Sleep is the best form of meditation.Dalai Lama
When the stars come out to play and the evening takes on the melodic glow of night, when my dog is snoring in the joy of his slumber, my bed beckons me. I love the softness of the duvet and the six freshly starched and ironed pillowcases that encompass my head. The quiet stillness of the house yields to the sense of rest. My thoughts slow to a: glide as if sifting through the movie reel highlights of the day, playing black and white images that distort further and further as sleep envelopes me. My mind and consciousness swirl into a free fall that consumes me . . . . . for 2.5 hours.
And then. . . . .
I am awake. There’s been no outside noise or distraction that should otherwise cause me to awaken. The blackness of the room still cocoons me. I continue to lie still as if asleep until my side is painful and I must shift to my back or other side. The long minutes drag into even longer hours though I refuse to look at the clock. To see that the time is between 1AM and 2AM is just the validation that I already know to be true. It’s nearly the same time five nights out of seven. If I really took a look at the clock, it would simply send my heart racing and undo the calming effects of trying to maintain my restful being.
The relaxing music I put on at bedtime ended long ago, and though I remain willfully blind, the current moment in time is now approaching the shade of sky that comes just before the first crack of sunlight. Eventually, after an hour or two unsuccessfully willing myself back to sleep, I succumb to the inevitable pattern of throwing back the covers, sloshing to the kitchen or living room and begin engaging in other non-nocturnal activities.
Sleep is one of the most powerful and kind things you can offer your self. It is essential for survival, and it’s also the prime time for the body and mind to do some serious healing work. With the normal stressors of life, adulting, pandemics, and the like, finding a solid night of sleep can often times feel elusive, even impossible.
Over the years of insomnia and restlessness that have pervaded my being, I have tried several therapies to aid in a restful night’s sleep. Here are a handful of strategies that have promoted a good night’s sleep for me, as well as why our bodies require sleep for functional and healthy lives.
The Healing Powers of a Good Night’s Sleep.
- Sleep affects our immune systems. While we sleep, our bodies produce a type of protein called cytokines, which target infection and inflammation. When we skimp on sleep, we are also disrupting this natural immune-boosting process in the body. Chronic sleep loss even makes the flu vaccine less effective by reducing our body’s ability to respond. Our body also makes more white blood cells that attack viruses and bacteria, so with inadequate sleep, our immune systems are not able to properly protect our body from infection. At times like these, sleep has never been more critical to our health and well-being.
- Sleep promotes recovery and energy levels. When you sleep, the demand for calories is decreased so your body is able to replenish and be ready for action when you awake. Interestingly, when you sleep, the level of hormones that make you feel hungry or full fluctuates. If you don’t get enough sleep, your hunger hormone levels known as ghrelin go up and your full hormones or leptin go down. So poor sleep patterns can lead to overeating and eventual obesity. It is best to let your body keep everything in proper alignment with a good night’s rest.
- Helps with positive attitude. When you are awake, there are many demands on your body and your brain. These demands decrease dramatically when you go to sleep. Your body and mind can focus on restorative tasks and get a break. When you awake after a good night’s sleep, hormone levels, energy levels and stress levels have all been adjusted for a more positive start to the day. Depression can slow the recovery process and is more common in people who sleep less than seven hours a night. During sleep, the body is refreshed and more prepared to face the challenges of a new day instead of feeling defeated and stressed. This positive mood can boost recovery outcomes.
Six Tips For A Better Night Of Sleep
It took me some time before I learned some of these practices that promoted a good night’s sleep. In fact, I had to seek some assistance from my primary care physician and a naturopath before nights of restful sleep outweighed the number of sleepless nights. Hopefully they will assist you with improving the quality of your sleep.
- Remove distractions as much as possible. To help you sleep better, it’s a good idea to create an environment that actually encourages sleep. Some common sleep distractions are usually in the form of technology: scrolling social media, watching Netflix, or even something as simple as your phone being on vibrate and going off when you’re trying to fall asleep. Do Not Disturb is a great tool on your cell phone. If you’re worried about missing an important call, you can adjust the settings on your phone to allow a call to come through from a specific person, or for a call that comes in twice in a row within a specific time frame.
- Move your body. Exercise is pushed on us constantly because it is so important for so many aspects of our life, including sleep. Exercising has a plethora of benefits, ranging from heart health to mental health. It’s best to get into a routine of moving your body regularly, but preferably not right before bed, to help encourage a more sound sleep.
- Dim the blue light on your phone. If you aren’t already doing it, minimize the blue light exposure from your phone and other electronics when you’re trying to sleep. There are apps available that will shift your phone light to a more red and subdued color. The blue light from technology has the power to disrupt your body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, more than any other color because it can block the hormone melatonin, which is the body’s natural sleep-inducing hormone.
- Pay attention to what you are consuming in the hours before bedtime. This one can be taken in many ways. Consumption can come in the form of food, drinks, mind-altering substances, and even different forms of media. It’s probably best to avoid reading the news right before bed. It’s also a good idea to cut out caffeine in the hours leading up to sleep time. Food is also another one that can impact sleep. If you eat a lot of food before trying to sleep, your body will be working hard to digest your food, rather than helping you fall asleep.
- Use supplements as needed. It’s always best to consult your healthcare provider when taking supplements. Some popular sleep aids come in the form of melatonin — the natural sleep-inducing hormone created by the body, as well as products like cannabidiol (CBD). Dosing with supplements can sometimes be tricky. There is often a period of trial and error as well as looking at your overall diet before bed, as that can interact and prevent your body from fully utilizing the supplements.
- Practice relaxing techniques before bed. There are so many different ways to relax before bed. The key is finding what works best for you. Some of these strategies might not seem to “work” if you are only trying them once, twice, or a few times. Oftentimes when incorporating relaxing strategies, such as breathing exercises and meditation, can take some time to realize how powerful they are. Some relaxing techniques you can try are:
- Mindful breathing and meditation.
- A warm bath with sleep-encouraging oils and scents.
- Turning off any electronics at a set time before trying to fall asleep.
- Making your room a haven of comfort (cooler temperatures, quiet, less clutter, soft and comfortable bed).
Sleep doesn’t have to be a battle every night if you commit to taking care of your health during the day, and especially in the hours leading up to getting some shut-eye. Take a deep breath, think soothing thoughts, cut out the things that are making your mind race, and offer yourself the gift of a full night’s sleep. Sweet dreams!