Natural Sleep Cycles
There appear to be 4 types of natural sleep cycles or chronotypes coded for in our genes that regulate wake and sleep time.
A chronotype is the tendency for a person to be a “morning person”, an “evening person”. It is actually more common to fall somewhere in between these two extremes. The biggest problems seem to arise when an “early bird” is forced into a swing shift at work or a “night owl” is forced into early classes for school.
Chronotypes appear to be relatively hard-wired into our systems and don’t get changed very easily, if at all—the evidence is not clear as to whether you can change or shift your basic, natural chronotype at all. You can probably tweak it a bit, but it does not appear likely that you can completely change it. It is even more likely that by trying to change your natural sleep cycle, you may cause more problems than it’s worth.
So, what are these basic chronotypes? They are, charmingly enough, named after animals that exhibit the same sorts of sleep patterns.
- Bears follow the sun’s daily cycle and the seasons. People who have the bear chronotype are most active at mid-morning and have a mid-afternoon slump. They are also more active during the spring and summer and less active in the fall and winter, perhaps preparing for their own sort of hibernation. This is the most common (~50%) chronotype
- Wolves or if you prefer, “night owls” go to sleep late at night and wake up later in the mornings. These people are happiest as the “second shifters”. They tend to be at peak performance in the middle of the day right into the evening hours. About 15-20% of the population are of this chronotype.
- Lions or “early birds” are the ones that tend to follow Ben Franklin’s advice “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man (and a woman) healthy wealthy and wise.” These people tend to go to bed before 10 or 11pm and wake up early (around 5-6am) and get most of their productivity in before early afternoon. The percentage that fall into this group represents another 15-20% of the population.
- Finally, there are the Dolphins, who wake up frequently during the night and may take naps during the day. Their most productive time tends to be between the mid-morning and the early afternoon hours. They are generally less than 20% of the population.
Mechanisms of Sleep
There are two internal mechanisms that function to keep us on a healthy 24-hr cycle.
- Circadian rhythms are hormonally based and include the melatonin (made in the pineal gland) and the cortisol (made in the adrenal gland) cycles. Circadian rhythms help control your sleep cycle, body temperature, your base metabolism and the release of certain hormones. Cortisol begins to rise early in the morning and falls during the evening hours—cortisol helps get you going in the morning. Melatonin has essentially the opposite cycle—it begins to increase during the early evening hours and decreases while you sleep. Melatonin is the “sleep hormone”
- Sleep-wake homeostasis. Homeostasis is a term used to describe a physiological balance or an equilibrium. Sleep-wake homeostasis is the process that makes you want to sleep when you are tired. It gets stronger and stronger the longer you stay awake. It also helps to regulate how deeply you sleep and how restful your sleep is.
Both circadian rhythms and sleep-wake homeostasis can be affected by your overall health, stress levels, your sleep environment and by your diet.
How to Sleep More and Sleep Better
- Decide that sleep is important—and stick to a sleep schedule—during the weekends and vacations too!
- Make sure your bedroom is cool. Ideal sleep temp seems to be between 63 degrees and 69 degrees Fahrenheit.
- You can try various sleep support supplements. I like this sleep support supplement but you can also try; valerian, passion flower, GABA and lavender.
- Block out all lights. You want your room black. Check out black out blinds and sleep with an eye mask as well.
- Reduce all noise. Providing you don’t have balance or ear problems consider sleeping with ear plugs.
- Remove electronic devices to be at least 3 feet away from your body.
- Make certain your mattress and pillow(s) are comfortable! Replace them if needed
- If you have heartburn, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) or LPR (laryngopharyngeal reflux) sleep on a bed wedge and/or lift the head of your bed at least 6 inches off the ground.
- Eat well—mostly vegetables and some fruit, lean meats, nuts, seeds, fish and other healthy fats and protein, whole grains if tolerated and in moderation
- Plenty of water during the day (half your weight in ounces…or at least 8 glasses) and taper off stopping water consumption 2 hours prior to sleep time so you don’t have to get up to use the bathroom
- Keep moving—no matter your age, getting in enough exercise is important for a healthy night’s sleep! Vigorous workouts should be done during the day and not before trying to settle down for the night.
Address the Cause
If the above recommendations don’t work for you and you still aren’t getting adequate sleep, have brain fog or some other health concern, then make sure to identify and handle the cause.
The below Adrenal Damage Test can give us an idea of how damaged your adrenals are and if they are possibly connected to your sleep, weight or health problem. Feel free to fill it out and we’ll give you a free consultation with either our Naturopath or Certified Health Coach.