The Big Picture of Sleep.

We all know how important sleep is for optimum functionality throughout the day. However, to make the most of what ,historically, was called the little death, is becoming more and more of an issue in our demanding lifestyle.  

Not getting enough sleep will, overtime, affect all areas of your life. We now hear a lot about it and are promised that all the fixes are coming: we now have new gadgets can tell us what we are doing incorrectly. Sleep isn't just what we do when we are not doing anything: It is a market. A massive and trendy economy that is selling something we cannot live without.

Before buying the latest devices that promise you a good night sleep, let's take a look at the basics.

How lack of sleep will make you run on autopilot which may lead to making poor choices.

When sleep deprived, we are losing glucose in our brain, which is the fuel of the brain. In other words, we are running low on brain power or becoming less intelligent. This is why we tend not to eat well when we are tired (sugary things). We have this innate mechanism to get glucose back into the system.

In primitive times, being low in brain power meant you were not quick enough to make decision that could save your life from a predator or have enough energy to hunt and gather the food you need for survival.

Although today's life is very different but a simple trip to the refrigerator is all you need for a quick fix.

So if you're tired, you will no longer be in charge. Your brain's survival instinct will kick in and it will remember that ice cream hidden in your freezer and make you do it! The next thing you know, you've finished the entire pot of Ben & Jerry's cookie dough wondering what just happened. You are left with that feeling of guilt, all the while without realising you were set up for relapse in the first place.

But it is time to sleep smarter and better.

Sleep is the secrets sauce. The exponential multiplier that puts together all the things you do during the day.

Sleep depravation is directly related to not losing weight and in the long term may contribute greatly to the development of degenerative diseases

One night of sleep depravation is enough to make you insulin resistant just like someone who has Type 2 diabetes. Sleep deprivation increases risk of cancer to Alzheimer's and even heart disease.

A study conducted by the World Health Organisation conducted throughout a 14 year period on 657 men, found that the men with poor sleep quality were twice as likely to have a heart attack and up to 4 times more likely to have a stroke during the time of the study period.

Heart disease is one of biggest causes of death today, despite being totally preventable.

You are not alone. In the U.K., up to 60% of the population report having trouble sleeping every night or every other night. Studies has also shown that we sleep an average of 1.5 to 2 hours less than our ancestors great-grandparents did a century ago.

How did we get here and how can you improve your sleep?

First, we need to understand that sleep is the only way for the brain to fully regenerate: to unload the toxins caused by the trillions of biomechanical reactions it undertakes during the course of the day. Making sure you get your 7-8 hours of sleep is essential in order to maintain optimum health.

Remove the stress, reduce the cortisol.

Your circadian rhythm is influenced by your a hormone called cortisol. In a healthy human, cortisol should be high in the morning with the sunrise (helping you jump of the bed) and low in the evening to let melatonin kick in to induce you into a sound sleep. However for a lot of us, it does not happen that way.

Poor sleep and stress often come hand in hand. If your stress level are high all day because of work or any other trigger in your life, chances are your cortisol will stay high and a good night sleep may not be on schedule.

Meet the GR gene.

People with a high variant of this gene are more likely to suffer from chronic stress.

If this is you, make sure to implement a stress reduction strategy during the day. Simple breathing techniques or meditation has been proven to be really efficient in reducing cortisol levels.

Make it personal!

Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Do you do your best work in the morning, winding down in the evening towards a relatively early bedtime? Or are you a night owl, tending to wake later and perhaps gaining in energy and focus as the day progresses, preferring to work and play in the evening hours?

PER1 gene is part of a group of genes that affects circadian rhythms.

These genes are strongly linked to circadian timing and to the tendency towards living as an owl or a lark.

We can all do ourselves a favour by paying attention to our natural tendencies for sleeping and waking, using this information to make our daily schedules work for both our sleep and our health.

Don't underestimate the blue light.

There is a small but growing body of literature suggesting that variations in the gene for melanopsin underlie how sensitive we are to blue light and how likely we are to go to bed late at night.

The primary function of melanopsin that we are concerned with is the response to blue light (and to a lesser degree to green light) by generating a signal that will let the brain know that it is daytime: time to shut down melatonin and increases cortisol levels. Or in other words, to turn on the physiological response associated with being awake and alert.

Knowing which gene variant you have could help you adapt accordingly. In any case, not using any electronic devices at least 2 hours prior to bed time and having some downtime or ritual prior to hitting the pillow is what I recommend.

Put that phone away, grab a good book, reconnect with your love ones and have a conversation. See the difference.

Research conducted in neurology shows that sleep plays a huge function of our DNA & RNA. The study reports that these epigenetic mechanisms are clearly regulated by the circadian clock.

The sleep will determine the quality of the copies that your DNA will print out of your body. Printing cells of a sexy beast or of a the cells of a wilder beast.

Which one do you want to be ?