Sleep Awareness Week – What happens when you sleep?


Sleep Awareness Week

My mother used to say that “An hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after.”

An old wives’ tale or based on sound fact?

We know for certain that our bodies have a rhythm that runs during the 24 hours cycle, it is our Circadian Rhythm.  During this cycle, certain hormones and systems are either at their peak or their lowest, depending on the time of day and the habits we build into our daily lives.

Human Growth Hormone (HGH) for example, is more freely released in the late evening leading up to midnight and this hormone regulates and controls growth, repair and regeneration.  So even if you have finished growing, you may still be interested in repair and regeneration of tissues of the body, so this advice is good for all of us.

Our hormones are not an inexhaustible resource;  if we are busy being over-stimulated by outside events, or if we stay in a prolonged state of stress, then our hormones will be geared towards producing stress hormones called catabolic steroids, like Cortisol, instead of the more up-building ones like Progesterone and other natural anabolic steroids, which help maintain growth and repair.

At the Taymount clinic the treatment we specialise in is Fecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT), which is the application of a wide diversity of healthy gut bacteria into the lower bowel of somebody suffering from a less diverse or dysfunctional gut microflora.  We have observed, over the last few years, that if a person is in an inflammatory disease state, missing sleep or staying up too late will have a disadvantageous effect.  Whilst we do not treat anybody with an inflammatory condition if they are in a ‘flare’, we have noticed that being sleep-deprived is very likely to promote or develop an inflammatory condition into an acute phase, or promote a flare.  So we never treat at the onset of a flare and we stress the need for plenty of rest and sleep during the two-week treatment program.

Seek more rest when you are ill!


It seems that sleep helps to reduce inflammation, or somehow gives the body the resources it needs to complete the inflammatory cycle response to its proper conclusion.  Inflammation does exist to increase blood supply to an area of injury or attack, and to speed up the tissue regeneration process to help restore normal tissues.  So there is a helpful role that inflammation is intended to play, it isn’t all bad.  But this system does easily go into overdrive and sometimes it gets out of control, which is where “inflammatory conditions” exist.  If getting sufficient sleep switches on the HGH and enables the anabolic steroidal pathways to operate, then it can be assumed that we need more sleep when we are facing inflammatory episodes.

So rest when you can and especially seek more rest when you are ill – don’t take over the counter drugs to supress your symptoms in order to keep running at top speed.  When you are feeling under the weather, rest more – sleep more.  Sleep whenever you can and give your body the time and the resources to repair your tissues whilst you sleep and try to get more time to shut down the over-stimulation of this modern hectic life!

My first job after University was as a graduate placement trainee in computer programming for a leading UK supermarket.  All 440 of their branches had large computers which had special night-time programmes that sprang into action as soon as the stores closed for the day.  These overnight programs updated the stock numbers for sales, stock inputs, price changes, special offers, orders for restocking, etc.  When something went wrong, the overnights stopped with a flagged alarm and the (poor) programmer on night duty had to log in remotely to see what was wrong in order to re-start the overnight program.  When it was finished, the store was ready to trade for another day.

We may not be exactly like supermarket computers, but we also need to process all the previous day’s inputs during our night’s sleep and it is thought that our dreaming is part of this overnight program.

So our sleep is also processing time and if you don’t successfully complete YOUR overnights, you will not be up and ready to function for the next day.  Sleep is not just a waste of time; sleep is not just down-time; it is processing, is it healing, it is vital to good health.

Don’t scrimp on your processing time, give your body plenty of time to sleep.

I always say that I sleep slowly, it takes me 10 hours to have an 8 hour sleep!  How quickly do you sleep?


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