As mum’s this can be a common struggle, especially with disrupted sleep from our kiddos, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it.
If you’re super tired, maybe you’re even waking up tired although you’ve slept through the night…but when it comes to bedtime…bing! You become an energiser bunny doing all the things you couldn’t muster your zombie self to do all day, chances are you have what we call dysregulated cortisol and an out of whack circadian rhythm.
Let me explain…
Circadian rhythm is our body’s 24-hour clock that regulates our sleep and wake cycles. When this natural rhythm gets upset, our energy level and sleep quality go to pot.
Kid disturbances aside…back in the day we would wake and sleep with the sun rise and set. The sun was our light source in the day, candles, fire, and moon light at night. But with our modern way of life, we’re often shut indoors all day away from the sun under artificial fluorescent lighting, surrounded by computer screens and WiFi, and we are stimulated by TV screens, lighting, computers, and mobile phones in our evenings when we should be winding down.
Why is this such an issue?
Well, bright lights in the evening stimulate our suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) and pineal gland affecting our melatonin production. Melatonin is our sleep hormone (it’s also produced in the gut so good gut health, in particular a healthy mucosal barrier, is also important for healthy melatonin production).
Melatonin is not only our sleep hormone, but it is also one of the body’s important antioxidants, way more powerful than acai and goji berries! Melatonin goes into our mitochondria (our energy powerhouses that pretty much run your bodily functions) and protects them from oxidative and nitrosative stress.
When we protect our circadian rhythm we protect our melatonin production, which in turn protects our mitochondria and therefore our energy.
Not only that but altered circadian rhythm also upsets autophagy. Autophagy is the cellular clean up mechanism where damaged cells get gobbled up and recycled as new healthy cells and mitochondria are formed. Autophagy takes place predominantly at night, so if you aren’t getting deep restful sleep, less autophagy occurs, which speeds up aging, and suppresses cellular and mitochondrial regeneration, again impacting your energy levels.
But it doesn’t stop there! Circadian rhythm upset also affects our neurotransmitter production, so we have less serotonin (mood, joy, pleasure), dopamine (pleasure, reward, motivation/drive and stress tolerance), GABA (relaxation and calm), and Orexin (energy and wakefulness). Which all leads to an unhappy, deflated, knackered, wired, stressed out, burnt out, sleep deprived…you get the picture…mumma!
Messed up hey?!
Ok, so I don’t expect you to be outdoors all day and basking in the moonlight at night…well not every day anyway! …so what are some things you can do to help protect your circadian rhythm?
1. Get bright sunlight in your mornings
Getting 20-30 mins of morning sun, ideally between 8am and 10am, helps to set your circadian rhythm in place right from the start of the day by stimulating your Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR), helping to energise and wake you up (our cortisol should be high in the morning then switch with melatonin in the evening when we’re wanting to slow down and sleep). So, as soon as you can, make enjoying a cuppa in your garden or in a sunny window your morning priority!
2. Work out in the morning
Working out in the morning also helps our CAR, setting us up for the day. If we workout in the evening there’s a chance we’ll raise our cortisol when it should be decreasing, ready to switch over with melatonin for our sleep time. Workouts should be after a balanced breakie of protein, fats, and carbs of course, to avoid slamming your adrenals. If you feel drained after a workout consider if you’re doing too much and pushing too hard. You may benefit from a slower more nourishing movement program such as walking, swimming, yoga, or simple stretching.
3. Avoid bright lights in the evenings
Avoid suppressing melatonin release by using lamps, dimmer switches, and red lights in the evenings. I like to use salt lamps for a low, warm light (and decreased fire hazard compared with candles!). I have red light bulbs in my bedside lamps so I can still enjoy reading my book before bed without supressing my melatonin production.
4. Turn off your electronics 2 hours before bed
The blue and green wavelengths of light emitted from these devices really disrupt your melatonin (sleep hormone levels). 2 hour may seem impossible so start with 30 minutes – anything is better than nothing – but aim for no devices after 8pm. This can be a nourishing time for you to enjoy with your partner or have some alone time reading a book or enjoying a hobby (I’m planning on trying some macrame next!).
5. Put your devices on night mode
Set your ipad/phone’s brightness to change automatically in the evenings – just a flash of blue light from your phone can reduce melatonin by up to 60%!
6. Get a pair of “blue blocker glasses”
If you absolutely and positively can’t in any way avoid being on screen devices and/or in bright lights up until bedtime as a matter of life or death, then, first ask if that really is true, then consider blue-blocker glasses during these hours.
Blue Blockers block blue (and green if you are hardcore like me) wavelengths of light (try TrueDark or SafetyBlue). My super sexy SafetyBlue Sleep Saviour Ultra wrap around glasses are the best, as these avoid light entering from the sides of the lens. Plus you look super sexy…right?!
7. Get blackout curtains or wear an eyemask
Ensure your bedroom is dark and there are no lights from clock radios, streetlights etc. Use light reducing stickers on electronics if needed (although these are best kept out of the bedroom due to the EMF they emit). I use a Dream Essentials Pure Mulberry Silk Side Sleeper Eye Mask.
8. Turn off WiFi router overnight as well as wireless devices
(and keep them well away from where you spend most of your time during the day).
Use a timer to do this automatically for you if you forget. The electromagnetic fields (EMFs) disrupt the quality of your sleep as well as the ability of your body’s immune system to do the cellular repair work it is supposed to do during the hours of sleep, which can lead to a range of health problems.
9. Get to bed before 10pm
This is when your cortisol and melatonin switch. Miss this and you may get a second wind and find it harder to wind down and fall asleep or get quality sleep. I’ve even had self-professed night owls tell me this has been the biggest game changer for them, and something they never thought was possible.
10. Keep your wake and sleep times the same everyday
This allows your body to get into a rhythm i.e. get up and go to bed at the same time on the weekend as weekdays.
Now obviously as mum’s this will go to shit at times but having any of these things in place will help you to regulate your sleep/wake cycle for more sustained energy throughout your day.
Pick just one and start there, I promise you can’t help but see improvements.
I’d love to hear how you go and how your energy improves!