Sleep is an often overlooked, but highly valuable “hack” to add to your tool belt for combating digestive issues. In fact, sleep is part of your digestive process—crucial for elimination and the “full processing” of foods.
Since your body runs off of circadian rhythms (your natural clock), sleeping an adequate amount helps counter stress that otherwise disturbs your digestive process.
In addition, according to ancient and traditional Chinese Medicine the organs in your body are said to run off of a meridian clock—the times of day when particular organs are in “go mode.”
Interestingly, your small intestine—the organ where the majority of digestion occurs (6-8 hours per meal)—is most “fired up” in the midday (between 1 and 3 pm) and consequently, this is why many cultures originally began eating a larger mid-day meal as their nourishment.
As for you other organs, your stomach is most “alive” between the hours of 7 am and 9 am, directly following the large intestine hour (5 am to 7 am) and your liver (1 am to 3 am) , when your body is eliminating toxins and finishing up your digestion from the previous day during your sleep. (This totally makes sense since you typically “do the doo” when you wake up and then your body is more ready for breakfast and a new day of digesting ahead!).
Generally, an individual with a healthier bowel system will find they poop first thing in the morning shortly after waking (without needing coffee, experiencing diarrhea /loose stools or a difficult time passing stools).
Although your meridian clock may not be 100% precise (i.e. a hard start at 5 a.m. and hard stop at 7 a.m. for the large intestine), they do reflect that the energy of each organ meridian is strongest for 2 hours in specific cycles, completing a 24-hour cycle every day and each meridian comes into its highest action at a particular time of day.
If or when you fail to get enough sleep, then your digestive organs are ultimately unable to be at their fullest potential. In addition, if or when you stay up super late or wake up super early (even if you may get “enough” sleep), you throw off your digestive organs’ rhythmic dance (particularly for the liver and large intestine—the two organs most responsible for finishing off the elimination process), and set yourself up for bloating, lack of appetite or morning heartburn and nausea as well.
Similar to how your own fitness performance, brain function or energy levels suffer when you don’t get “enough” sleep, the same thing happens for your digestive system.
So how much sleep do you need?
Generally, most research studies show that between 7 to 9 hours (Hirshkowitz et al, National Sleep Foundation, 2015) is the just-right Goldilocks’ amount for adequate restoration.
Unfortunately, more than one-third of all Americans get less than 6 hours of sleep, and this amount is associated with the same mental function as an individual who is legally intoxicated (Williamson & Feyer, 2000). And, even if you do get enough sleep, 50 to 70 million Americans don’t have good quality sleep and have some level of sleep difficulty, blood sugar imbalance or chronic disease associated with lack of sleep (CDC, 2017). In other words: the time spent with your head on your pillow does not equivocate to “quality sleep.” This may be due to insufficient melatonin levels (the natural body chemical that helps your body sleep) or disrupted circadian rhythms from stress and irregular cortisol levels (stress hormones).
It’s easy to say “get more sleep,” but how do you get more quality sleep? Here are 10 essentials for proper and improved sleep hygiene:
- Avoid Caffeine (Especially Later). Caffeine is a natural stimulant and stressor. If you must drink coffee, keep it to one quality cup in the morning. Cap it after to prevent the disruption of your circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycles later.
- Candle Down. Turn down the lights at least 1-2 hours before bed to cue up melatonin levels (your sleep-inducing chemicals) and detox from artificial blue light that tells your body to “wake up.” In addition, eliminate electronic use during this time, or, at the very least, switch electronics to “night shift” along with blue-blocking glasses.
- Think Happy Thoughts. Prepare the body for sweet dreams at night along with your candle-down routine by: a.) Listening to soothing, relaxing and pleasant sounds or music prior to bed; b.) Spritz your body or lather on some good smelling essential oils (like peppermint and lavender); c.) Reading a leisure (good) book; d.) Think happy thoughts before bed. Instead of worrying about your bank account or some work to-do that won’t be resolved tonight, choose to fix your eyes on something your grateful for or something positive and happy (who knows, maybe a trip to the beach is in your dream future?).
- Remove Electronics from Close Proximity of your Bed. The same thing for electronics goes for the bedroom: Phones, iPads, computers and TV’S all produce light for one, are a distraction, and produce electromagnetic frequencies that could interfere with sleep.
- Black Out. Just like blue light is not conducive to winding down at night, any hint of light while we actually sleep is not either—light seeping in through the windows from the street lights, your phone or alarm clock. Why? The same as blue light, light in general at night throws our circadian rhythms off (way off). Keep your body in deep sleep mode with some blackout curtains. Darken your room at night—completely. Consider black out curtains if light (even street light) peeps in through your windows, remove red lights from alarm clocks and bright lights from your phone by covering them with a towel.
- Comfort is Key. If you’re not comfy, how do you think you’re going to sleep? Make sure you have enough room to stretch out, move around and it’s the right firmness/softness for you.
- Warm Up. A warm bath or hot shower helps relax your body and muscles before bed.
- Then Cool Down. The body goes hard to work while you slumber—sleep is when recovery, repair and restoration processes happen (meaning your metabolism fires up!). Knowing this, your body temp naturally rises at night, making a cool home and sleep environment crucial to quality sleep. In addition, a cooler environment induces a drop in your own core temperature, triggering your body’s “let’s hit the sack” (and sleep through the night) button. The ideal temp? Somewhere around 60-68 degrees—dependent on the individual.
- Quiet it Down. A snoring spouse, the sound of your next door neighbors in their apartment, or background TV noise all disrupt your most optimal sleep. Plug in some ear plugs or download a white-noise app if anything to distill the varying distracting sounds of life happening around you.
- Rise with the Sun. Back in the day, the sun was the natural alarm clock for most folks. Since we no longer sleep outside, under the stars (and thanks to Edison and the lightbulb), lights often go on before the sun does. Aim to stick as close to your body’s natural circadian rhythms by “rising with the sun.” You have to check out this “Natural Sun” Phillips Wake-Up Light Alarm—programmed to mimick the sun rising in your room (no matter what time you need to get up). I can’t imagine going back to a regular buzzing alarm clock and feeling like a firefighter going to fight a fire in the middle of the night with my old alarm clock. In addition check out the Sleep Cycle App analyzes your sleep throughout the night—no matter what time you go to bed—and when its time to wake up, the app wakes you up in your LIGHTEST sleep phase.