Part 3: Sleep and Heart Rate Variability

Part 3: Sleep and Heart Rate Variability

Stress is our response to the daily patterns of life. It affects us emotionally, physically, and behaviorally. Our central nervous system does not differentiate between physical or mental stressors, nor does it differentiate between positive or negative stress.

The right amount of stress can be a positive force that can support us to do our best and to keep us alert, ambitious and energetic. However, too much stress, can make us tense, tired and anxious.

One of the fundamental components of recovery and ensuring you perform optimally is through monitoring 3 areas of your health. As we have mentioned, this includes, heart rate variability, resting heart rate and sleep.

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Why Should You Monitor Sleep?

Sleep is a major contributor to stress resilience. Sleep is absolute rest and a time when the body and mind are offered a chance to filter and file away the day. It’s also a time for the body and mind to shut down and recover. Without this optimal experience, we wither away.

Over the last 40 years, our society has gone from sleeping 7-9 hours per night, to an average of 5-6.7 hours per night. When we do not sleep long or well enough, our bodies do not get the full benefits of sleep, such as muscle repair and memory consolidation. More importantly, the prolonged reduction of adequate sleep can lead to illness, disease and injury.

Sleep is regulated by two body systems: sleep/wake homeostasis and the circadian biological clock. It is important to keep a regular sleep schedule and allow plenty of time for quality sleep, allowing these two vital biological components — the sleep/wake restorative process and the circadian rhythm — to help us perform at our best. When this is altered or irregular sleeping habits are introduced, this can lead to poor productivity and poor health.


How Does Sleep Relate to Improving HRV?

A key role is played by the autonomic nervous system (ANS), whose modulation regulates cardiovascular functions during sleep onset and different sleep stages.

The influence of sleep on central sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity can be better understood by using the major method applicable to humans, known as HRV (heart rate variability), specifically looking at the low frequency (LF) component of heart rate variability (HRV).

We spend one third of our lifetime sleeping, yet the majority of people do not honor its importance. The interaction between ANS and sleep is somewhat complex, but simply put, any changes in ANS regulation can profoundly affect sleep onset and sleep homeostasis and, on the flip side, modifications of physiological sleep can alter autonomic cardiovascular regulation. Research has showed that sleep is a complex phenomenon in which autonomic cardiac control fluctuates between sympathetic and parasympathetic predominance, mainly according to the transition to different sleep stages. Deep sleep is essential for recovery and reducing neuro-inflammation caused by intolerable volumes of stress.

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How Can You Track Your Sleep?

Understanding your sleep phases and cycles is the best place to start monitoring your sleep. The first phase is light sleep, followed by deep sleep and a dream state referred to as REM-sleep. A full sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes and is normally repeated several times each night.

With the use of technology, almost anything is possible these days. There are many sleep trackers out there; such as, FitBit, Jawbone and most commonly used is “Sleep Cycle.”

I have been using this for nearly 2 years. Sleep Cycle is an iOS app that watches your sleep habits from your nightstand in order to help wake you up at the best possible time of the morning. Tracking your sleep can offer you insights into how well you sleep based on your movements.

Using a sleep tracker app with your HRV are two great ways to monitor your nervous system, and can validate your good habits and offer you a glimpse into some areas you should modify to improve your health and keep you accountable towards your goals.

Get it here: Sleep Cycle

Sleep, Chronic Pain and Our Biological Clock

Sleep, Chronic Pain and Our Biological Clock


SleepDeprivation_0Pain and sleep are integrally connected. A person’s quality of life and health can be disrupted due to many different reasons; like diet, activity level, and stress. However, one important, yet underestimated cause of a person’s reduction in quality of life, can be contributed to sleep loss or not enough restorative recovery.

Over the course of the last several decades, the modern worlds working hours have been consistently increased, along with an emphasis on active leisure, and “more” is typically seen as being better.

Depending on your profession, in some designations, people face sleep restriction. Professions; such as health care, emergency response and security and transportation require working varied shifts and often rounds of night work. In these fields, the effect of acute total sleep deprivation (SD) on performance is crucial and possibly life threatening. Furthermore, on average, in almost every profession, people tend to stretch their capacity and compromise their nightly sleep, thus becoming chronically sleep deprived. On a neurological level, this changes a persons biochemical, biological and psychological health. Thus, increasing risk for mental illness, chronic pain and disease.

What The Stats Tell Us:

In the adult population, about 15% of those surveyed report experiencing chronic pain. Nearly 50% of older adults have insomnia, have difficulty in getting to sleep, early awakening, and/or feeling unrefreshed upon waking. As we age, several changes occur that can place one at risk for insomnia, and less than restorative sleep; including age-related changes in various circadian rhythms, environmental and lifestyle changes, and decreased nutrients intake, absorption, retention, and utilization.

In all age groups, those who suffer from insomnia and consistently achieve less than restorative sleep show memory weakness, increased reaction time, decreased fine motor skills, short-term memory problems, and lowered efficacy levels.

A lack of sleep and restorative recovery can be more problematic in elderly subjects, because it puts them at higher risk for falling, cognitive impairments, weak physical function, and mortality. Not to mention, not getting enough sleep takes time off our life span. There’s a reason, our body tells us when it needs a time out to re boot, filter and process daily existence.

