PicturePicasso, sleeping drinker
Why does sleep trouble us Part 2
In the early 1990s it was noticed in an experiment that when subjects were plunged into darkness for 14 hours they reverted to two phases of sleep. The first one of 4 hours followed by a waking period of 1 to 2 hours, followed by another session of 4 hours. This was seen by many as a natural rhythm. Evidence from a variety of sources throughout history has also mentioned the idea of there being two sleeping patterns, the first sleep followed by the second, with an ‘intermission’ between. Some have interpreted this as being an example of polyphasic sleep, and have experimented with other sleeping patterns throughout the day. But is the previous illustration an example of polyphasic sleep? Two things are noticeable in the original experiment. First the subjects developed a pattern of 8 hours sleep, and secondly the interval between lasted 1 to 2 hours and not a full days work. Polyphasic sleep seems to be superior only under specific short term conditions, that is,  during periods of sleep deprivation. If you are only able to achieve 3 hours of sleep it is better to get 3 hours through taking short naps throughout the day rather than one long 3 hours of sleep. But this pattern is only sustainable for a short period. 

In the above experiment there was a wakeful period of 1 to 2 hours. I wonder what difference it would make to someone who often awakens during the night to be told that this may be a natural rhythm rather than an example of insomnia. Nothing prevents sleep more than the worry about not getting enough. Often when someone awakes they stay in bed worrying about getting off to sleep again, thus preventing the very thing that they desire the most. Getting up for a short period may be more beneficial. But getting up to do what? a new term has entered the sleep vocabulary, that of, ‘sleep hygiene’. If you find yourself getting up and then unable to return to sleep it is worth considering whether the activity one has just engaged is has been beneficial or has been counterproductive. An obvious example would be drinking coffee. Coffee raises cortisol levels which are associated with levels of alertness. Cortisol levels during the night are naturally at their lowest. Stress also raises cortisol levels, so attempting to catch up on work would probably result in keeping one awake rather than aiding one to return to that second sleep. During the day cortisol levels slowly fall, with there being a particular dips around midday, early afternoon. Eating around this time helps to raise energy levels, also in many countries this has been associated with a time of partaking in a siesta. The siesta however is not an example of polyphasic sleep. If one finds that this is a period of extreme fatigue then it is more of a reflection of lack of sleep during the night.  There is much talk about the idea of what is important is not the quantity of sleep but the quality, with too much sleep being as detrimental as too little. While this seems obvious, what is also apparent is that one does not go from wakefulness to deep sleep instantaneously, and the quantity needed reflects this. Sleep deprivation effects levels of alertness and quality of performance, as well as decreasing levels of positive mood. Sleeping patterns that follow the natural circadian rhythms of the body, which will have individual variations, will be more beneficial for long term health. 

Sleep why does it trouble us
The amount of sleep required between individuals vary. It is estimated that the amount of sleep we get today is less than in previous generations. Some have also argued that the pattern of one long continuos sleep is also unnecessary and have promoted the idea that rather than there being one continuous sleep cycle that there are possibly two with a natural awakening in-between the two four hours of sleep. Others have experimented with differing sleep patterns, twenty to 30 minutes every 4 hours, 30 minutes every 6, etc. Each resulting in less sleep than the often quoted 7 to 8 hours. Of course one factor influencing when and how one sleeps is work. There is a practical advantage in getting one continuous sleep during the night. While researchers are still debating the full function of sleep, it is known that sleep deprivation affects the brain’s ability to function. Another aspect of sleep is the role of cortisol which follows the sleeping pattern, in that it is at is lowest in the evening and gradually increases during the night, until it reaches its peak at around 6 - 8am. This rise in cortisol level helps us to get going in the morning. Coffee also has the effect of raising cortisol levels. Stress also raises cortisol levels which is why unresolved stress can often lead to insomnia. It would be interesting to know how cortisol patterns are with people who adopt a different sleep cycle. Should one worry if one gets less than the often quoted 7 to 8 hours, probably not, unless it is connected to high levels of stress. Long term stress is very damaging to the body, resulting in weight gain, particularly abdominal fat, impairs cognitive and emotional functioning, and results in a state of exhaustion. Dealing with stress levels are important to getting not just the right quantity of sleep, but the right amount of quality sleep. http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sleep/

