Sleep: Why It Matters and How to Make it Work for You
Sleep. Ahhhhhhhhh, precious lovely SLEEEEEEEEEP.
For those of you who have plenty of it, you won’t get it. But for those of you who don’t, this blog is for you. Laying awake at night exhausted is just one of the tragic side effects of our modern lifestyle. For the perennial insomniac, lying awake, frustrated, next to your gently snoozing bedmate can be justification for homicide.
Sleep is a hygiene thing. Just like brushing your teeth and eating right. You know that you’re supposed to get your beauty rest, your forty winks, your zees, your eight hours a night. But do you know why?
Without rest, we can begin to suffer not only from the effects of fatigue, including an inability to focus and retain information, but also emotional issues like irritability, and mental problems like anxiety and depression. Your physical health will suffer dramatically. You’ll have a much harder time maintaining an appropriate weight, your body won’t detoxify and your brain can’t reset properly. Sleep is not a cure-all, but it plays a major role in your health.
Regeneration and Repair
If you’ve suffered an injury or illness, what’s the first thing the doctor tells you? Get plenty of rest. This is because periods of rest allow your body to heal and regenerate, and the principle applies whether you are recovering from injury, illness, or the stresses of the average day. Our society does not convalesce properly. Watching TV is not resting!!!! Screens, whether TV, computer, or smartphone, are not conducive to good sleep. Before bed, get a little bored. Boredom is good. Boredom inspires the parasympathetic nervous system.
Sleep Cycles and Health
For the most part, our circadian rhythms coincide with daily markers like daylight and darkness, which is why many people find it difficult to sleep during the day and stay awake at night. Our bodies are programed to wake when it’s light and sleep when it’s dark. Although circadian rhythms can vary somewhat from person to person, they tend to follow this general pattern.
It’s important to observe and embrace these natural cycles for optimal health. Not only will you enjoy more restful slumber when you follow your body’s natural rhythms, but you’ll allow other systems to function properly. The release of hormones is tied to your sleep cycle: like cortisol, which is associated with stress, and ghrelin and leptin, which regulate hunger and satiety.
With proper rest, hormones are able to self-regulate. When your sleep patterns are out of whack, hormone levels will follow suit, prompting issues such as high anxiety and weight gain, just to name a couple. If you’re wondering why you feel so stressed and you can’t seem to lose weight (even though you obediently passed up the after-dinner ice cream), look to your sleep patterns.
Even if you’re in bed on time, you might find yourself tossing and turning. How can you get a restful night of sleep? There are a variety of biohacks that can help you engineer more restful slumber.
Lighting is a major factor in sleep quality, so get rid of fluorescent and LED bulbs in the bedroom and dim the lights well before you intend to sleep. You can even use orange goggles and light bulbs as a way to reduce the blue light spectrum that keeps the brain active.
Get rid of electronics in the bedroom that could keep you awake with flashing lights, buzzing alerts, and EMFs. Turn off the TV and mobile devices a couple of hours before bed and leave electronics charging in another room. Then make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible when the lights go out.
Also helpful is exposure to sunlight during daytime hours. Go outside. We are designed to spend most of our days outside on the savannah, in the woods, on the beach or around the jungle. Find a tree and sit next to it. Walk a dog. Do this regularly so that your glands start to trust you again. When you wake to the sun, it helps to reset your circadian rhythm so that you can be alert during the day and prepare for sleep at night. You may want to schedule your exercise during the morning hours, as well. This will give you energy throughout the day and ensure more restful slumber.
A final hack is to maintain a cool temperature in the bedroom. When we sleep, our brains reduce the body’s set point for temperature. If you can adjust the environmental temperature to match, your body won’t struggle as much to acclimate. A cool 60-65 degrees is ideal for most people, but adjust the thermostat to suit your needs if you wake up feeling cold or hot. A temperate shower or bath before bed can be very relaxing (and boring), and can help get you to sleep.
Fix snoring. If you snore, you may have sleep apnea and need a sleep study. If you snore, you are hyperventilating in your sleep and lowering your carbon dioxide levels all night long. Carbon dioxide is a natural sedative, so don’t neglect a snoring issue.
Tackle a few of these suggestions and do what it takes to get some sleep on a regular basis and watch your life unfold for the better.