Ronda Collier came on “The WHOLE Athlete” podcast with me, your host Debbie Potts, to chat about the relationship between heart rate variability, sleep, recovery for athletes of all levels. We talk about how sleep is important for one’s health and discuss what is the HPA axis.
Human sleep is directly related to the level of stress- and any excess stress can result in adrenal fatigue issue. Our sympathetic nervous system activates the flight and fight hormones – including cortisol. If someone is being chased by a tiger- the “fight and flight” emergency response system in the body is activated- the stress hormones- until tiger is gone or killed. The stress hormones continue to be activated until we feel back to “normal” or rest. Similarly, in a modern living- traffic, our bosses, having children – are all stressors. The end result – we are in permanent state of “fight and flight” and we rarely take time to recover from our daily stress due to are constant busy schedules and fast moving life which leaves us living in a state of chronic “fight and flight” patterns.
When we activate our sympathetic nervous system -which then causes activation of HPA Axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis) then our stress hormones are released to respond to the situation including the hormone cortisol. When hypothalamus gets triggered, it causes CRH hormone to be released which acts directly on pituitary releasing ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) which is also known as one of the stress hormones. ACTH travels through blood stream and acts on adrenal gland resulting in cortisol release, which is an inhibitor of ACTH and CRH. This whole mechanism of cascade is what is called feedback loop mechanism.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV0 is used to measure the activity of autonomic nervous system including sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and vagal tone. Valgus nerve is 10th cranial nerve which is involved in mediating heart rate to slow it down. Strong vagal tone helps to encounter the effects of “fight and flight” hormones by decreasing heart rate. The hormones cortisol, along with helping react to “fight or flight” situations, is also a moderator of sleep cycles. Cortisol, as well as melatonin- has got a 24-hour circadian rhythm. Stress hormones are good for short term activation and but harmful when activated non-stop (dripping faucet) as it will eventually weaken the immune system and disrupts the 24 -hours circadian rhythm of cortisol. Stress once again disrupts another body system- as it throws off the circadian rhythm by increasing the cortisol in the evening-middle of the night when it is to be low and the melatonin should be higher.
At morning, cortisol is at its peak – around 9:00am and gradually decreases around noon then dips down at 3:00pm to 4:00pm when people feel sleepy – then there is continuous drop till midnight when it reaches its minimum value and it starts increasing again and peaks at 9:00am. That’s typical circadian 24-hour cortisol circadian rhythm. Chronic stress can cause cortisol dysregulation. Too much of anything as I say is toxic…and leads to dysregulation in the body including sleep and even your thyroid. The excessive activation of cortisol can affect the thyroid function because cortisol inactivates T3 thyroid hormone and shunts it into reverse T3- which then results in thyroid problems.
If thyroid hormones are low -and the body perceives stress- then the HPA Axis is activated, then again the stress hormone cortisol is released. We can get ourselves into a non- stop cycle which can make one insane. Once chronic thyroid and cortisol dysregulation happens, this can activate adrenaline acting as a substitute for cortisol which can result in a more dreadful panic feeling. So, this is a reason that many people wake up at 3:00am or 4:00am in a panic state -then they can’t go back to sleep again. Dysfunctional HPA Axis activity may play a role in some sleep disorders but in other cases HPA dysfunction is actually the result of poor sleep or sleep disorders, so it’s all an interconnected thing.
Now if we see deeply, there are 5 stages of sleep.
Stage 1: It’s a transition phase from waking to sleeping, consists of 5-10 minutes.
Stage 2: It is a stage of a light sleep. During this phase body temperature and heart rate decreases. This stage of sleep lasts for 20 minutes.
Stage 3: This stage is a mixture of light and deep sleep. During this period lower than 50%of slow delta brain waves are released.
Stage 4: In this stage of sleep, more than 50% of slow delta brain waves are released.
Stage 5: This is a stage of rim sleep. A person feels increased rate of respiration and increased or hyper brain activity and mixed frequency of brain waves are released.
One cycle of sleep lasts between 90-110 minutes and a normal person experiences 7-8 cycles in a single sleep.
Whenever there is increased secretion of cortisol and adrenaline during sleep, a person wakes up. Mind starts talking to itself and a state of anxiety is experienced and a person gets worried. When someone is having a good sleep and normal cortisol levels, the nervous system repairs itself in that time period along with muscular, hormonal as well as psychological repair.
It’s never good to sleep little as majority people feel proud or more cool to say that “oh man! I only sleep 4 hours a day and I feel fine the whole day.” It’s proven to be a genetic disorder in a very little percentage of the population who never sleep at all or sleep for a very little time. Scientifically proven, everyone needs 8-9 hours’ sleep a day. It’s only a super person who would never sleep. Similarly, it’s not a good idea for anyone to get up too early. The best way to stay fit and lose weight is not to have crazy workouts, it’s all about what you eat and what type of stress someone is facing. Too much stress causes craving for food, disturbed sleep resulting in more storage of fat inside body.
