The rhythm of sleep

West Liberty Index

West Liberty, Iowa

by Dr. Carl Gillman · May 06, 2009

Our bodies rely on sleep to rebuild themselves as well as to restore our psychological selves. Certain rhythms, called circadian rhythms, determine when we sleep and wake. Disruption of these cycles can produce an array of physical and psychological changes. Light triggers the release of Cortisol, a hormone which stimulates our minds and bodies into activity. When the sun rises, we tend to wake up and get active. As the day progresses, our Cortisol levels gradually decline until evening when we wind down and prepare for sleep. Stimulants, such as caffeine, cause further release of Cortisol extending the time of higher activity. The average cup of strong coffee, for example, contains 300 mg of caffeine which has a half-life of six hours. So if you have a cup of coffee at three in the afternoon, you’ll have 150 mg of caffeine in your system at nine o’clock. Six hours later, well into your sleeping time, you’ll have 75 mg of caffeine stimulating your adrenal glands to secrete Cortisol. This can cause too little sleep or sleeping too lightly which robs us of needed restoration. Sleep deprivation is a serious thing and in extreme cases can cause people to endure severe psychological changes and even commit suicide. Mild sleep deprivation is far more common, according to sleep experts, as most adults do not get the recommended amount of sleep which is eight hours. The cumulative effects can negatively impact your health because your body is unable to restore itself and this ongoing fatigue adds stress.

The restorative processes in sleep are roughly divided into physical and psychological in two 4-hour blocks. Losing sleep reduces the rebuilding needed by our bodies for optimum health, usually in the physical block. As the body and mind are connected, loss in either area has a bad result overall. It only takes 1 to 3 weeks to set a new cycle, even if it’s destructive. Correcting bad cycles and rhythms is imperative for optimal health.

Here’s a target schedule to adopt and some tips for better sleep.

• Be asleep by 10 p.m. This does not mean go to bed at 10, or watch the evening news then go to bed. It means sleep by 10. Set your schedule so you can sleep for eight hours. This may take some days to achieve but keep working at it.

• Go to bed. Sleeping on the couch is a poor substitute for an actual bed because sustained deep sleep is unlikely.

• Make sure there are no light sources “leaking” light into your bedroom; it should be dark while you sleep. If you need to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, get yourself night lights which emit a green or red light, such as “Limelight” night lights. These colors of light do not strongly activate the Cortisol release which could prevent you from returning to sleep easily.

• If you’ve had a mattress for eight years or more, replace it. Studies show after seven years even expensive mattresses may not provide the support needed for restful sleep. Water beds and air bladder mattresses can last longer.

• Remove any radios and televisions from your bedroom. Falling asleep to these stimulating sources prevents deep restful sleep.

• Make sure you stick to your schedule. Sleeping later into the morning disrupts your cycle so brief naps are a better choice if you’re really tired.

• Finish eating and drinking any alcohol three hours before you are to be asleep. Consuming too close to bedtime can cause poor sleep, too.

• Stop caffeine intake early in the day, choosing decaffeinated after lunch.

• Exercise daily for at least 30 minutes. Exercise helps burn Cortisol and aids the systemic wind-down needed for good sleep.

Dr. Gillman can be reached at the West Liberty Chiropractic Center: 627-4787 or


Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.