Find ways to access the healing powers of sleep

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Holistic Lifestyle Coach – Integrative Medicine Luke Coutinho has recently released an ebook, A New Way of Living. It helps you understand the healing benefits of sleep. While reading the book is recommended, the following excerpts from an interview with him will throw some light on the healing powers of sleep. Team RetyrSmart

Find ways to access the healing powers of sleep

Excerpts from the interview:

1) What inspired you to write this book? Did insomnia levels going up during the lockdown have anything to do with it? 

We deal with end-of-life patients, cancers, rare syndromes, metabolic diseases, diabetes, kidney and organ disease, cardiovascular and endocrine issues, hormonal disorders, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cognitive disease, obesity, skin and hair problems, and many more. The one thing that has worked powerfully for all of our patients over and above their medications and treatments (because we are never against any medical treatments and know that its important), is our ability to coach them into aligning their lives and lifestyles with the laws of nature – the circadian rhythm.

When we put the patient into the circadian rhythm cycle, the body’s intelligence begins to kick in, it is harnessed to work, repair, identify, and fix. So, imagine the possibilities of prevention, healing, and recovery when that intelligent power is made to work with everything else – the medicine, food, and so on.

Over the last few years, people following the circadian rhythm way of living have had positive experiences and unbelievable changes and improvements in their health. From the reduction of arthritic pains, swellings, better sleep, fat loss, hormonal balance to improvements in migraines, gut issues, hair and skin health, immune systems, improvement in allergies, and so on. It is clear to us that we have missed two gaps in our health care system, one is creating the right environment for the patient and the other is coaching them to live in alignment with the circadian rhythm and laws of nature.

Yes, a lot of people had their sleep routine messed up during lockdown, however, the power and benefits of circadian rhythm are what we have been experiencing with our patients for a very long time. The lockdown was just the right time to remind ourselves about how powerful this way of living is, and that it was the perfect time to get back to living this way that too within the comforts of home.

2) You speak early on in the book about one’s environment being a key factor contributing to body health. What would you say is a healthy, conducive environment? 

One can have the best nutritional plan, dietician, workout routine, yoga class, doctor, etc, what is more important to make all of this work is the environment, both external and internal. The external environment is the one that surrounds the person, which includes air, pollution, sunlight, weather, and so on. Then, there is the internal environment of the body. What if it is too acidic? What if it is too alkaline? What if it has low vitality and energy? What if the immune system is weak? What if cognitive health is poor? What if there is a poor digestive capacity and an incomplete microbiome? Both of these environments can affect our health and wellbeing in either a positive or negative way, that too at a cellular level.

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Imagine giving a person the best of all medicines and lifestyle changes, but putting them in an environment that is toxic, unhealthy, dirty, negative, non-supportive, lonely, and damp. The person will not heal, but instead, they will only get worse. It’s like kneading a good dough but giving it an environment that is poor, damp, or has the wrong temperature, due to which the bread does not bake or rise.

While the outer environment, especially weather, pollution, viruses, etc isn’t under our control, one could improve the inner environment and make it conducive to healing and recovery by giving the right kind of nutrition, keeping inflammation low, giving body the right amount of movement, rest and recovery, keeping a check on emotional health, and most importantly aligning itself with nature and its rhythm.

We live in a world where we are exposed to so much toxicity and bad lifestyle. That’s why we need to put in the effort to look after our body and help it enable and empower it to defend us and heal us.

3)   And what could we do to make our living spaces better conduits for good health? 
a) Disconnecting from any source of negativity be it through news, channels, etc.
b) Mindful use of technology and gadgets, switching off gadgets an hour before sleep.
c) Dimming lights as the sunsets, as any light, after it gets dark outside becomes artificial light for us.
d) Soothing music can change the energy and vibration in and around us.
e) Surrounding yourself with things or individuals who vibrate higher and uplift you.
f) Having access to nature in some way, either plants, a window that allows sunshine in.
g) Choosing quality products for our day-to-day use right from a floor cleaner to the fabric of our clothes as all
of it can impact our immunity and hormonal health.

4)   Talk to us about circadian fasting.

Circadian fasting in simple words is sunset to sunrise fasting. In this, one eats their last meal with or before the sun sets and begins fasting through the evening and night, and breaks it only after he sunrises. This allows a perfect 12 hours of fast which is actually the most natural way to fast. One could extend he fast and take it to 13, 14, 15 hours or more based on individuals comfort level and health, but 12 hours is the minimum.

During the fasting, one could only have plain water, if its intermittent fasting) or nothing if it’s dry fasting.

5)   We’ve heard of a lack of sleep creating hormonal balances and brain fog. But cancer – in the long term was certainly a shocker. Tell us more. 

Today science is proving how sleep is deeply correlated with every possible cancer, from the prostate to colorectal, breast, and pancreatic cancer, its progression, recovery, management as well as prevention. This is not to say that sleeping is going to take away cancer from the body, but when we sleep, we create a perfect environment that supports the management of cancer. A chronic lack of sleep is one of the top commonalities seen in most cancer patients.

When we sleep, our pineal gland secretes melatonin, aka sleep hormone that plays a key role in circadian rhythm. Melatonin can also be referred to as a powerful antioxidant and a cell protector. Cell protection is important for someone with cancer, and this is also why melatonin is also called an anti-cancer hormone.

Also, apart from putting your body to rest, melatonin also acts as an anti-cancer vaccine. It has an anti-cell proliferation activity on cells, which means that it works on your immune system, thereby playing a huge role in cancer prevention as well as management.

6) You made reference to a study about night shift workers and breast cancer. Do elaborate.

Today, science is studying the correlation between night shift works and breast cancer, and have found  hat both are intricately connected. There are around 30+ medical and scientific articles on the correlation between the two.

