Sleep Your Way to Thyroid Health
September 20th, 2016
This is an excerpt from my new book, The Thyroid Connection.
One of the keys to getting deep, regular sleep is to maintain a good circadian rhythm. That’s a term for your body’s regular daily rhythms. Many of your hormone receptors are geared to these rhythms, which may be governed by clock genes that evolved to keep your body adjusted to the daily, seasonal, and annual rhythms of the planet. A whole body of new research has found that metabolism and weight are very profoundly interconnected with circadian rhythms, as explained in a May 2014 article in the journal Advances in Nutrition. I conclude that your thyroid’s optimal function depends on this daily cycle, which is why sleep is so important.
One of the major cues that your body uses to regulate its activity is the amount of light in your surroundings. Not surprisingly, we evolved to be awake when it is light and asleep when it is dark, with numerous hormonal and metabolic cues linked to those primal patterns. When we don’t follow them, our thyroid and metabolism suffer.
When patients come into my office and tell me they get irregular sleep or wake frequently in the night, I immediately suspect that it’s playing a role in their thyroid and immune health. Here are the suggestions I share with them for improving the quality of their sleep:
- Get as much natural light as possible during the day, and get outside as close to first thing in the morning as you can. Being in natural light cues your circadian rhythms that you are awake. Ideally, you’ll be outside within thirty minutes of waking up.
- Determine the number of hours of sleep you need—and then make sure you get them! Give yourself a couple of weekend days when you can sleep uninterrupted, without an alarm to wake you up. That’s how you’ll know how much sleep you really need. Then count backward from the time you need to wake up to make sure you get the right amount of sleep.
- As far as you can, go to bed and wake up at the same times every day. For Laila, this was often challenging — hopefully, for you, it will be less so. Ideally, early to bed and early to rise is healthier for you than late and late— 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. is probably optimal, but many of us have lives that simply don’t accommodate that schedule. Or you may find that your optimal sleep time is nine or ten hours. Just do the best you can! If you have children, you know how important it is to get them on a schedule. Guess what—your body needs that too!
- Progress slowly through the evening with amber light. After sundown, you want to replace your bright white lights with amber bulbs or wear amber glasses (see Resources) to cue your body toward nighttime. I recommend getting the f.lux program for your computer — it’s free, and it will shift the color of your computer’s light from blue to orange as the sun goes down. Most smartphones and iPads now have a night-shift setting that will change the lighting on your device to an amber color based on the time of day.
- Keep your sleep space as dark as possible. Your body needs to believe that it is surrounded by complete darkness to enter into the deepest, most restful sleep. You especially want to block out the blue light emitted by electronic screens and many types of lightbulbs, as these mimic most closely the effects of daylight, altering your circadian clock. Sleep masks and blackout curtains are very helpful. Keep electronics out of the bedroom, turn off electronic devices, or at least thoroughly cover their screens with red sheets that block out blue and green light.
- Sleep cool, not warm. Your body temperature needs to drop to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. Make sure your bedroom is cool or even cold.
- Institute an electronic sundown. At least one hour before bed, turn off all screens: phone, computer, television. Your goal is to minimize your exposure to blue light as your body prepares itself for sleep.
- You also want to keep electronics out of the bedroom to minimize your exposure to the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) that they emit. While we don’t yet know all the effects of EMFs, they’re just another exposure that your body doesn’t need.
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