Brain Fog or Brain Swamp?Aug 02, 2021
We all have 168 hours in a week and increasingly, it seems, we are trying to squeeze 200 hours of life into them. With the pressures of long hours at work, a need to socialise, exercise, clean the house, catch up on Netflix and idle time spent scrolling there is too much "doing" trying to fit into each day.
Something has to give and most of the time it's sleep.
Why is it we think sleep is for wimps?
When did boasting about how little sleep you live on become some weird badge of honour?
It doesn't matter if you think you are a night owl or like to go with the flow and be spontaneous - that's just belief patterns.
At the end of the day we are diurnal mammals - meaning our biology is linked to the sun and we are active during daylight. There isn't a single system or hormonal messenger in your body that isn't linked to the light-dark cycle and to live without respect for this Circadian rhythm is a recipe for biological chaos and poor health.
But whenever I raise the topic of sleep with someone struggling with chronic ill health I get that look. Every. Single. Time.
The look that says "Really? Sleep? I don't have time to sleep, just give me a quick solution, I'll sleep when I'm dead" - well, be careful what you wish for, since insomnia (defined in medical sleep studies as trouble falling to sleep 1-2 times per week) has been linked to increased disease and early death from all causes.
Back in the 1950s, our family members were getting on average 1.5-2 hours of extra sleep every night. Put another way, we have an entire MONTH of continuous sleep LESS than them EVERY YEAR.
You cannot radically improve your chronic illness without putting sleep back in its place - as an equal to the waking state, not the runt of the litter.
When we don’t honour our Circadian rhythm and it becomes chronically disrupted we exist in a kind of Circadian Brain Fog, or mild JET LAG.
For my fellow autoimmune disease folks out there I am sure you recognise that Brain Fog/Jet Lag feeling - I know it was my reality for about 3 years before I got control of it.
When we are asleep certain functions in the body are prioritised and 2 of the important ones for us are:
1. Immune System regulation - with autoimmunity the Immune System becomes dys-regulated and basically doesn't shut down and audit itself. This leads to spiraling inflammation and tissue damage as the immune system attacks you (auto meaning self). As both immune regulation and tissue repair are prioritised at night, lack of adequate sleep means a steady worsening of all autoimmune symptoms. Incidentally, whilst we are healing an autoimmune disease we may require 8-12 hours per night as opposed to the standard 7-9 hours when we are symptom-free.
2. The second big issue is brain fog, which we might rename brain swamp. During the day, your brain is the biggest user of calories - its using up a whopping 25% of them to run the show that is your daily life - thinking, planning, regulating body temperature, moving, eating - literally everything is being orchestrated by your brain. All of this normal functioning produces normal waste products. But the brain is different than other organs which transport this waste out for removal all day long. The brain has a different mechanism and its called the glymphatic system.
The brain waits until you are in a deep sleep, where most brain activity is offline. Then it shrinks all the brain cells by about 60% leaving lots of space between them. And just like throwing a bucket of water over your patio to clean it, the brain is flushed through with fluid which carries all the waste away for removal.
Imagine if that doesn't happen every night.
Imagine if the rubbish collection department of your town go on strike and the bins are not collected in your street for weeks on end (if you were alive in the UK in the 1970s you may well remember this). Things get smelly and unpleasant, not to mention hazardous to health, pretty quickly.
So - 2, 3, 4 nights without adequate sleep? Brain swamp. No wonder you can't focus, think clearly, make good decisions or apply good logic to problems. There's a visual clue in our language - we value "clear thinking" not "muddy thinking".
So, it's time to prioritise sleep:
1. sleep in complete darkness - my absolute favourite sleep aid, which had a radical impact on my sleep was to use an eye mask.
2. sleep in a cool room
3. have set bedtime and getting up times EVERY DAY, even on weekends and don't vary it by more than an hour
4. go outside and get daylight (behind a window is no good) for 10 minutes within 30 minutes of waking
5. turn off all screens and blue light sources at least an hour before bedtime (or use blue blocking glasses)
6. ritualise your bedtime routine - this triggers the nervous system that its time to sleep soon
7. utilise sedative and soporific essential oils as part of that bedtime routine.
There is a difference between knowing something and doing it. If you are having trouble implementing these, or need help with accountability, maybe its time to hire a health coach - you cannot afford to ignore this any longer.
If you need help - send me an email and lets set up some time for a quick 15 minute call to get to the heart of what's not working in your health.
Or, simply use this link to book a call now
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