Why We Sleep- Pt. 1
PART 1: Why We Sleep // The Built-In Clock, Light, and Melatonin
Why we sleep has everything to do with our biologically built-in clock. This clock is the driver of our circadian rhythm, which allows our bodies to stay young, fresh, and ready on a daily.
Many people have heard of the concept that humans use the sun to adjust their biological clock. The overall driver of the biological clock is the circadian rhythm controlling SCN (suprachiasmatic nucleus for you neuro-geeks out there)—often called the “master clock.”
But what does that really mean, what does the “master clock” really control, and what can we do about it? To answer that, we have to talk a little bit of science—not too much—but some:
Light and Sleep
Humans (like every other life form on earth) use the light of the sun to regulate biological activities. Single-celled organisms and plants do it in a different way than more complex animals. We humans use our eyes. Our eyes have special nerve cells in them that sense a certain frequency of light (blue light), and let the rest of our bodies know—via our brain—what we should be preparing for.
As the light decreases in our eyes, those nerves send that information to our brain’s “master clock” (SCN) which prompts the SCN to release chemicals that beget other chemicals, and ultimately change the activity levels of different areas of our brain, to get us ready for sleep. The SCN also notifies another area of our brain—called the pineal gland—that it’s time to start winding down, and in return, the pineal gland starts secreting a hormone that many have heard of: melatonin.
Melatonin and Sleep
Melatonin has many functions in many areas of the brain, but one of the main functions is to decrease our adrenal hormone secretions—because our adrenal gland’s job, is to keep us awake, alert, and ready for life.
Of course, this is an oversimplification, and Dan Pardi (in his rightful awesomeness) will want to murder me over this explanation, but it gives us enough information to continue.
I can hear you all now: “Doc, can you give me an example of how all this affects us?”
Well, luckily I can. Most Americans get to experience a small piece of this magical pathway on a special Thursday every year. I’m talking about the well-known Thanksgiving Day “tryptophan coma.” I’m not sure if any other countries have a designated day for excessive turkey ingestion, but they should!
If you haven’t heard of the amino acid Tryptophan, don’t worry. It’s not important to know the name, but it is one of the many amino acids that a turkey has in spades. The unique thing about tryptophan is that it is one of the primary nutrients used to produce melatonin. So, when we eat a bunch of tryptophan, our body can make a bunch of melatonin, and that can make us feel like taking a nap, right after over-stuffing ourselves. There’s a little more to it than that, but again, it serves our purposes here.
So, if we combine these two principles (light/SCN, and Melatonin production) we can get a sense of a few things that can go wrong with our wiring for a good sleep in the modern society we find ourselves in.
First, we obviously have light streaming into our eyes, long after the sun has gone down. This is error number one, and very common. Due to the pathways we discussed above, electric lighting interferes with our SCN’s control of our biological clock—since our eyes are telling our brain that there is still plenty of light in the sky.
This is why people tell you to quit watching TV and using computers right before bed. Some folks try to block this light with special glasses, screen covers, and computer programs. All of these things help, but let’s keep in mind that they are only mitigating the deleterious effects—not removing them.
The second application of all of the geeky science above is a little more subtle. I told you that our adrenals keep us awake, alert, and ready for life. Unfortunately, many people in our post-industrialization world have lives that require them to be awake longer, more alert, and more ready than our ancestors did. This leads to an excess of adrenal hormones (also called stress hormones), and as you may have guessed, requires significantly more melatonin to decrease our adrenal function before bed.
So now we have two ways that melatonin production is being hindered:
- No -- or a significantly reduced -- trigger from decreased light to tell the brain to make the magic happen.
- We need more than our bodies are designed to produce because we live such hectic lives.
And I’ll add one more: because of our environment, work schedules, nutrition, toxins, and messing with our stress hormones, many of us are deficient in multiple compounds needed to make melatonin. (OK, that was more than one.)
That is all of the science you need to know to understand one of the major reasons and goals behind our new sleep product “Doc Parsley’s Sleep Remedy” There is no big trick or bio-hack to make you sleep. We simply supplement all of the major compounds needed to produce melatonin and give you just a little supportive boost (literally VERY little) of melatonin—to make up for that extra light in your eyes after sundown and extra stress from the lives so many of us are living.
It sounds too simple to be true, but it has worked for the most sleep deranged patients I have ever had. It has worked for hundreds of SEALs, professional athletes, entrepreneurs, CEO’s and homemakers—and it will work for you.
Read more about The Story of Sleep Remedy.