One of the biggest complaints I hear from women is they don’t have enough energy.
This one habit change I’m about to share can make a world of difference.
You’d probably agree that getting between 7 and 8 hours of sleep at night is a good thing.
We know if we get the proper amount of sleep, it will help with our energy levels the next day.
Turns out though that the timing of our sleep is important, too.
Like so many of us, living in our 24/7 culture, I let my life of overwhelm, distractions and super busyness (must-finish projects, meeting others’ needs, not having enough me time during the day) keep me up at night.
My lights would go out at 11, midnight, 1 or much later.
What did I do?
I tacked on 8 hours to my bed time to be sure I got my eight hours of sleep. Healthy, right?
But I would wake feeling tired.
How could that be?
In the afternoons I took short naps. Ha! They turned out to be an hour or more long.
After a nap I felt “refreshed” and revved up enough so I could get through dinner. Then I felt sleepy again. Of course I soldiered on because I had so much to do.
Miraculously, I was always blessed with another energy boost so I could and did continue into the wee hours. The next morning I was tired again – after 8 hours of sleep!
Why didn’t I feel alert and vibrant upon waking? Why was that ever present drowsy feeling robbing me of precious afternoon time?
Turns out staying up late was costing me big time.
Should We Be Going to Bed Early?
Between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., while we are in deep sleep mode, the human body works to rid itself of the harmful effects of stress, prevent tumor growth and strengthen our immune system.
The later we fall asleep, the less time our body has to repair and restore itself.
Does going to sleep an hour or two later really make a difference?
Similar to other kinds of work, repair work of the body takes energy. If you’re not sleeping, whatever you’re choosing to do late at night diverts your energy away from repair. Restoration is halted.
Another factor affecting repair and restoration is light exposure.
The Light in Our World
The tiny pineal gland (located in the middle of our brain) is sometimes referred to as our third eye. The pineal gland is very sensitive to changes in light as it receives information through our eyes from the optic nerve.
The pineal gland is responsible for secreting melatonin, a neuro hormone and antioxidant, which is controlled by our master clock (which in turn is influenced by our circadian rhythms).
Melatonin protects against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, cellular and DNA damage. It strengthens your immune system, protects brain health and may play a role in weight control. An insufficiency of the hormone may lead to depression and SAD (seasonal affective disorder).
It also stimulates the Human Growth Hormone, which in adults, increases muscle mass, gets your metabolism going, strengthens bones and helps to prolong longevity.
The pineal gland secretes melatonin into the bloodstream when it’s dark. As your mental and physical activity during the day wane, and your body prepares for sleep, your melatonin levels and their antioxidant activity increase. By the middle of the night these levels have peaked and then gradually decrease to their lowest point during midday.
When you’re awake after 10 p.m., the restoration and repair process is disrupted. It’s also disrupted when you’ve been asleep and suddenly light hits your skin. For example, when you get up and have to go the bathroom and you turn on the light to find your way. Or when you’re exposed to blue light from electronic devices.
The smallest fraction of light will be enough to interrupt melatonin production. (Using blackout curtains, a sleep mask and/or a flashlight that emits a reddish, yellow or orangey light may help.)
Restoring Our Health
Basically, the earlier it is when you’re asleep, the greater will be your quality of sleep and the longer your repair process will have to work its magic.
The shorter your sleep time, the fewer times your body will have to cycle through the sleep stages. It’s in the deeper slow-wave stages (3 and 4) of sleep that restoration and repair take place. And the REM stages that follow increase in duration as the body cycles through the sleep stages.
As we age, our melatonin production decreases. Therefore it seems like a good idea to make the most of what’s available to us and to be asleep by 10 p.m.
Most important, making time for our nightly reboot is a loving and respectful way to ramp up our energy and to optimize our health. Shutting down early to listen to beautiful music, stretching or sitting peacefully taking in quiet and stillness before nodding off is a great way to value ourselves and feed ourselves fully.
For each individual, there are variations, of course. Are you asleep by ten? Please comment below. I’d love to know your night time regimen.