Sleep is perhaps thee most central and anchoring piece of my wellness puzzle.
It is the one area that I do not skimp on, no matter what is going on in my life.
If it’s a work night, I get into bed at 2130 to read, snug with my boo, and meditate.
On nights where I don’t have to work the next morning, I’m not as uptight about my actual bed time, but I ensure that I allow myself a minimum of 8 hours before I wake up.
Sleep is the most regenerative time for your body. It’s literally like hitting the reset button on every metabolic process in the body. It’s like rebooting the computer. It’s like a hot shower after a long camping trip. It’s like the first seedlings that pop up out of the earth after a long winter.
HIGH QUALITY SLEEP IS BEYOND WORDS NECESSARY FOR A VITAL AND THRIVING EXISTENCE
Let’s break it down system by system and highlight all of the magic that ensues while you sleep.
Your brain rests and prepares for a new day tomorrow. New neural pathways are being formed so you can recall old information and process new information.
Sleep enhances your learning and problem-solving skills.
Sleep helps with decision making, enhances your creativity, and improves your attention span.
There is decreased overall blood flow to your brain when you are sleep deprived, and decreased blood flow means you’re not as sharp, you have trouble concentrating, and trouble recalling old information and learning new information
Sleep is intimately tied to the healing and repair of our blood vessels
Lack of adequate sleep causes higher levels of inflammatory markers that increase your risk of cardiovascular disease
Risk of obesity goes up with inadequate sleep
Blood sugar balance – lack of sleep affects your body’s insulin levels, and inappropriate insulin response can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes down the road.
Inappropriate cortisol surges happen when your sleep cycles are off, leaving you sluggish and exhausted upon waking, but tired and wired when trying to go to sleep.
Ghrelin/Leptin – your hunger hormones that signal your body to eat when you’re hungry and to stop eating when you’re full, respectively. When you don’t get regular, adequate sleep, ghrelin and leptin concentrations are off and you are more likely to overeat and crave sugary, naughty foods.
Growth hormone – growth hormone stimulates the growth and repair of our cells, muscles, tissues, bones, organs, etc.
Pituitary gland – the hormone party starts with the pituitary gland, and less than stellar sleep prevents it from producing important hormones that affect everything from your libido to your menstrual cycle to your fertility
Lack of sleep leads to a depressed immune system response. This means you may have trouble fighting infections and building a robust defense system for viral and bacterial infections.
Inappropriate cytokine function
Prevents your body from building up its immune forces to combat invaders
Sleep is when you build muscle mass and when your cells and tissues repair themselves
There is a detoxification window every single day in the life of a human being, and it’s approximately 8 hours after your last meal until the first meal of the next day. It requires at least 4 hours to function well. This detoxification signal only happens when you have had 8 uninterrupted hours of fasting. The cells of your GI tract are constantly turning over, and this process is most efficient during your sleeping hours, when you no longer have food in there that needs to be digested. So when you eat a late dinner, and then eat again early the next morning, you are denying your body the ability to detox fully.
There is substantial evidence revealing that people who sleep from 10pm-6am have maximal access to the liver’s anabolic phase of detoxification. The liver has hundreds of jobs to do. The most important of those 500 jobs is detoxifying and helping your body eliminate toxic build up that can (and will) negatively impact your health if it does not leave your body. And the bulk of that detoxification happens at night while you sleep.
A staggering 60 million Americans are suffering with some kind of chronic sleep disorder. Holy CRAP can you even believe that number??
Sleep deficiency interferes with literally every system in your body.
And people who don’t get enough sleep are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, depression, cancer, and overall higher mortality (meaning your risk of dying from anything is higher).
Impediments to High Quality Sleep
Blue light exposure from the TV, computer, or smart phone (blue light suppresses your body’s natural melatonin production. Read more about melatonin in this post here)
Lack of exercise
Naughty diet (high sugar, bad fats, not enough fruits and veggies or high quality protein)
Certain disorders like sleep apnea, thyroid disorders, GERD, or chronic pain
Good Sleep Hygiene Habits to Adopt
Establish a winding down routine
Starting 2 hours before bed. Start around dinner time when the sun sets and the natural light outside starts to fade. Dim the lights inside your house and avoid bright screens/bright lights. Start relaxing 2 hours before bed. Read your book. Do something that is soothing to you like a puzzle, coloring, or crocheting. Avoid stimulating activities like scary movies or video games. Be intentional about winding down
Wear blue blockers
Always wear your blue blockers if you must look at any screen. Absolutely wear them at night when watching TV, working on the computer, or scrolling IG. Bonus points if you wear them all day looking at your computer screen
Use a blue light filter for your phone and computer
Download a blue light filter app on your phone and set it for 8pm. There are lots of free ones, and most phones come with the software already on the phone. Download software onto your computer that filters blue light. I like flux.
