Daniel Plan 3/8/17: Fight or Flight...and the Power of Sleep

Hello again! 

Thanks to all who have been supportive of this message and, to all those who will use it in the future, best wishes for success! 

Doing this version of the Daniel Plan has been particularly helpful for me. It is really making me take a hard look at how much I am allowing God to be the leader in my life. Often times, the answer is not enough.

Alright...lesson time.

When we let ourselves be the driving force in life the result is almost invariably stress. I talked a little about it a couple of days ago but I want to spend some more time exploring the physiology of stress and the ways to overcome it.

Stress is a part of everyday life, in the form of either negative stress or positive stress. Negative stress would include things like illness, a death in the family, caring for a sick relative, divorce, losing a job, of filing bankruptcy. Positive stress could include the birth of a child, getting a new job, marriage or going to college.

Often these things will activate the fight or flight mechanism in the body. During this process, we undergo a predictable set of reactions: our heartbeat increases, our pupils dilate, the blood vessels in our big muscles dilate (so we can fight or run away), and the blood vessels around our digestive organs shrink. 

All of these reactions are the result of the hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) being released by the adrenal glands. These same glands release cortisol, which recruits protein from the large muscles and converts it to glucose for energy, once again to fuel fighting or running away. If this fuel is not used,l it is stored around the midsection as potential energy.

So, in theory, we could say "I'm not fat...I just have a lot of potential energy."

Insert laughter here :)

These reactions are meant to be short term. Once the threat is over, the body should go back to balance. Unfortunately, it seems that modern life puts many of us in this fight of flight state repeatedly and that stress becomes chronic. It can affect, not only our belly but our brain and other organs as well.

Chronic stress harms the brain. It constricts blood flow, which lowers overall brain function and prematurely ages your brain. A series of studies looked at long-term exposure to stress hormones, especially cortisol, and its effect on brain function in varying age groups. The older adults with continuously high levels of cortisol performed worse on memory tests than older adults with moderate-to-low cortisol levels. The older adults with high cortisol levels also had a 14 percent smaller hippocampus, the area involved with memory. The hippocampus is part of the stress response system and sends out signals to halt the production of cortisol once a threat has vanished. But when the number of brain cells in the hippocampus is depleted, it no longer sends out this signal, which results in the release of even greater amounts of cortisol.
— The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life

Chronic stress can lead to adrenal fatigue or even exhaustion.

There are three tools, however, that can lead us out of that state. They are: sleep, increased protein intake and stress management techniques.

Today, I want to talk briefly about sleep.

When we are in the midst of our day to day activities our brains are in what is called a beta state. The accompanying brain waves are irregular and high frequency. As we relax, our brain waves shift into an alpha state, in which the brain waves are more rhythmic and lower frequency. During this state, the brain starts to release serotonin, which is the gateway chemical to sleep.

Sleep occurs in waves at about 90 min intervals. You go through stages 1-4 with 4 being the deepest and most restorative sleep. Fat burning hormones are most active during sleep phase 4 sleep, which usually takes between midnight and 4 AM. The sleep cycle then goes back up to 3, and then to 2, and finally back to 1. Up to the point of return to phase 1, the sleep is governed by the hormone serotonin. 

Interestingly, when you hit phase 1 a different hormone, norepinephrine, takes over and we experience REM sleep. REM stand for rapid eye movement and it is the sleep phase from which you typically remember your dreams. It is a shallower phase of sleep and occurs more frequently toward morning. Often phase 4 sleep only occurs in the first couple of 90 min cycles. An excess of norepinephrine from stress can keep us from getting into the deeper phases of sleep. 

Anyway, that's all for today. Going forward, we will talk more about the tools for stress management. In the meantime...sleep well.

Today's Bible verse:

In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.
— Psalms 4:8