The Magic Of Sleep
leep is one of the most important parts of our day and the one that often gets neglected. Sleep has now turned into something that people consider a luxury. Many of us believe that people who get 8 hours of sleep must have a lot of extra time on their hands.
We live in a society where we are always on the run and it can create feelings of guilt when we slow down and take care of ourselves. Well, the truth is – sleep is NOT a luxury. It is a necessity; we need to start recognizing its importance. By getting good quality sleep, we become healthier, more productive and also we enhance our mental wellness! Now, THAT is a necessity!
The two most important aspects of sleep are the amount of sleep you get each night and the quality of that sleep. Sleep is a time when your body can repair and regenerate without you getting in its way.
Having one sleepless night or pulling an occasional all-nighter is not going to kill you, but multiple nights of poor sleep can have some negative consequences, one which may be depression.
Our bodies operate in two different systems – the parasympathetic and the sympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is our “fight-or-flight” response. This is the system our bodies use when we need to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident or if we need to run from a bear. Many people spend most of their days in this “fight-or flight” mode when they feel anxious or stressed. Long term sympathetic response causes negative health effects on our bodies including anxiety, poor digestion, bad skin, and inflammation in our body. When we sleep, our body enters into the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the “rest and digest” nervous system. Our body can repair itself, calm us down and heal.
Many medications used to treat insomnia or that help us to fall asleep can actually be quite harmful. SSRI’s, medication used to treat depression, actually suppress the deep sleep part of your sleep cycle called REM sleep. They lead to an overall decrease in restorative sleep. Sleeping pills should only be used short term as they can cause dependency and are often hard to get off once started.
All that being said, there are things we can do naturally to help to improve our quality and quantity of sleep.
- Get your optimal amount of sleep nightly – We have all been told that getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night is the right amount of sleep. THIS IS A MYTH! The most common (or average) amount of sleep that one needs to feel healthy is 7-8 hours but YOU may need a different amount. You may feel best operating on 6 hours or possibly 9 hours of sleep. It is most important to go to bed at the same time each day and to wake up at the same time. This allows your circadian rhythm (the clock in your body that tells you it is time to sleep and time to wake up) to be efficient. Once you have regular hours for going to sleep and waking up and are sleeping the optimal number of hours for your body, you should be able to wake up every day feeling refreshed without your alarm clock
- Exercise – Exercise has been shown time and time again to be an effective treatment for insomnia. Try to spend at least 20 minutes a day moving in a way that you enjoy. This could be going for a brisk walking, doing yoga, playing tennis, going for a run, dancing , swimming or any activity you enjoy.
- Sleep Rituals -Having a sleep ritual reminds your body that it is time wind down and get ready for sleep. An example of a sleep ritual could include turning off all electronics one hour before bed, drinking a calming tea and having an Epsom salts bath. Doing this ritual each night before bed will calm your body and your mind. A different sleep ritual might involve journaling for 30 minutes before sleep.
- Breathing, mindfulness or meditation techniques – These are often helpful for those who have a hard time shutting their mind off when they get into bed. There are excellent websites and apps that can be downloaded that will lead you through a guided sleep meditation to help calm the mind and relax the body into sleep.
- Teas – Many herbs have a sedative and calming effect and can help with sleep. Some of these include chamomile, passion flower, valerian, and lavender. A great tea that I love is “Bedtime Tea” by Yogi which has a combination of these herbs.
- Melatonin -Melatonin is a hormone that is released in your body at night and is responsible for setting the cycle and rhythm of your body. Melatonin signals the body and the brain that it is time to sleep. If you have a hard time falling asleep taking a melatonin supplement can be quite helpful.
- Get professional help to investigate why you are having sleep issues -If you are unable to fall asleep due to a racing mind or a low mood then talk to your naturopathic doctor. Getting to the root cause of the problem will help to treat and resolve your insomnia for good.