Minerals Count:

In order to have a restorative sleep, we must have the right percentage of calcium and magnesium present in our system. This directly relates to cell formation and re generation, as well as key processes in our body.

Magnesium: Plays an essential role in ion channels conductivity, such as N-Methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) receptor, and unilateral entrance of potassium channels. Therefore, magnesium as a natural antagonist of NMDA and agonist of GABA is critical in sleep regulation.

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant cation in the body and the second most abundant intracellular cation. It is involved in more than 300 biochemical reactions of the body.  Magnesium is an essential cofactor for many enzymatic reactions, especially those that are involved in energy metabolism and neurotransmitter synthesis. It contributes to teeth and bones as well as activating enzymes, contributing to energy production, and helps regulate calcium, copper, zinc, potassium, vitamin D, and other important nutrients.

Calcium: Does not work alone in your body. It requires vitamin D, parathyroid hormone and healthy saturated fat in order to be utilized for strong bones, teeth and muscles. Nerve cells have calcium channels that act like gates in their membranes, regulating calcium flow in and out, triggering each cell to take action.

Bone health not only requires calcium, but an array of other vitamins, minerals and hormones to complete that process.  Another notable amino acid in sleep regulation is Tryptophan; which your brain uses to make serotonin and melatonin. These two substances are neurotransmitters that slow down nerve transmissions, relaxing your brain and body and encouraging deep sleep.


Sleep & Chronic Pain

Pain triggers poor sleep; we shift around, can’t get comfortable, and thus can’t fall or stay asleep. For instance, someone experiencing lower back pain may experience several intense microarousals (a change in the sleep state to a lighter stage of sleep) per each hour of sleep, which lead to awakenings.

Pain is a serious intrusion to sleep. Charles Bae, MD, a neurologist in the Sleep Disorders Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, puts it this way: “Pain can be the main reason that someone wakes up multiple times a night, and this results in a decrease in sleep quantity and quality, and on the flip side, sleep deprivation can lower your pain threshold and pain tolerance and make existing pain feel worse.”

The body’s has a built-in circadian clock, which is located at the center in the hypothalamus in the brain. This is the main mechanism that controls the timing of sleep, and is independent of the amount of preceding sleep or wakefulness. Therefore, it is no wonder that people who experience chronic pain, adrenal fatigue or other auto immune diseases have trouble sleeping. The Hypothalamus is one of the most important organs related to regulation of body systems and re generation of cell formation.

Circadian Rhythm & Sleep:

When considering the effects of sleep loss, the distinction between total and partial SD is important. The need for sleep varies considerably between individuals; averaging sleep length is between 7 and 8.5 h per day. Sleep is regulated by a two-part process that adjusts to the body’s needs every day. This two-part process is known as the homeostatic debt and the phase of your circadian rhythm.

The homeostatic process depends on sleep and wakefulness; the need for sleep increases as wakefulness continues. This homeostatic debt increases as a function of how long you have been awake and decreases as you sleep.

The second process that greatly influences the onset, of sleep and the duration, and quality of your sleep is the phase of your circadian rhythm. This phase is governed by your biological clock, whose rhythm is endogenous but is reset regularly by daylight, but deeply affected with inadequate amount of sleep. Studies show, that the circadian rhythm dips and rises at different times of the day. In adults, the strongest sleep drive generally occurs between 2:00-4:00 am and in the afternoon between 1:00-3:00 pm

The interaction of these two processes determines the sleep/wake cycle of a person and can be used to describe fluctuations in alertness, performance, energy levels and cognitive functions.

To perform at your best, achieve your dreams and reach your goals, ensure sleep is restorative recovery is part of your daily optimal well being plan.

Oh Lordy, Yoga For Forty Part 2

I felt muscles in my legs I didn’t even know existed. I felt more ribs move with every twist. More pressure in my fingers with every downward dog. More strain in my Achilles tendons as I tried to perfect my Warrior one. I had to stop going to my weekly Kundalini practice to ensure I could maintain my strength for upcoming classes. My basement suite became dustier, laundry grew higher, bus rides seemed longer, and sleep time felt shorter.

As tough as it is to dedicate your body to practicing every day, it is even tougher to dedicate your time.

Was it awful to give up other routines and dedicate my spare time to yoga? Not at all. It was a challenge, but I grew to like it. My daily practice became what I looked forward to during each work day. Knowing I had a welcoming, comfortable, and relaxing place to be in a few hours made the dull days shorter.

That tired, restless feeling most of us get after a poor night’s sleep and an even poorer day on the job was eliminated during my daily practice. It energized me rather than drained. I spent less time wasted on watching mindless TV or checking email and more time being productive. My time was better spent because it became more crucial. Don’t get me wrong, I began to miss staring at the Food Network, but I put more effort into taking care of myself instead.

I enrolled in the course I never got around to registering for, I completed four cover letters for job applications I was procrastinating on, and I got myself into bed earlier and in turn, was able to wake up feeling more rested, despite that I could always keep sleeping.

Time became more precious, which I soon learned may be the point of this whole challenge. A focus on time, the now, and gratitude for the precious time we have.

But how about those precious physical changes? You know, the ones to our muscular frame. As much as I didn’t think it was going to happen, it did.

To be continued…

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