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Sleep is when our brain takes out the trash.

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

So many people I talk to these days are struggling with sleep problems: trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or nightmares, and unrestful sleep to name a few issues. Sleep is one of the most important things to our overall health. During sleep, our body rests and repairs the damage from daily wear and tear. This is when our brain “takes out the trash”, during our deepest sleep cycle. If you aren’t getting enough quality sleep then your probably aren’t clearing out the trash properly. Wondering how this applies to Parkinson’s? Well, the protein aggregates in the brain are part of the trash that gets cleared out when you get deep sleep. Many don’t realize that REM sleep behavior disorder is an early precursor of Parkinson’s. Roughly 70% of REM sleep patients are diagnosed with Parkinson's within a few years.

Melatonin is a key hormone released by the pineal gland, deep in the brain, that helps us fall and stay asleep. Melatonin is involved in synchronizing the circadian rhythm, our body's sleep cycle. Our circadian rhythm is controlled by our environment. Light and dark is one of the primary signals that impacts our circadian rhythm. Consider how much the light and dark cycle has been disrupted by the introduction of artificial light in our lives. We can see this in animals too, such as with birds and turtles who have migration patterns that involve cycles of darkness and the light of the moon which are now disrupted by artificial outdoor light pollution.

Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland in the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which is entrained by exposure to the light dark-dark cycle. In our modern world, do we ever really get good exposure to natural light and dark cycles? When is the last time you sat in total darkness? It’s really hard to find total darkness in our homes because we have so many devices with lights and indicators. Melatonin production is suppressed by artificial light. But using a melatonin supplement is not going to have the same effects as resetting your own circadian clock and supporting your body in its own production of melatonin.

One of the best things to do to help reset your circadian clock is to retrain yourself to rise and sleep with the cycle of the sun. Wake up just before dawn and go outside and take a walk as the sun is rising. This exposure to the natural light cycle will begin to reset your clock. Try to limit your exposure to artificial lights during the day if possible. Use light bulbs that mimic the natural light spectrum. As the day draws to an end, limit or halt your use of the phone and the computer. This is difficult in our modern world. A good way to start is just by turning things off 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime. If you have a dark room in your house, try meditating in the dark room before going to bed.

Have a set routine - clean sheets, a comfy bed and a cool temperature in the room can also help improve your sleep. Limit caffeine to one cup or even better eliminate it all together. I was amazed at how much deeper my sleep was after I cut out coffee from my daily routine.

We only heal when we’re in deep sleep. REM behavior disorder and sleep problems characteristic of PD ensure that stage is never reached.

A few key take-aways from Dr. Gominak's sleep research to note:

  • When we sleep, our microbiome produces all the Vitamin b we need. Until then, we must supplement.

  • Low Vitamin D levels interfere with sleep. This makes a lot of sense because vitamin D is synthesized in the skin on exposure to sunlight which affects the circadian clock

  • B vitamin deficiencies, B12 and thiamine, in particularly affect sleep

  • When I started taking thiamine; I began sleeping through the night

  • Another great resource to check out is a podcast Robert Rodgers did with Dr. Gominak.

In addition to your beauty rest, make sure to let your brain rest.

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