Fats don’t just make you fat
Going into any supermarket and you will find that you are bombarded with numerous low fat content foods. The consistent message being that excess fat is bad. The problem with this message is that does not differentiate for the consumer the different types of fat. On similar shelves you might encounter reduced fat products next to those regarded high in omega 3 and 6 (fats). The more important question is what is the purpose of fat in your diet. For example fats play an important role in cell membrane integrity. The myelin sheath which insulates nerve cells is made up of 80% fat. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in high quantities in the brain and eye. Fats are stored in the adipose tissue of the body in the form of triglycerides, and used as an energy source when glucose availability is low. Triglycerides are also formed from excess carbohydrate consumption. Excess saturated fats and hydrogenated fats (trans fats) can be detrimental to the individual's health, but the body also requires some fat. Often fats become damaging when there is too much glucose in the body, a more healthier option would be, while reducing the amount of saturated fats, to also reduce the amount of sugar consumed. It is ironic that often products, while they are reduced in fat they often contain excess sugar. 

Diet or Lifestyle
From the 1980s onwards the proportion of obese individuals have doubled, and it is now estimated as being over one third of the population. Researchers at the University of California concluded that diets do not work, they do not lead to sustained weight loss, and often the person ends up putting on more weight after coming off the diet. A study of the effectiveness of low fat diets has also shown them to be ineffective in their aims. A quick review of a number of diets reveals that while the person is on a restrictive food intake some of the symptoms experienced are; bad breath, dizziness, tiredness, constipation, and nausea. Some diets are so restrictive that they can also be socially isolating, while others allow you collect points so that you can have a ‘special treat’. 
It is estimated that the British diet industry is worth over £2 billion, and we are bombarded by; advertising, books, celebrity endorsements etc. for a product that does not work, is unhealthy in the long term, and often expensive to maintain. 
In contrast we are told, that the Mediterranean diet, the Okinawa diet, the Vegetarian diet, and the Vegan diet have numerous beneficial properties, and often associated with the individual maintaining a healthy body weight. However lets not forget these are not diets as defined by the ones endorsed by diet industry, but lifestyles. They are not restrictive as to nutrient intake, but healthy choices. 

Chronic fatigue and listening to the client. Laura Hillebrand, in an essay entitled, "a sudden illness", talked about her experience of suffering from chronic fatigue. A condition that leaves the individual with so little energy that it prevents them for engaging in a range of everyday tasks. Investigation into a possible cause for the condition created confusion in that no one factor could be identified as being the primary cause, leaving many to conclude that the condition was, "all in the mind". Recently it has been proposed that while the trigger/s for the condition may vary between individuals, they result in compromising the efficient workings of the cell's mitochondria, thereby reducing the person's ability to generate energy efficiently, 
What the condition has illuminated is how we can easily dismiss something that is having a profound effect upon a person because it does not fit into an identifiable pattern. Listening to the patient is a skill that cannot be underestimated. 

Often the simplest things can offer us the quickest rewards. One such idea is that of keeping a food diary for a week. That is noting down the things we eat throughout the day. This is particularly beneficial when you include mood. Noting what you are feeling prior, during and after the meal. We are all aware of the concept of comfort food, but do we take a moment to reflect upon if it has been beneficial. Aligned with this is the concept of mindfulness. That is being aware of what we are doing while engaged in the act. Eating without other distractions and enjoying the meal. Keeping a food diary for one week can reveal a great deal as regards our attitude to the things we eat. 

What is the colour of your food? A simple question, but next time you go shopping ask yourself, you may be surprised, as often the answer is, I don't know. When we buy fruits and vegetables, we are often attracted by their colour, this hopefully, is an indication of their freshness, ripeness, and quality. What gives the fruits and vegetables such an appealing visage are their phytochemical properties. We are told to increase our intake of such foods because of their health benefits. Phytonutrients  can have the effect of decreasing inflammation, acting as an antioxidant, influencing the production of enzymes involved in detoxification, and the list goes on. Going back to the question, what is the colour of your food? That is before colouring has been added to make it look appealing. Would you eat it if you knew??

Why the name? There is a strange association in the minds of some people that healthy, when it comes to food is equivalent to boring and unsatisfying. When I think of something that is nutritious, the opposite is true. That is, it is equivalent with being satisfied. For any food to be satisfying it must do so physiologically and emotionally. Nutritious foods satisfy both those needs, with the benefit of also being healthy. As this site develops I hope it to be educational, informative, and interesting, thereby helping people to choose the foods that are more beneficial for their individual lifestyle needs. 



    Richard Dykes, Naturopathic Nutritionist


    November 2013
    October 2013
    August 2013