More and more people are suffering from sleep dysfunction. That is what I call it. I know it for a fact, as it runs deep in my Family history's veins. My Grandparents slept 4-6 hours, at the most, nightly, and my Mum, Dad and brother are both sufferers of early waking (and I'm talking like anywhere from 2am to 4am DAILY!). I refuse to call it insomnia because I believe they can change the dysfunction (for my Family at least!). Growing up, I vowed to not fall into the pit of sleepless despair. I knew I would have to focus on letting things go and stop the dreaded ticking mind that tries to solve all my problems whilst I'm in the blessed abyss of sleep.
Knowing what to do about poor sleep patterns and dysfunction came about when I would spend days nestled with my head in a book. I would feel my mind slowly drift into a relaxed and sedated state where I could dose and be utterly relaxed. I found that challenging my mind to read before I slept worked just the same way it did when I was spending blissful days off reading.
When I studied I learnt a lot about circadian rhythm, cortisol patterns and light. Circadian rhythm and cortisol go hand in hand. Think of them as waves. Once it begins it must continue until it reaches the shores and dissolves into nothing. Cortisol patterns, once they begin, will continue on its pattern in a cyclic manner until the next 24 hour slot. This means that when you wake (which should be between 5 and 7am ideally) cortisol will be released in a large wave and the cycle will start. You should wake up and be alert within the hour of waking, and your day should continue with enough energy to last through the day until the evening (this of course is based on someone who eats healthy amounts of protein in the day to keep blood sugars stable...but that is an entirely different matter). So, you should be active and energetic in daylight hours.
What tends to happen is that people stay up MUCH later than they used to. So what used to be a wake between 5-7am and have that cortisol release now becomes a wake between approximately 7-10am, which sets the wave to taper off much later in the day, well actually... night. This could be anytime approximately between 8-11pm. Then when you are wide away at 9, 10, 11pm you use your phone to keep you occupied, or you play music loudly, or you watch TV or if you are a gamer you may be playing games til the wee hours of the morning.
But all of this means we need lights on to see what we are doing, or have the TV going. This stimulates the pituitary to think it is daylight and to start the cortisol cycle again. This interrupts another crucial rhythm.
When we were hunters and gatherers in the early beginnings of humans, we would rise at dusk, hunt, fish, gather and socialise, solve problems and provide shelter and protection to our tribes. Then when the sun set, we would sleep, recharge and restore for the next morning. This is circadian rhythm.
What technology has changed is the ability to do more at night, ONTOP of what we already do during the day (some of us using sugar to keep our energy levels up throughout the hours). So we become both Diurnal and Nocturnal. This patterning will ultimately cause adrenal stress and many sleepless nights.
So I have my switch off period, that I recommend to almost all of my clients (that includes my wee ones I see). One hour before bedtime (which is a pretty strict 10pm for my sleepless clients), there is no TV, no Laptop, no loud or stimulating music, no phone or any other technology emitting a light. Lights are dimmed and used sparingly (think dimmed lamps and no LED's). There is reading or meditation or drawing/ mindful colouring or any other form of gentle relaxation that works for that person. Then there is utter and complete darkness at 10pm. Using that hour beforehand to relax should have allowed you time to unwind, and for my serious over thinkers, an hour of reading.
Following this routine could take a month or two to adjust your cortisol cycle and circadian rhythm. But the sleep quality is MUCH better. The likelihood of reaching REM sleep is much more achievable. It is resetting back into a diurnal pattern.
My Partner and I are building, and our little house is full of windows (even a skylight!) and very private. So I told my partner we weren't having curtains. That we would rise when the sun does and relax when the sun sets, as our ancestors did, and as we were meant to. Because I refuse to have sleep dysfunction, and because watching the sun and moon rise everyday is something worth waking up to.