In 2007, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a body that is part of the World Health Organisation, has classified night-shifts as a probable human carcinogen, which puts individuals into Group 2A cancer risk, which is just one group below confirmed carcinogens like asbestos and mustard gas.

And it’s not just cancer. Studies also suggest working in continuous irregular shifts causes serious health issues including sleep disorders, psychiatric disorders, cancer, hypertension, chronic insomnia, and metabolic disorders.

These health problems arise due to the disruption in the circadian clock, which is associated with alterations in genetic expressions and DNA. Your DNA is the computer system of your body. It’s the brain of each cell. Poor DNA health has connections with almost every disease from cancer to Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular, kidney, liver, brain. Actually, everything that involves a cell – be it ut health, obesity, fat gain, or hormones.

7)   You say there is a clock in every cell of our body. How do we use this information if say, we want to focus on one area – like heart health or better skin?  

It never works that way. We cannot focus on only one specific area of our body. Our body isn’t a car where you repair one faulty part and fix a new one. Everything in our body is interconnected. For better skin, one needs to look at gut health, hormones, inflammation, quality of sleep, emotional health and so much more.

While every cell has a clock, its working is governed by the master clock, ie, the suprachiasmatic nucleus. This master clock controls all the other clocks in our body, so it all works together and not in isolation.

8)   A lot has been written about light from electronic devices that can confuse our biological clocks. What other external factors can negatively influence our sleep cycles?
a) Frequent travels and changes across time zones.
b) The ambient temperature, ideally it is best to sleep in a cooler room
c) The quality of sleepwear fabric (the more natural, the better), colors used in our bedroom
d) Presence of any gadgets or electronic devices in the room. Even Wi-fi routers can affect sleep quality.

9)   When is the best time to exercise as per one’s circadian rhythm?

When it comes to the best timing to work out, there are mixed reviews according to science. So, it is best to know what works for you. If you are a morning person, then do your workout in the morning. If you are more of an evening person, then do your workout done in the evening. Whatever suits you, but, make sure you stick to the same time every day. An individual must be able to gauge when his/her energy levels are at its peak and when it is the lowest. There is no one shoe that fits all here, just know what works for you.

Important is to keep a fixed workout time. Exercising one day in the morning, the next day in the afternoon, and then in the evening, confuses our entire circadian rhythm. Our body expects us to work out at a particular time (it is called as muscle memory), and changing times only confuses the body. If you choose to work out today, at a time you are generally relaxing, then there is chaos and confusion. It is okay, if you shift your workout timings once in a way, due to travel schedule or other commitments, but not, when on a regular basis.

10) Can you share some tips on how to bring one’s circadian rhythm back in balance?
There are 9 simple ways where one can slowly bring their circadian rhythm back in balance:
*  Eat dinner with or before sunset
* Gadget detox and lights dim 2 hours before sleeping
* Maintain same time for sleep and wake up
* Wake up with or before Sunrise
* No technology immediately after waking up
* Connect with nature upon wake up
* Fast till sunrise, and break it only after sunrise
* Avoid coffee/tea intake, the first 3 hours after wake up
* Maintain same time for exercise

11) Are there foods and habits that you can recommend to promote better sleep?
1. Herbal tea – camomile, lavender, lemongrass for its calming and relaxing properties.
2. Spices like nutmeg and saffron. Pinch of nutmeg with water + tbsp of fennel + pinch of cinnamon – boil in
water and consume 30 mins before bedtime. Avoid overdoing on nutmeg as excess could work as a
3. L- tryptophan-rich foods: eggs, salmon, spinach, banana, seeds, milk, and nuts. L tryptophan is a precursor to
generating melatonin in the body.
4. Magnesium-rich foods as they also help in relieving stress – cacao, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables.
5. Vitamin B6 rich foods – Vitamin B6 helps in the production of serotonin and melatonin, both of which are
important for a restful sleep and good mood.
6. A small amount of complex carbs for dinner also helps, since carbohydrates stimulate the production of
serotonin, a feel-good hormone.
a) Deep breathing, as it puts us in a rest and digest mode, or parasympathetic state, especially yogic pranayama
practices like Left nostril breathing, alternate nostril breathing, and bhramari
b) Cultivate gratitude and prayer practice into your bedtime routine, so it helps you disconnect from the day and end the day on a grateful and positive note, instead of a stressful note.
c) Get into a habit of writing and penning down your thoughts and worries, because a restless mind is one of the key reasons why people aren’t able to sleep well

12) We each have different bodies; does that mean we can discover individual circadian rhythms and that these rhythms can change with season and age? 

The laws of nature never change, like the law of gravity, motion, electricity, cause, and effect.  They remain common for all.
Yes, it’s true that some are morning people and some are night, but the law of nature doesn’t reverse for anyone. It is we who challenge this with our own preferences and likes. It is common sense for us to know what happens when we go against these laws, and so is it with the circadian rhythm and nature’s way of living as per the cycles of light and dark.

13) What about folks who are night owls? And naturally find themselves drawn to being more productive at night. 

In general, one must avoid this kind of lifestyle pattern. If you genuinely have no option, but to stay awake at night, because you want to provide for the family, then please take extra measures for your health. But for everyone else, it is a choice, and you can choose differently.

Having said that, for individuals who are awake late in the night either by choice or due to their job, their bodies adjust to this way of living. For them, it works the opposite. Their day becomes the night and night becomes their day. They too need to maintain uniform times for eating, sleeping, working out, etc. When they sleep, they must make sure that the environment is absolutely conducive to rest.

No social media or artificial lights. The room must be kept as dark as possible, as melatonin is a light-sensitive hormone. However, all of this isn’t a natural process, no matter how disciplined one might be with their lifestyle.

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