Ronda shared her personal experience that she is a good sleeper just because she has put stress out of her life, she’s having her own company, life is great for her. She had been doing meditation in 2005 and yoga for 10 years. She kept waking up suddenly before that time and after going through some book she took advice that she got rid of all the wireless things present in her house. She turned off the Wi-Fi, she got landline number, plugged in computer instead of laptop, turned off cellphone at night or activated airplane mode. After doing all that she never woke up in the middle of night. She’s having a good sleep now. One of the customers of Ronda who was measuring her night time HRV, her HRV was going down during night. When she used to go to the bed, she felt good but when she used to getup, she felt terrible. So she told her that maybe she was sleeping on something allergic and it came out to be true.
Ronda recommends to use HRV. So how can HRV be turned on when phone is on airplane mode? Ronda told that when phone is on airplane mode, one can turn on the Bluetooth and then use the HRV. And that’s a good thing to track sleep according to Ronda. People don’t care about the time of the stages of their sleep, what they really care about is, is their nervous system getting repaired or is their body recovering. So how can one tell that what stage a person is having during HRV test. Ronda said that you can’t, as it took her years of research reading HRV. So the trend of HRV ideally to have a sound sleep throughout the night is that it goes up i.e. trend line should be up going. Let’s suppose, it’d be 50 when someone is about to sleep and 70 when one is awake. On asking about changing the room or pillow cases nightly like someone keeps one and others keep 4 pillows, about changing bedsheets. Ronda recommended that one should not focus or notice over the small things even about which one has never thought about. So first of all room should be changed and then HRV should be checked, if it’s increasing, then room is fine otherwise one should get back to his/her room and then pillow cases should be changed or mattresses, bedsheets, carpet etc. And the most important thing is to keep electronics out of the room.
It’s amazing that we have got several sleep cycles averaging 110 minutes every night, so how many cycles are we going to have every night is 6 or 7. When interviewer asked Ronda that she was going to the washroom at night more often even she doesn’t drink much water and doctor told her that when she woke up for washroom, it was not really for washroom which was keeping her up but it was something else which was there in her back of the mind, even sometimes in a dream when person needs to go to the toilet, one wakes up. And mostly this thing happens around 3:00am or 4:00am in the morning or at the end of stage 5 of the sleep.
When someone lays down in bed straight and even not sleeping, that’s also fine instead of starting panicking as laying perfectly still is also resting the body and relaxes it. Many people glorify themselves as to be staying busy i.e. they take it as a success for them but that’s not true. Ronda gives her own example that every day she wakes up at 7:30am or 8:00am, goes to office between 9:30am or 10:00am and then comes to bed at 11:00pm. She never sets alarms and also recommends never to set alarms. She advices to leave alarm thing up to your conscious because if we are dependent on alarms all the time then there is a chance that we might keep sleeping when we forget to set alarm one night accidently. That’s the reason that Ronda never sets alarms and gets up at 7:30am or 8:00am every day and she sets alarms only when she has to wake up earlier.
Also there are some online applications which can be used to wake up at perfect time from your sleep as no one wants to get up from deep sleep as it’s bad. Let’s suppose if someone wants to get up at 6:00am with alarm, then with the help of that application you can wake up at the perfect time around 6:00am, that can be 5:50am or 6:10am. So these applications wake up people from their sleep at the best possible time of their sleep cycle.
Summary of our sleep cycle:
Stage 1: it’s in and out sleep phase in which one can wake up easily
Stage 2: it’s the time when eyes movements stop and brain waves become slower with occasional bursts of rapid brain waves
Stage 3: it’s a period when there is release of extremely slow delta waves from the brain
Stage 4: during this phase, slower delta waves are released.
Stage 3 and stage 4 are also known as deeper sleep stage.
Stage 5 is also known as “REM” sleep.
Is there any way to have a longer deep sleep stage or is a bad thing?
Ronda said no- we can’t stay in it for long as it’s a short sleep period. Ronda stopped her research because of the duration of the stages of the sleep because no one can do anything about it. What we can do, is to make sure that we are not over training, that we are not in a state of chronic stress, we are going to bed at the same time every night after turning off all the electronics and also one can use blue filters, as they are really helpful and one can sleep earlier by using these blue filters. Also these blue filters are inexpensive i.e. one filter costs nearly $7 and they can easily be bought from amazon (see our shopping links on www.thewholesticmethod.com).
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