It may be safe to say that this being our second year into a pandemic, a lot of us are feeling a little fatigued. We are all constantly bombarded with loads of information and this is why we will be looking at the most significant science-based¹sleep tip.
When the pandemic first threw our lives into turmoil, we were running on adrenaline. Today, the adrenaline has worn off and pandemic fatigue4has set in. It’s like competing in an endurance race that we didn’t sign up for
Although I am 55, I am often asked from women a lot younger than me,
“How do you get motivated at the start of the day if you are sleep deprived (and therefore severely lacking in energy)?”
So, how do you optimise your energy levels? For starters, get better sleep. There is one sleep tool that is available to all of us and it can help you beat fatigue. This tool does not require you to buy anything, it only encourages you to go back to basics.
To be brutally honest, sleep did not come easy for me. In fact, my war with fatigue has been a long standing one. To be precise, after my father passed away when I was 16 (during my High School Certificate), my sleep was impacted. Life got a little too challenging. I inherited some major responsibilities. I had to look after my family’s affairs while studying to fulfil my ambition to study Science at University. As a consequence, sleep became an area that I needed to focus on in order to improve, naturally.
Sleep is a process
One bad night sleep and our stress levels are increased the next day. More than two sleepless nights and our body will continue to produce high levels of the stress hormone cortisol and this can negatively impact our immune system. Every organ in the body, including our skin needs good quality sleep. Since sleep is critical for both our mental and physical health, sleep should be a daily priority.
Sleep is a process which begins from the moment we open our eyes in the morning, to the very last thing we do before we shut them at night.
To help get better sleep, we could all benefit from a greater understanding of sense of self. Being mindful of how our own internal clock works gives us a heightened interoceptive awareness and this can help improve our sleep so that we can perform at our optimum.
Sense of self – Introspection
Introspection helps draw your mind from what is happening on the outside of your body and draws your focus to what is happening on the inside. Sense of self includes, taking time out of your day to think about what you are thinking and to reflect on how you are feeling.6 What is most important to you? How are you breathing? Being mindful of what affects your breathing can help you control it, in order to bring calm.
Our brain connects all our bodily organs, and our organs connect back to our brain. Communication between brain and body determines how well we perform and in general how we feel. This communication between our brain and organs helps determine what hormones need to be released or tweaked at the right time. In doing so, this helps us perform at our best depending on what tasks we are required to do.
Our internal clock –
Our bodies operate like an internal clock. Specific chemicals are released within a 24-hour cycle. To help motivate us to perform certain activities, specific hormones are released at certain times within that cycle. Each of these cycles is called a circadian rhythm.
Our eyes are an extension to our brain. The retina in the eye, contains nerve tissue which is a light sensitive layer. When the retina is exposed to light, a signal is communicated via neurons in the retina to an area in the brain (suprachiasmatic nucleus). The neurons in our eye help set our internal clock and coordinate this into circadian rhythms. Depending on what is signalled from the retina to the brain, we can either feel sleepy or alert. Therefore, light viewed as sunlight is effective in setting our sleep-wake cycles.²
The retina is also responsible in communicating what time of day it is to the brain and as a direct response melatonin is released. Melatonin is a hormone which is naturally produced in the pineal gland of the brain at night. Melatonin is critical in helping control the sleep–wake cycle.³
Now for that most significant science-based good sleep tip…….view natural light!
Sleep tip: View natural light
When we safely view natural light at certain times of the day this helps let our brain know what time it is.7 Our clever brain then responds to this message from our retina by releasing specific hormones so that we can perform at our best.
View natural light two times per day at least8
So the aim is to get as much natural sunlight earlier on in the day and as little coming into your eyes after 8pm. Needless to say, do not ever look directly into the sun.
Get outside and view natural light at least two times a day and this will help set your circadian rhythm.
First thing in the morning we wake up to a little dose of cortisol. A touch of cortisol helps motivate and drive you into movement. It is like adding some salt in a dessert recipe. A little bit of salt enhances and balances out the flavours of a dessert, but too much is yuck! Like salt, too much cortisol is bad for our organs, including our skin.
