High quality sleep is vital for both healing and sustaining. While your body appears from the outside to be still and inactive, sleep is a time when the body is quite busy. During the night, we generate our supply of hormones, filter toxins, repair tissue damage, generate white blood cells vital for immunity, placate stress, and process emotions.
Unfortunately, sleep is often hard to come by. From trouble falling asleep and oft-interrupted sleep to actual insomnia, many face a variety of sleeping obstacles. Without healthy sleep patterns and adequate slumber, it’s difficult to achieve a healthy life and make the right decisions when it comes to nutrition, fitness, and wellness on a daily basis.
When I start working with a new client, sleep issues are always one of the first issues we address. Often once a sleep issue is addressed, other issues will fall into place as well–the healing power of rest!
We fall asleep when our pineal glands (a small ant-sized lobe in the middle of your skull) release melatonin in time with our circadian rhythm. Melatonin suppresses the activity of other busy neurotransmitters in your brain, which is why you experience that calming sensation before falling asleep. As you grow drowsier, your brain slowly starts turning off voluntary skeletal muscle functions so we don’t move around in our sleep and try to act out our dreams and disrupt our body’s sleep processes. (This is actually why it’s hard to move your limbs or shout in a nightmare!)
To achieve ideal sleep, your melatonin levels should rise steadily and cortisol should be very low at bedtime. Pineal glands secrete melatonin largely in response to darkness and cortisol levels are lowered in quiet, low-volume environments. Spending time in front of bright screens, like TVs or smartphones, and listening to the loud noises that come with them means we sabotage our body’s ability to create its own healthy sleep pattern.
Making simple changes to your life and sleep habits can be very powerful. Practice these sleep hygiene principles to improve or fully remedy poor sleep patterns.
- Choose calm, quiet evening activities that help you relax, e.g. reading a book, taking a bath, going for a light walk at dusk, or folding laundry.
- Turn off all full-spectrum light 1-2 hours before bedtime. That means no TV, computer, or phone time!
- Avoiding amping your brain up. Activities like budgeting, scheduling, or stressful conversations can put your brain into stress mode and prevent sleep.
- Avoid caffeine after 2pm. It can affect you much longer than you think!
- Make your environment quiet, but not too quiet. Too much noise can be an issue, but so can complete silence. I recommend the soft hum of a fan or a white noise machine.
- Mind the temperature. Adjust both your room and bedding temperature to what’s most comfortable for you throughout the night. Temperature extremes increase our stress hormones and wake us up.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. Set up a routine that works for you and do it every night, like drinking a mug of tea, taking a hot bath with epsom salts, or writing in a journal.
- Quiet your digestion. If you deal with sleep issues, try abstaining from food for three hours before bed so your body isn’t using energy to digest while you’re trying to fall asleep.