"What happened to you last night? You look like hell."
You may be surprised when a friend greets you in this way on an early Monday morning after a busy weekend. Then again, considering your routine, it might come as no shock at all.
The latest news on the election, worries over stock market — and perhaps even your favorite realty show — might keep you up throughout the night, till midnight, 1 a.m. or even 2 a.m.
Ouch, it's time to go to bed, right? But now you can't fall asleep because you heart is pumping from excitement over the latest news. After a couple of weeks, you notice that you lack energy, and aches and pains are arising that you have not had before.
You start to make appointments with doctors to get to the bottom of the pains. Yet, nobody can find anything wrong. You try physical therapy, pain medication and natural remedies. Still no success. Might sleep be the cause of the issues?
The fact is, staying up late is easy to do when you are young. You used to bounce back. Remember when you could work a full day, head home, change clothes and go out again? It was fun, and you did it three nights in a row. But now you're older, and things have changed.
Sleep is one very important consideration for anyone. We need sleep to restore and repair our systems. Yet, because of the pressures and distractions of modern society, our natural patterns are often interrupted, possibly causing pain and weight gain.
Our natural sleep pattern is influenced by light. The cycles of light and dark that occur because of the movement of the sun affect all living creatures.
When health experts speak of our sleeping cycle, you'll often hear it referred to as our "circadian cycle." In times past, it was natural to rise with sunrise and wind down at sundown. Times have changed. You work on the computer, watch TV and read late under electric lights. Hence, there are many opportunities to interrupt our circadian cycle.
Interruption of the circadian cycle can cause aches, pains, health issues and performance issues. Whenever light stimulates your skin or eyes, your brain and hormonal system naturally releases cortisol. This hormone is often called the "stress hormone," since it is released whenever we are exposed to stress, which can be from many various physical, mental and nutritional sources.
As the sun rises, so too do cortisol levels. Normally, the peak of cortisol is between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., after which its concentrations drop slightly till noon and stay at a lower level from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m.
Low cortisol levels allow another hormone called melatonin to be released, helping us to fall asleep. In a perfect world, we should start to wind down when the sun sets, and by about 10 p.m. we should be in bed, allowing our bodies and brains to repair themselves before the next day ahead.
Computer screens, television at night and fluorescent lights flicker on and off between 60 to 120 cycles per second. Recent research suggests that these stimuli cause your brain to think it is morning, prompting the release of cortisol.
At this point, you are withholding your body from the precious sleep it needs for repair, to be re-energized, to stay mentally alert during the following day and to look younger and refreshed.