M Y H E A LT H
Getting a good night’s sleep BY CINDY DE VILLIERS, GP
h, for a good night’s sleep! We seem to be constantly bombarded about the dire consequences of not sleeping well. Everything from weight gain to dementia seems to be linked to poor sleep. Why is it that we are suddenly not sleeping adequately? Is this cause or effect of chronic poor health? To quote Scott Carney, New York Times bestselling author of ‘What Doesn’t Kill Us’, compared to previous generations, we have too much food, too much warmth and too much light. The technological advances making us comfortable may in the end be making us less healthy. I am not going to delve into this here except to say that it is likely that our pursuit for comfort could in fact be preventing us from getting a good night’s sleep and be keeping us from optimal health and performance. So, short of living in a cave, how might we improve our sleep and thereby our health? I would like to briefly discuss adenosine and melatonin. Adenosine is what makes us tired and sleepy – the body is constantly
making adenosine during the day. Adenosine is an end product of ATP. Sound familiar? ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) is the packet of energy that your cellular power houses (mitochondria) produce from food, for use by the body as energy. The more energy you require, the more ATP your mitochondria make, and the more adenosine builds up in the body. So by the end of a hard day’s work you collapse into bed to sleep soundly. You know where this is leading – exercise! No energy expended during the day, no adenosine build-up, no sleepiness at night. How much exercise is required is a moot point – probably as much as is needed to help you sleep! My suggestion is to move as much as possible during the day. Set an alarm for every 30 minutes, get up from your desk, walk around and do some squats, press-up or planks. Not only will your sleep improve but it is likely that your mental output will improve too. Melatonin increases a few hours before bedtime and peaks in the middle of the
My suggestion is to move as much as possible during the day. night. Melatonin is involved in the onset, duration and quality of sleep. However, light suppresses melatonin and is the most powerful cue for setting human circadian rhythm. Humans are particularly sensitive to blue light, the very light emitted by computer screens, TVs and other electronic devices. The blue light from these devices inhibits melatonin, potentially disrupting circadian rhythms and sleep if used before bed. Just as darkness is important at night, so is light important during the day. Working in a dark office and not going out into the sun during the day will also negatively affect sleep. This holds true for sunglasses too. I recommend that unless a glare is affecting your driving, that you do not use sunglasses before midday. A robust light and dark rhythm is important, not just for sleep, but also for general wellbeing. So, for a good night’s sleep, treat yourself to a walk in the sunshine during the day and a paper book at night.
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