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Vitarock’s Essential Guide: Understanding Insomnia, Part I

Date: Jul 22, 2014 · Posted in: Mental Health, Stress Relief
Vitarock’s Essential Guide: Understanding Insomnia, Part I

There are two major bodily systems that regulate our sleep cycles. They are the sleep/wake homeostasis and the circadian rhythm, and each holds a very special role. Although these are the two master sleep controllers, there are a group of cells that controls the circadian rhythm: Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN).  From these control centres many hormones are produced, as well as a myriad of other biological functions. Below we will explore a few important ones, just enough to give you a basic understanding, pulling back the sheets on sleep’s secrets. Everything sleep-related shares one essential need, darkness.

Sleep Control Masters

Sleep/Wake Homeostasis

You know that feeling - your eyes are getting heavy, brain is foggy and you crave a bed to crawl in? Well, those are signs your sleep/wake homeostasis is doing a good job. It’s trying to tell you that you’ve been awake too long.  Maybe it’s time for a nap, or to learn how to get a good night’s sleep!

Circadian Rhythm

The circadian rhythm is an internal biological clock that regulates and communicates when it’s best for us to sleep and wake. It’s a roller-coaster throughout the day, and our body hears the call (to sleep) between 2:00 and 4:00 am, and from 1:00 to 3:00 pm. Based on these rhythms, legendary siestas make perfect sense. In travel, your circadian rhythm can easily be thrown off balance, which makes melatonin a popular remedy for your natural travel kit.

How does the Circadian Rhythm work?

Your circadian rhythm is controlled by a group of cells in your brain called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN).  In short, light travels to your optic nerve, onwards to your SCN, communicating that it’s time to wake up. SCNs are directly influenced by light. Based on exposure to light, SCNs raise the body temperature in preparation to wake-up, regulate the production of cortisol, delay melatonin production, and more.

Effects of Cortisol

Cortisol is produced under times of stress and largely in our intestinal system and adrenal cortex. An imbalance of production can throw your whole body off balance. Your sleepless nights may be an early warning sign that stress is getting the better of you. One of the easiest ways to reduce the production of cortisol is to sleep in pure darkness. If exposed to light, your body is going to produce this hormone during times of designated rest and relaxation, making it nearly physically impossible. This is usually the root cause for most sleep issues.


Melatonin and the Mighty Pineal Gland

The Pineal Gland is a tiny gland about 1 cm across, and lives in the centre of the brain. Your pineal gland receives a message to produce melatonin and then it starts pumping it out. But that’s not the only production the pineal gland is doing at night. This is also the centre of production for Dimethyltryptomine (DMT), a powerful molecule linked to our dream-state. DMT is known to be released during birth and is even called the dream and spirit molecule. The pineal gland is also your first gland to get calcified, and acts like a magnet for toxic fluoride. Choosing water wisely and having a pineal gland detoxification plan could also help.  

Melatonin is produced only when we sleep, and only with complete, 100% darkness. We have melatonin receptors in our retinas, brain, SCN, pars tuberalis (pituitary gland), ovaries, cerebral cortex, kidney, pancreas, peripheral arteries, adipocytes and immune cells, affecting almost all parts of our body. In supplementation form, Melatonin can assist to resynchronize out-of-balance circadian rhythms, and induce sleep.  How much you produce is in direct relation light. You may also be familiar with Melatonin’s precursor, tryptophan.

Cortisol: Hormone’s Boogie Man!

During the night, it’s cortisol that is slipping in through the cracks of light. This is the hormonal boogie man, a hormone that is stealing headlines with its direct correlation to stress. Produced (mostly) in our intestinal system, we pump this hormone out on high speed during times of stress, panic and fear. It packs a powerful internal reaction, impeding digestion and absorption, and wreaking havoc on your nerves and endocrine system. Even its production alone is enough to wake you from a slumber, and possibly in terror. This can be a major contributor to sleep issues and also sets off a biological chain reaction that can physically and emotionally drain you.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the functions of sleep, stay tuned to learn which type of sleep disorder may be affecting you in Part Two.