as you did when you were a baby, but it is possible, and more than that, it is crucial to your health. Our ancestors really were wise, for many of them have said that sleep is really the best medication to absolutely anything.

So how crucial is sleep?

Sleep Sugar Connection

  1. Sleep and Sugar It’s been known for a long time that how you sleep and the foods you choose to eat are connected. If you eat badly, then your blood sugar gets imbalanced, and you end up sleeping badly. If you sleep badly, you end up choosing foods with high sugar and stimulants to help you get through the day. It is such a vicious cycle, that most people find it really hard to get out of this loop. Begin wherever you can first.
  2. Sleep and Anxiety – In Neuroimaging, it was found that a brain which has been sleep deprived for many days looks the same as a depressed brain. Sleep, mood and stress are all interconnected deeply. And once again, it is a vicoius cycle. If you cannot sleep, you feel depressed, and if you have anxiety, sleep eludes you. Start by cleaning up your sleep.
  3. Sleep and Cortisol – When sleep is impacted, you wake up in the middle of the night, and your blood sugar drops low. When your blood sugar drops, Cortisol is released, as your body thinks that it is a state of stress. When Cortisol is released, you have further anxiety and lack of sleep.  You end up reaching for the wrong kinds of food and then your blood sugar gets imbalanced again.  To break this loop, requires monitoring and seting up sleep hygeine.      

    Sleep and Brain

  4. Sleep and Brain Glymph – Cerebral Spinal fluid literally washes your brain when you are in deep sleep. Cerebral spinal fluid is a clear fluid protecting your brain within the cranium. In deep sleep, it washes toxins and metabolic byproducts from your brain into the glymph system, Glymph is a waste clearance pathway for clearance of excess protein and metabolites from the brain and spinal cord, and this happens only in deep sleep. It is this same glymph, that Ayurveda spoke about ages ago. Glymph that is not cleared has been linked to mental health challenges from brain fog, anxiety to depression and more serious mental illness. Brain can actually deteriorate when it does not have sleep at night when it should.
  5. Sleep, Diet and Exercise – Sleep, Diet and Exercise are three legs of a stool. Each of them are as important and as connected to the others. When sleep is poor, we struggle to exercise. If we do force ourselves, then we stress our Adrenals and our normal cortisol curve flips, once again impacting our ability to sleep. This once again impacts our food
  6. Sleep and Circadian Rhythm – Circadian cycle is  connected to every function in our body. Our bodies are supposed to experience light during the day and be in darkness and sleep during the night. When we alter this, staying awake late into the night or sleeping during the day, it upsets Circadian rhythm, Melatonin and impacts immunity. It needs to be set to the Earth’s photo rhythm.
  7. Sleep and the Liver – Liver size is thought to increase during the day, and reduce during the night. Throughout the day, your liver is working hard for you, handling multiple functions. It is the largest organ in your body and probably the most important organ of detoxification. Your liver is meant to restore itself between 11 p.m and 4 a.m, when you should be in deep restorative sleep.
  8. Sleep and Medication – The reason certain medication is given at a certain time of the day is the connection to the Circadian rhythm and how it is meant to work, In today’s world many people sleep late, wake up just to take the medication and then go back to sleep, and this in fact negatively impacts it’s functioning.
  9. Sleep and Vitamin D – Our bodies are meant to naturally absorb Vitamin D in the early morning with blue light.

So everything in your body is impacted by sleep. In the world of Functional Medicine and Functional Nutrition, sleep is a non negotiable on the path to healing. Everything in our body is wired to go with our Circadian rhythm, even Electolyte balance. We should be sleeping at night and awake during the day. Understanding what can happen in your body, when there is no sleep is the first step. Print out the chart and stick it on your refrigerator to remind you, when you find yourself not sleeping well and having various symptoms. Stay tuned for Part 2, coming up next week, when we dive deep into sleep again, and explore the ways in which we can restore our natural ability to sleep. And do keep writing in with your questions, comments and takeaways from every article!

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10 Comments

  1. This is a very well researched post. Chronic sleep deprivation is observed in the young people and it’s almost like an epidemic. Do suggest ways to get back to their normal sleep rhythm. Thanks

    • Rita,

      Do stay tuned for Part 2 of this two part series on sleep, which will bring in some very practical, useful and unique takeaways!

  2. A very well researched article. I knew some of the causes but the test were totally new to me, especially the vitamin d one.

    • Thanks Anshu! It’s amazing how many things improve if we can only improve the quality of our sleep!

  3. So well researched post Deepa. Will wait for part two.

    • Great Vartika! So glad you liked it!

  4. Such a well researched article. I work from 12 am to 4pm these days since I quite my corporate job to become a writer. The schedule is really tough to maintain but I try to catch up on my sleep through an afternoon nap after putting my toddler to bed. But there are days when the sleep deprived state continues endlessly and I get cranky and irritated. I could really relate very well to your article.

    • Sonia, Those with unusal circadian rhythms due to work is another subject by itself. As far as possible, it is best to be in sync with the earth’s biorhythm. If I were you, I would work in the afternoon when my toddler is sleeping and get to bed at night. If your job just does not allow you to do that, then it is important to set a biorhythm which is atleast one of routine, meaning you follow the same one every day

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