World Sleep Day: Can’t catch Zs? Holistic lifestyle expert Luke Coutinho cracks the circadian code
Thirty years ago, a sleep-deprived individual at the helm of a 987-feet-long oil tanker rammed it into the Gulf of Alaska. It resulted in one of the biggest environmental disasters the planet has ever witnessed. This horrific incident puts the age-old adage, ‘Never sleep on the job’ into a new perspective. It’s also one of the reasons why this World Sleep Day (March 13), the global theme revolves around the slogan: Better Sleep, Better Life, Better Planet.
According to the World Sleep Society, sleep problems are estimated to affect the quality of life for an astounding 45 per cent of the world’s population. Sleeping well also has a huge impact on our mood and temperament, as it can ensure better decision-making capacity that may affect our planet as a whole. So we sat down with Luke Coutinho, holistic lifestyle coach – integrative medicine — to gain a better understanding of the importance of catching Zs.
For those of us who are unaware of the term ‘Circadian Rhythm’, please break down its importance.
The circadian rhythm or sleep/wake cycle is what generates feelings of wakefulness and sleepiness during the entire 24-hour cycle. Pretty much how we sleep, eat and digest, secrete certain hormones, bowel movements, detoxification — everything works according to the circadian rhythm. Messing it up can disturb every single aspect of human health.
Functions that occur in our body during a state of deep rest — like growth, repair, regeneration, healing, recycling, detoxification, balancing — works by this clock. The very process of falling asleep happens according to our circadian rhythm when the sleep hormone called melatonin is secreted. This is why not living or acting by following our internal clock, like pulling all-nighters, can prevent regular functioning of all the vital processes.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about sleep?
Sleep debt is a myth. We cannot doze off for just a few hours from Monday to Friday thinking that we will oversleep during the weekend and our body will be fine with it. Humans need sleep and rest, every single night. Another issue is that a lot of millennials think they may be able to do away with lesser sleep i.e. 4-5 hours. They always focus on quality sleep over quantity sleep.
However, they must understand that it is simply because they’re young and their bodies are pumping in cortisol to keep them going. There may soon be a time when their adrenal glands get burned out — leading to extreme fatigue and lethargy.
Is it okay to sleep while listening to a podcast or letting our favourite sitcoms play in the background, from ‘yawn to dawn’?
Regardless of whether you’re a millennial or a senior citizen, our body functions in the same way. Everyone can continue to hear podcasts and listen to music. But, any sort of exposure to screens (especially those with blue lights) should be limited as it prevents and blocks the secretion of melatonin.
Also, one thing to consider with sitcoms is that they’re addictive. They help your brain relieve dopamine and then your body wants more — which is why you binge-watch! It is okay to watch it as a tool of recreation but at the same time, they should know where to draw the line. Practice self-discipline and switch-off all electronic gadgets at least two hours before sleeping. Switch off the Wi-Fi, if it helps!
According to you, what are some of the day-to-day activities that we can follow to achieve optimal sleep health?
● Firstly, set up a bedtime routine. It serves as a disconnect from the daytime chaos. An hour before hitting the sack, follow bedtime rituals. Anything from praying and reflecting on your day to making love and engaging in pleasant conversations.
● Silence the mental chatter and millions of thoughts in your mind. It restricts you from falling asleep by practising deep breathing or pranayama. Left nostril breathing particularly helps in calming you down, thus inducing sleep.
● Staring at the rising or setting sun for a minute or two, helps. Primarily because the intensity of light is much lower and helps you reset your circadian rhythm.
● One can also explore Yoga Nidra as it is one of the deepest meditations ever known. Here, the mind is alert but the body is at rest and the mind relaxes the body. Apparently, 20 minutes of Yoga Nidra is equal to two hours of deep sleep.