Sleep is Medicine!
Sleep is a fundamental process of life. If we don't get a healthy amount of sleep, it directly interferes with our happiness and health. The National Sleep Foundation defines healthy sleep as at least 7 hours of uninterrupted, regular sleep. ( 8 is better! ) It's not only about how long you sleep but how well you sleep. In our go go go society, we are conditioned to be connected to work, family and social circles 24/7. Electronics contribute a lot to this drive to always be "on."
There is a direct correlation between lack of sleep and chronic illness or your state of health. Serious health issues that can occur when we deprive ourselves of sleep are heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and infections. When we sleep, our bodies repair themselves and the mind digests the experiences that have happened during the day.
Some of the major causes of sleep disorders are stress and anxiety, drinking alcohol, eating certain foods, and inadequate exercise. Let's take a closer look at each of these threats.
1. Stress and Anxiety ~ This is probably the most common disrupter of sleep. When we experience stress, anxiousness, anger, fear, worry, frustration, depression, and concerns they prevent us from falling and/or staying asleep. These can be tied to our mental, physical and/or emotional well-being. Stress can cause cortisol to be elevated, making it harder to fall asleep, stay asleep, and have quality sleep.
(Cortisol is a stress hormone the adrenal glands release. It helps your body deal with stressful situations, as your brain triggers its release through the sympathetic nervous system — the “fight or flight” system — in response to many different kinds of stress.)
Stress carries its way not only into the quality of sleep but also into our dreams. If you aren't dreaming, most likely you aren't getting that deep restorative sleep.
Sleep is about relaxing. Setting yourself up to relax your mood, mind, and muscles will likely help your sleep. Let's look at some sound sleeping habits and rituals that can promote restful sleep
• Have a ritual/routine : Eat at the same time, go to bed at the same time, and wake at the same time.
• No electronics the last hour or 2 before bed
• Warm chamomile tea or other soothing non caffeinated beverage
• Warm bath or shower
• Warm cloth with an essential oil or lavendar
• Gentle Yoga or Guided Meditation
• Journaling (gratitude!)
• The bed is for sleep and sex only! No tv, reading or eating. If you have been in bed for 30 minutes and are unable to sleep, get up and sit in a chair and read until you feel tired ~ then go back to bed. Do this as often as you need to.
• No late night eating or exercise! When you eat late at night, you may very well be creating an inflammatory state in the body for a short period. The body needs time to "clean house." Exercising at night shifts the blood flow. It increases the difficulty in falling asleep and getting into REM ( Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Cortisol peaks in the day and comes down slowly at night.
• Keep a journal that tracks your mood, food, energy and sleep. This can help pinpoint what is going on in your world that might be effecting your sleep.
• Magnesium ~ This nutrient plays a large role in sleep regulation. Magnesium can help the body relax and even improve symptoms of insomnia. A lack of magnesium negatively impacts the quality sleep. Anxiety and depression also correlate with low magnesium levels and both anxiety and depression can contribute to insomnia.
• Gaba supplements. Gaba is a natural anti-anxiety that calms down the sympathetic nervous system and boosts the parasympathetic nervous system.
2. Alcohol ~ People often misuse alcohol to treat stress, depression, or anxiety. While it may provide temporary relief, alcohol is a depressant that can produce more stress, anxiety, and depression. It can suppress REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, disrupt your sleep and lower the quality of your sleep.
When you drink alcohol, your brain reacts by releasing stimulants and stress hormones. Once the alcohol is processed and goes down, the overstimulated side of the brain stays active for 5 hours or so; preventing you from going into the critical REM sleep cycle. You often wake up because the mind is overstimulated.
3. Unhealthy Eating ~ Too many people use late night eating to relieve stress. It can have a negative impact on our sleep by disrupting our digestive system. It contributes to heartburn, diarrhea and gas.
4. Inadequate Exercise ~ Regular exercise helps us manage stress and anxiety and helps induce sleep. It is best if at all possible to exercise anytime prior to dinner. Late night exercise can prevent you from falling and staying asleep.
These are just a few tools to help you get the sleep that you need to have a healthy body, mind and spirit!