Sleep is one of the most basic – and fundamental – foundations of health. We can’t live without it. Sleep deprivation, disrupted sleep, or even too much sleep, can throw off our hormones, mess with our digestion, add inches to our waistline, and can even keep our brains from functioning properly.
Even missing on our 1 or 2 hours of sleep per night can trigger sleep deprivation symptoms.
Some of the effects of sleep deprivation include:
- Impaired brain activity
- Cognitive dysfunction
- Moodiness – depression and anxiety
- Weakened immune function
- Weight gain
- Heart disease
- Blood sugar dysregulation and diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Memory problems
Most of us typically consider ourselves a morning person or a night owl depending on our personal sleep preferences. You might like staying up a little later at night to catch up with your spouse, watch a movie or just unwind after a long day. Or you are a morning person, up at the crack of dawn before the birds even start chirping. Some people gravitate to being a “night owl” or a “morning lark” based on their environment, social connections, and work schedule. In fact, many of us create our sleep schedule based on our lifestyle. Did you know that your optimal sleep schedule and needs are actually coded within our DNA? And when we fail to honor our build in clocks, we risk throwing our whole body out of sync.
Sleep Chronotype vs. Circadian Rhythm
Your circadian rhythm — your brain’s sleep-wake cycle — determines when you’re alert and when you’re sleepy over a 24-hour period. It’s the internal clock that your brain uses to signal when to release certain hormones and in turn carry out a variety of functions. We often think of our body as having one internal clock, but in reality we have many. We have our one master clock that all the other clocks are set to. We have clocks for digestion, liver function, detox, metabolism and more. Melatonin, cortisol, growth hormone, leptin and ghrelin are among some of the hormones affected by circadian rhythm, and sleep in general.
A person’s sleep chronotype is the propensity for the individual to sleep at a particular time during a 24-hour period. The majority of the population fall into the morning preference chronotype. The world is built for them. School starts at 7:45 am, most office jobs start at 8 or 9 am – which means people are expected to get up and commute even earlier. Sleep experts all over the world recommend that for optimal health we go to bed by 10pm and sleep 8 hours, which will have us up a 6am.
This is great for those with a morning chronotype. On this schedule, their hormones will function well, digestion will be firing, their brain will be sharp, and they will be most productive in the earlier part of the day. If they practice good sleep hygiene (see below) and a healthy lifestyle they will be set up for restorative sleep, and experience less chronic health conditions.
However, this schedule isn’t great for those with an evening chronotype coded into their DNA. We all have the same 24 hour clocks, and generally humans are diurnal creatures, meaning we are active during the day and sleep in the evening. However, for some people, the master clock of the body is shifted forward. Which means all of their body clocks are also shifted forward. For this person to operate at optimal function (hormone, digestion, immune, and cognitive) , they would need to honor their later schedule, going to bed closer to midnight and sleeping until 8am.
There are also a smaller percentage of people who have genes that code their circadian clocks in an even more extreme way, making it quite difficult for them to conform to conventional schedules. In cases of Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome (ASPS), individuals have an extreme morning preference. These people feel best going to bed a 8pm and waking up at 4 am. Things like going out to dinner at 7pm could result in tummy trouble for a person with ASPS, since their digestive clock is already winding down for the night.
On the other end of the spectrum is Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS). These individuals have an extreme evening preference. Their internal clocks works best when they are able to sleep until 10am and they get their best work done late at night, going to bed optimally around 2am. Working in corporate America, it would be very hard for a person with these genes to function optimally at their job, and they experience a myriad of chronic health conditions as a result of being out of synch with their own body clocks.
Determining Sleep Chronotype
Understanding your sleep chronotype could be the answer to unexplained health issues, chronic fatigue, digestive issues or an inability to overcome hormone imbalance. There are many ways to determine your chronotype, including trial and error of sleep routines and habits to see which works best for your body. However, since many of us have trained our bodies over many years to adopt a particular schedule, and we are surrounded by artificial lights, electromagnetic fields, and constant stress, it could be hard to truly connect to your true intuitive clock.
The easier, and more accurate way to determine your chronotype (as well as many other aspects of sleep optimization) is to look at your DNA. There are a group of genes called Period Genes which include CLOCK and PERS genes. These genes code for circadian propensity, or your preference for morning or evening; they code for proteins that help keep us awake during the day and asleep during the night.
Understanding your specific genotypes will help you to identify the best sleep patterns for you, along with the best sleep hygiene habits, supplements, and biohacks and more to give you quality sleep and in turn a happy, healthier, more productive life.
In addition to your circadian propensity, sleep genes can tell us how many hour of sleep per night is optimal for you, whether you are prone to disrupted sleep, if you are at risk for sleep disorders like sleep apnea, narcolepsy and restless leg, and also how much time it should take you to fall asleep once your head hits the pillow. Hint: if you are falling asleep in just a few minutes, you are likely sleep deprived!
When your enroll in DNA Made Simple, you are able to look at the genetic factors that affect your sleep, and learn what adjustments, lifestyle choices and strategies you can implement to optimize your sleep – and your health. DNA Made Simple covers topics such as nutrition, vitamins and minerals, immune issues, sleep, gut health, brain health , heart health and more. Your unique genetics can also help you to create your own personal human instruction manual. This information takes the guesswork and trial and error out of healing and fast-tracks you to optimal health. There are many ways to achieve health, but only ONE way that is optimal for you. Let us help you find it!
No matter your genetics, there are some general sleep practices everyone should implement to get a better night’s sleep, here are a few you can begin implementing now:
- Avoid blue light in the evenings. This means wearing blue light blocking glasses or simply turning off those screens (TV, phone, tablet) at night. These are my favorite blue light glasses from my friends at Swanwick and if you use code GLOW10 you can get 10% off your purchase. Investing in a pair for every member of the family is a great idea. Turn the lights down low in your house in the evening to help your body naturally produce melatonin.
- Go to bed around the same time each night and wake up around the same time each morning. Having a consistent routine will help your body’s circadian rhythm stay in check.
- Have a nighttime routine. This will help signal your brain and body that it’s time to start getting sleepy and relaxed. For example, you might wash your face, take a hot bath, and read for 20 minutes (a book – not a screen!) in bed. Doing this on a regular basis will help you prepare each night for sleep.
- Keep your bedroom dark and cool. This means covering any lights from alarm clocks and smoke detectors and investing in some blackout curtains. Set your thermostat to 64-68 degrees fahrenheit. Light and temperature (especially if it’s too warm) can disrupt sleep.
- Use a weighted blanket. Now, this may not be good for everyone, but those with anxiety or racing thoughts, or people with some sensory issues, may find that the weight of a weighted blanket helps them to feel safe, comforted and stable giving them better quality sleep.
- Take magnesium at night. Magnesium is known as the relaxation mineral, and is a great option for helping to improve relaxation and sleep. An epsom salt bath with a few drops of essential oil (lavender is a favorite for nighttime) at night can help to bring magnesium into the body, while relaxing you and getting you ready for bed.
Determining your specific sleep chronotype can be vital for ensuring that you get good sleep and function at your best on a daily basis. Being mindful of your nighttime habits and setting yourself up to be able to relax at night will help to get you to bed on time – and without laying there awake too long. Using your DNA to unlock your specific sleep needs takes the guesswork out of what’s best for your body, too!