The science of sleep; it’s all in the mind…

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‘Surely it’s not morning already?’  Do you sometimes hear the alarm clock go off and feel as though you’ve watched every hour of the night go by?  A bad night’s sleep can be frustrating, but chronic sleep problems can seep into every aspect of our lives, affecting our mood, memory and motivation and overall health on a fundamental level.


Too stressed about sleep….to sleep?

We are all affected by periods of poor sleep in our lives, and whilst the causes of sleep disruption are many, stress is one of the most common factors which keeps us tossing and turning through the night!  Worse, poor sleep can become a trigger in itself, making the bedroom a place of dread.  If you are at this point – or are getting close to it, you are certainly not alone.

According to the Great British Bedtime Report, about 1/3 of the UK population survives on between 5 and 6 hours’ sleep per night.  And that, according to research, is simply not enough for our body’s needs.

Understanding a little more about the process of sleep and how easily it can be disturbed can really help motivate us to adopt good sleeping habits (read on for information on my up-and-coming Sleep Workshop!). Not only that, the process of how we fall – and stay – asleep, and wake again day after day, is actually truly fascinating!


Take a journey into your very own sleep lab…

There are many hormones involved in the sleep-wake process, and like a master laboratory, our bodies measure, reduce and increase levels of each of these hormones (or neurotransmitters) to induce, maintain or end sleep.  It’s a beautiful and finely tuned system which can easily be upset through unhealthy bedtime habits.

Thalamus: the ‘sleep switch’.

The complex cocktail of neurotransmitters involved in sleep is controlled largely by an area in the thalamus referred to as the ‘sleep switch’.  Normally, we sleep and wake at regular times, waking well and refreshed.  However, when there’s a disruption – as night shift workers and world travellers will know, the thalamus struggles to impose its 8 hour sleep cycle, leaving us exhausted and unable to function as well as we might.

Serotonin: the ‘happy hormone’

People with insomnia are more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety, and vice versa.  Serotonin plays a key part in regulating sleep and mood, and a lack of the hormone can have profound effects on both.  Commonly, doctors will prescribe medication to artificially raise serotonin levels; however, there are also many ways to increase these levels naturally, such as increasing physical activity and exposure to sunlight, having a balanced diet and reducing stress. Sophrology is the perfect tool to achieve a better balance in these areas, and to get your ‘happy’ back!

Melatonin: the ‘sleep hormone’

You may know that Melatonin makes us drowsy, but did you know that it’s only produced in the dark? Low light levels directly from the eyes signal production of this important hormone, which is why we get sleepy earlier as the nights draw in …and why we shouldn’t use our gadgets late at night!  Screen light inhibits production of melatonin and is as common factor of poor sleep onset.  Further, as Melatonin is derived from Serotonin, reducing stress in your day-to-day life can actually increase levels of both.

Adenosine: anyone for coffee? 

Adenosine helps to bring on sleep and begins building up from the moment you wake up until it does its job at night – which is why we often get drowsy as the day goes on.  Drinking that hot coffee during your afternoon ‘slump’ works because it actually blocks Adenosine; but drink too much and the surplus of unused (or blocked) adenosine will not be used up through the night, leaving you groggy in the morning, and reaching for …a strong coffee:)  A vicious cycle for many of us!  

Cortisol: master of the body clock!

Cortisol – commonly known as the ‘stress hormone’ makes us alert and serves as the final ‘alarm clock’ that gets us moving.  So why don’t we wake up like lightbulbs, ready to go? This is because Cortisol levels take about an hour after we wake, to reach full capacity.  However, Cortisol is also the ‘master’ of our circadian rhythms (cycles by which we sleep and wake) and therefore overly high levels of this hormone associated with stress can disrupt these rhythms, with a broken night’s sleep in the process.

These are only a few of the 11 hormones thought to be responsible for sleep, working together like biological cogs in our body clock.  It’s not hard to imagine then, how quickly sleep can be affected when we are stressed!  The good news is however, that there is a lot we can do by ourselves to restore that balance.


Do you want to see how sophrology can help get your sleep back?

Get short and simple practices to find your inner calm and discover how to take back control of your body and health.


Image by Claudio_Scott from Pixabay

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