The First Cornerstone of Epigenetics – Sleep

We’re all looking for a way to feel better, less stressed and more energetic, right?  I believe epigenetics – how we support our body’s natural biochemistry by optimizing food, sleep, stress and environmental toxin exposures – is the place to start.  Why?  Because our biochemistry is our health.  Remember, our choices can change how well an enzyme works (faster or slower) or our choice can change the demand on that enzyme (big job or little job). 

Today we start our consideration of the Four Cornerstones of Epigenetics.  Let’s start with sleep – the First Cornerstone of Epigenetics.

Mothers, grandmothers and doctors have been telling us for decades that sleep is important.  (And I know better than to argue with my grandmother!)  And we can likely agree that we feel crummy on those nights when we just can’t sleep, right? 

But what about the why?  Why do we feel crummy?  Why is sleep such a big deal? 

The answers to those questions could take up an entire semester course.  We’re not going that deep or wide, thankfully.  We’re going to focus on epigenetics and how you can make choices that support your unique biochemistry.  (And we’re still not going to hit it all in a single blog post!)

How (and Why) to Improve Your Sleep Naturally

Decrease stressors, especially in the evening.  Why?  Because getting rid of stress hormones is like an assembly line.  There are a handful of enzymes in your body that get rid of stress hormones.  When you have more stress, these enzymes have a bigger job to do and they don’t necessarily speed up to deal with the increased pressure.  They simply can’t clear all of the stress hormones quickly enough and you have a harder time relaxing and going to sleep. 

Establish a nighttime routine with minimal screen time.  Why?  This time we can specifically look at the enzyme that makes melatonin (the sleep hormone).  Lower stress levels help this enzyme work better which means your body naturally makes more melatonin.  A dark environment does the same thing – this is the why behind everyone telling you to sleep in a dark room and to turn off the screens at least two hours before going to bed! 

Participate in some kind of exercise every day.  Why?  (My favorite question!)  It takes a couple steps, but melatonin is made from serotonin.  Exercise and doing things that make you happy increase your serotonin.  More serotonin supports more melatonin.  Not to mention it’s really good for a boost of good mood! 

Need a bonus reason to work on your sleep??

Not enough sleep can increase the amount of histamine in your body.  What is histamine?  It’s a neurotransmitter that has several jobs in the body – it’s not always a bad guy.  But it is known for causing allergic reactions and brain fog and bad menstrual cramps.  (Yup!  Histamine and cramps!)  If you struggle with environmental allergies or food sensitivities or any kind of mast cell activation syndrome, 7-8 hours of quality sleep has to be part of your overall management strategy.

To be very honest, not all of these strategies will work marvelously for everyone because we are each unique and our genetics – and our epigenetics – may differ from the person sitting next to us.  Also, keep in mind that the human body and its biochemistry is a complex universe unto itself!  Ideally, work with your healthcare provider and/or someone who is knowledgeable in epigenetics to look at your unique genetic makeup and story to create your best epigenetic plan! 

If you missed last week’s post on Epigenetics, just click here for a quick read.

Sixty-Second Self-Care Tip

I was really reluctant to start this one, but it has quickly become a favorite part of my day! 

Put your phone to bed!  Yup!  It needs a bedtime and a special recharging place of its own far away from your nightstand.  Your sleep will be better than it has been since the 1990s!

And if you just can't exile it to another room while you snuggle with your pillow, here are some suggestions to help you prioritize your sleep:

  • If you use it as an alarm clock, then turn it to airplane mode when you head to bed.  Or trade it for an actual alarm clock! 
  • If you have to be available to a friend or family member 24/7/365, use the settings in the phone to silence all other notifications.  (And then let your friend or family member know to not call or text after a certain time unless it’s an emergency – there’s nothing wrong with some boundaries here!)  
  • If you need to be available for work overnight, be sure you have designated nights when you’re off.  The goal is to avoid burnout!  (Trust me!  Been there and the t-shirt is NOT flattering!)

Tags

60-second self-care, epigenetics, histamine, melatonin, serotonin, sleep, stress


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