Shut eye: It is important to be asleep between the hours of 10:30pm and 6am. *File photo
Shut eye: It is important to be asleep between the hours of 10:30pm and 6am. *File photo

One of the biggest obstacles in reaching optimal health is a lack of sleep. I have found this to be a huge factor with all my clients and I commonly ask them: ‘Are you getting to bed on time?’ Sleep is the cheapest and easiest way we can improve our health and getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis is without a doubt the biggest bang for your buck.

Disrupted sleeping patterns or circadian rhythms as they are known can be responsible for nagging injuries, headaches, aches and pains, frequently getting the flu, being tired all the time and even a reduced sex drive.

Our circadian rhythm is a naturally occurring physiological 24 hour cycle. As human beings we are hard wired and designed to wake up when the sun rises and rest when the sun sets just like our sun-driven ancestors. But this is almost impossible in the age of electricity and easy access to lighting.

Our body physically repairs itself between 10pm and 2am and then psychologically repairs itself between 2am and 6am. 

If you are going to bed later than 10:30pm on most nights then you are cutting into your physical repair time. 

If your body is not given the chance to repair itself then it will end up breaking down leading to illness and chronic fatigue. If you are going to bed even later in the early hours then you have not only missed out on physical repair but you are now limiting your psychological repair which can have an effect on your personality and even lead to neurological disorders.

Awakening hormones are released around 6am and peak around 9am. These hormones including cortisol prepare our body for the day. Our sleepy hormones such as melatonin start being released around 6pm so we can wind down and begin growth and repair.

The problem is that every time we see light, regardless of the source, the body starts releasing cortisol.

Light is interpreted as morning sunshine and daytime activities so when you are staying up watching late night television or reading under the light, the body is still releasing those awakening hormones which will make it harder to go to sleep. 

We should ideally avoid bright lights two hours before bedtime.

Other factors that can affect our sleep patterns are stimulants like coffee, alcohol and soda as these will have a hormonal consequence on the body and will have an impact on your sleep. 

Try to cut down on stimulants after lunchtime especially coffee as the caffeine will still be in the bloodstream well into the night.

Electronic magnetic frequencies commonly found in alarm clocks can also affect our sleep so it would be advisable to completely turn off TV sets at night and move your alarm clock away from your bed to the other side of the room.

We should try to balance out our blood sugar levels during the day by ensuring that we eat a mix of carbohydrate, fats and protein at every meal. 

Too much carbohydrate during the day will lead to even more cortisol being released and remember that is the awakening hormone. We also should avoid exercising late at night too for the same reasons.

To get the most value out of our sleep we need to be getting to bed by 10:30pm every night and waking up no earlier than 6am. 

If you are getting to bed too late then I suggest starting a sleep schedule aiming for bed about 10-15 minutes earlier each night until you are going to sleep by 10:30pm. 

It typically takes the body 7-21 days to become used to such a schedule so you may find you are not actually that tired when it comes to 10:30pm but you will soon get into the routine.

So, if you want to lose weight, build muscle, recover quickly from injuries and stay mentally alert and focused then make sure you are getting to bed on time. Sweet dreams!