Sleep is a critical state the human body requires for the immune system. During sleeping hours we build on all of our systems. Our regenerative cells are most active while we sleep and if we get the right amount of sleep each night (7-8 hours), we are able to preserve, heal and strengthen ourselves. In many ways sleep remains a bit of a mystery to scientists but there has been extensive research conducted on its benefits. There have also been a lot of studies conducted on sleep deprivation. Sleeping effects our moods, memory, endurance and mental clarity. Without it, we fall prey to a number of disorders and research has shown a linkage to sleep deprivation and the development of cancers.
The reason for this link has been isolated to the diminishing levels of melatonin we are producing (predominantly) in the first world countries and most notably in major urban centres. Melatonin is a hormone that gets released through the pineal gland (in yoga, the “third eye”) right around bedtime and is signaled by the dimming of lights. The hormone makes you sleepy and is responsible for kicking off the regenerative sleep conditions we need each night. Aside from its role as key regulator of the biological clock, melatonin also activates powerful antioxidant activity. There’s no doubt that we need our bodies to produce as much melatonin as possible throughout the night. Here’s a great video of Sat Dharam Kaur N.D. teaching a class about breast cancer and drawing the link between lower melatonin levels (among other things) and the incidences of breast cancer around the world.
Unfortunately, those of us living in larger cities are exposed to a lot more light than those living in the countryside. To make matters worse (specially for children), we purposely turn on night-lights or keep bright alarm clocks next to our beds. Even the faintest light can prevent the production of melatonin. The most important times of production are between the hours of 2am and 5am. During these hours it’s extremely important to be in complete and total darkness. If you can see your hand in front of your face, it’s still not dark enough.
Here are some tips for keeping your melatonin production up:
- Get heavy curtains or blinds for your bedroom windows
- Wean the kids off of nightlights – do this while they are young and prevent any light dependency habits from forming.
- If you have TVs or stereos in your room, connect them to power bars that can be switched off each night to prevent the glow from the screen – if this is not possible block any visible light
- If you have an alarm clock beside your bed that does not have an optional light off switch – re-think its purpose and try to find an alternative.
- You can wear eye-blinds – there are all sorts of varieties some having herbs that promote sleep. These are especially good if you’re traveling on longer haul flights
- Try practicing yoga. Yoga places a lot of emphasis on stimulating the pineal gland (the third eye).
Creating better sleeping conditions will bring a number of returns. A strengthened immune system, the ability to manage stress a lot more readily, mental clarity and a general sense of well being are among the most noted benefits. There are also links to optimal sleep and weight management as sleep helps our metabolism regulate itself.
Good Night, and please Sleep Tight…