Once you get moving, go outside and view natural light within the first thirty minutes of waking up. View natural light anywhere between 10-30 minutes, safely without your sunglasses. Best still, get up and go for a brisk walk and this will help your brain and body get ready for the day ahead.
In the late afternoon, pop out and view the sun setting. Again anywhere between 10-30 minutes would be great. The viewing of natural light in the late afternoon helps tell the brain to produce melatonin and this will help make you sleepy.
After 8pm, dim your lights and use as little light as possible. The viewing of bright artificial light at night has been scientifically proven to disrupt your sleep. Pull out those beautifully scented candles and turn off your artificial lights.
If you view bright artificial light at night between the hours of 10pm and 4am, then dopamine production is suppressed. Dopamine is a feel-good hormone, a reward and anticipation for excitement chemical. The brain naturally produces dopamine. Further, melatonin production in the brain is also inhibited by viewing artificial light.
How amazing is our retina apart from being essential for our vision, it also provides us with this easy to do sleep tip.
Focus on what you can control
There are many things that are out of our control in general, but there are a whole lot more things that are within our power. For starters, switch off technology and give yourself a break from social media and the news. Go back to basics, walk outside and get a little ray of sunshine since this is great for our mental health especially when we are all being impacted in varying degrees with pandemic fatigue.
Viewing natural light at least two times a day is one of the most important of sleep tips, but there are other behavioural tools that we can do to help improve our quality of sleep.9
In my next blog post, I will provide you with more science-based tools to help get energised. Since I have had a life long pursuit for naturally produced dopamine, I have plenty of tips to share.
- Huberman, D. A., 2021. Master your sleep and be more alert when awake / Huberman Lab Podcast #2. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nm1TxQj9IsQ
[Accessed 11 August 2021].
- Walker, Dr Matt. 2021. The Matt Walker Podcast. #01 What is Sleep? (aka What’s going to happen when you fall asleep tonight?). [Online] August 2, 2021. [Cited: August 16, 2021.] https://themattwalkerpodcast.buzzsprout.com/1821163/8957342-01-what-is-sleep-aka-what-s-going-to-happen-when-you-fall-asleep-tonight.
- Harper, K., 2015. The Science of Sleep. [Online]
Available at: https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/resources/highschool/chemmatters/past-issues/archive-2014-2015/the-science-of-sleep.html
[Accessed 11 August 2021].
- Australia’s Mental Health Think Tank, 2021. COVID-19 AND AUSTRALIA’S MENTAL HEALTH. [Online]
Available at: https://mentalhealththinktank.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Australias-Mental-Health-Think-Tank-Communique.pdf
[Accessed 11 August 2021].
- The University of Sydney, 2021. Pandemic fatigue: young people and mental health. [Online]
Available at: https://www.sydney.edu.au/engage/events-sponsorships/sydney-ideas/2021/pandemic-fatigue-young-people-and-mental-health.html
[Accessed 12 August 2021].
- Laura F. Mega, Kirsten G. Volz. 2014. Thinking about thinking: implications of the introspective error for default-interventionist type models of dual processes. National Center for Biotechnology Information. [Online] August 7, 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4124263/.
- T A Bedrosian, a. R. J. N., 2017. Timing of light exposure mood and brain circuits. US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health. [Online]
Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5299389/
[Accessed 11 August 2021].
- Huberman, Dr Andrew. 2021. How to Optimize Your Brain-Body Function & Health/Huberman Lab Podcast #30. [Online] July 26, 2021. [Cited: August 11, 2021.] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rW9QKc-iFoY.
- Huberman, Dr. 2021. How To Build Endurance In Your Brain & Body | Episode 23. Huberman Lab. [Online] June 7, 2021. [Cited: August 9, 2021.] https://hubermanlab.libsyn.com/how-to-build-endurance-in-your-brain-body-episode-23.
Photography: Rosie Leaney