Lessons from Sandy

Sleep — the linchpin of health, the hours when stress hormones drop and the body does repair and recovery, shifting from the sympathetic nervous system, which burns energy, to the parasympathetic, for rest and regeneration. Eight hours for adults; more for kids and teens.

I practice what I preach. But I forgot this part: “early to bed, early to rise.” Our modern lifestyle makes it easy to forget, with light, heat and ever-present media options: TV, Internet, Skyping with friends and family around the world, catching up on emails, etc. Plus I work late most evenings, another obstacle to early bedtimes.

In sync with natural rhythms

But with no power after Hurricane Sandy, my day was over at 5 p.m. It’s hard to read by candlelight and tough to stay focused on much of anything when it’s 45 degrees inside. Most nights I was under six blankets and asleep by 9 p.m. And to my surprise, I felt much better, even with all the stress of the storm. Being in sync with natural rhythms is a powerful energizer!

Many functions are governed by circadian rhythm: that 24-hour cycle of light and darkness determined by the sun. Darkness cues the body for drowsiness, followed by sleep, ensuring that your hormones, digestion and temperature regulation, to name a few, are cued properly as well. We’re designed to sleep during the dark hours and wake with the light. Insufficient sleep is associated with weight gain, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, mood issues, poor focus and fatigue.

When you sleep is key

But research also shows that when you sleep is almost as important. Night owls may have higher risks of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even cancer, regardless of the number of hours they sleep. In fact, the World Health Organization designated rotating shift work as a probable cause of cancer.

Do you feel drowsy around 9 or 10 p.m.? Instead of pushing through it, surrender. If you have a chronic sleep deficit or hypo-functioning adrenals, you may feel more tired initially.

Stick with it, and don’t rely on caffeine. There’s no such thing as a caffeine deficiency! If you are tired, what you lack is sound, restorative sleep.

So, I thank Mother Nature for the reminder. I’m going to try not to work against her. What about you?

This was originally published as my Holistic Outlook column for The Times Herald Record.

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