Keep screens OUT of the bedroom
The bedroom is for two things and two things only, and watching TV is NOT one of them 😉
Make sure the temperature in your room is cool
If you are too warm when you sleep, your body's natural production of melatonin goes down, and lack of melatonin leads to sub-optimal sleep. For more information about melatonin and how amazing it is, check out my post here
Get morning sunshine into your eyes
Morning sun helps to synchronize your circadian rhythm and this helps everything from increasing insulin sensitivity to improving your hormone levels across the board
Incorporate an exercise routine during your waking hours. Regular exercise promotes healthy sleep!
Sleep in complete darkness
You can get blackout curtains or you could buy a silky sleep mask. Even a little bit of light coming through your eyelids during the night suppresses melatonin, raises cortisol, and definitely disrupts your sleep quality
Take a bath before bed
Take a bath with some Epsom salts and lavender essential oil. The warmth from the bath is naturally very relaxing, and the magnesium from the Epsom salts will get absorbed by your skin and create a full body relaxing effect. Lavender is one of the most soothing and relaxing essential oils on the planet
Give yourself a foot massage
The feet have acupressure points that when stimulated, relaxation and stress reduction ensue. At the end of the day give yourself a foot massage (or recruit your boo to do it!). Bonus points for using a little lavender
Mind dump before bed
If you’re prone to worry and stress and tend to have a racing mind, practice a mind dump into your journal before bed. Let it all out, and allow yourself a reprieve from the day and the never-ending To Do list. All the things will be there for you to worry about in the morning
Utilize red light
Consider changing the lightbulbs in your room to red lightbulbs. Red lights have a minimal affect on melatonin, plus they are very relaxing
Setting yourself up with good sleep habits now will reward you immensely in the future!!
Think of your body as a computer (which it is, actually … a highly skilled bio-computer!) – if you don’t shut it down regularly, its going to fry up and die.
It’s not going to work efficiently, its going to get sluggish and slow and cause all kinds of problems and have trouble processing all the things.
I used to pride myself on not needing a lot of sleep.
I remember being a freshman in college when I pulled my first all-nighter. I was studying (read: cramming) for a psychology exam, and somewhere around 10pm the night before I decided I was going to just push on through until the test.
I was prepared with Rockstar Energy Drinks, Starbucks double shots and 5-hr Energies.
I was so proud of myself for staying awake all night, studying my buns off, and ace-ing the test the next day. I even remember feeling so beyond tired that I wasn’t even tired anymore.
Little did I know then about the amazingness that is quality sleep, not to mention the assault on my body from the energy drinks and all the sugar and garbage in there. My poor body dealt with a lot of abuse during my college years.
Well, I’ve come a long way since that night in my dorm room at Mizzou. I have since ditched the energy drinks and double shots, and now I would rather stick a pencil in my eye than miss a night of sleep!
ITS IMPORTANT THAT WE FIND GRACE FOR OURSELVES FOR NOT KNOWING BETTER. AND WE MUST DO BETTER WHEN WE KNOW BETTER
So I encourage you to prioritize your sleep and your sleep hygiene habits. It will make a world of difference in every area of your life, I pinky swear.
And if it feels a little boring to have a “sleep schedule”…. well realize that it’s all a mindset. And if you view your new sleep habits as boring or feel like a grandma for getting into bed earlier, it will feel boring and you will probably be unhappy in doing them.
But if you view them as tremendously healing and realize that it is a true gift to yourself to prioritize your body’s needs, well then it’s going to feel a whole lot more enjoyable! You’ll probably even expand on those benefits up there 😉
I want to hear from you! How are your sleep habits? Do you already have a winding down routine? How is your sleep quality? Are you doing any of these things already? Which new ones are you going to start?
(This is not medical advice.)
Here’s to you and your next rejuvenating, restoring, and relaxing night’s sleep!!