By: Natalie Burch
We often think about being healthy in terms of our diet or exercise, but what about our sleep habits? Could this contribute to a healthier lifestyle or improved immune system? According to some doctors and scientists who research sleep and its effect on our bodies, regular sleep is important for your immune functioning, cardiovascular system, blood sugar levels, and reducing stress. This is also when our brains actively recover from our day. During sleep our brains repair the synapses which allows for further learning when we wake up. Additionally, dreams can be used to help sort out and process feelings and emotions.
A lack of sleep can lead to more complications that just falling asleep at work or school the next day. Without enough sleep and time to recover, our brains turn to a state of “fight or flight” that makes decision making more difficult than it needs to be. Additionally, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that driving while sleep deprived (being awake for more than 18 hours) can be compared to driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.05%, and being awake for more than 24 hours is comparable to a BAC of 0.10%.
So what if we’re having a difficult time falling asleep or staying asleep? There are a number of reasons why sleeping may be difficult, but there are also some solutions to implement to attempt better sleep.
To begin with, set a regular bedtime and wake time routine for yourself, including weekends. This includes the time you go to bed, and what you’re doing before bed, and when you set your alarm for each morning. Set your screens aside, and instead pick up a book to let your brain know it is time for bed. Blue light is a signal to our brains that we still need to be awake, and therefore it does not release melatonin, a necessary hormone that lets your body naturally know when it is time for bed. Therefore, reducing screen time and going to bed at a consistent time allows your brain to form a habit and fall asleep easier as it becomes accustomed.
Next, make yourself comfortable! Do you enjoy sleeping in a hot or cold room? Set the temperature in your home to a pleasant spot before you go to bed. Close any blinds or curtains in your room, and allow for darkness to naturally surround you. Lastly, think about the sounds that surround you as you try to sleep. Is it someone snoring, or a loud train that rumbles through each night? Try out a sound machine that plays white noise, rain, waterfalls, or birds to hear perhaps more natural and soothing sounds as you go to sleep.
If sleep continues to be difficult after implementing a few of the above suggestions, begin to look at the rest of your day. Ask yourself questions like:
- How much am I moving in the day?
- Did I recently take a nap?
- When was the last time I ate food?
- Have I had too many alcoholic drinks tonight?
- Are my smoking patterns affecting my sleep?
- Am I drinking too much caffeine in the afternoon?
Begin to take note of what you’re doing in your day. Eating and drinking close to bedtime requires your body to continue to work and process what it has just ingested, therefore, it cannot begin to wind down. Additionally, taking a nap close to bedtime may make it difficult for your body to find REM sleep again so soon. Try spacing naps further out from when you plan to sleep, or skip them altogether. Lastly, look at when you drink your last cup of caffeine. Caffeine can take up to 12 hours to leave your system, so the soda with lunch may also be a culprit in your reluctance to fall asleep at night.
Naturally Induce Sleep Creatively
If you are looking to try additional ways to naturally induce sleep, here are few easy options!
- Drink more water throughout the day! Cleanse your body and prepare yourself for sleep. Keep in mind not to drink too much close to bedtime, as interruptions during sleep to use the restroom are counterproductive.
- Stretch before bed. Find a few poses to stretch out your muscles and hold them for 20-30 seconds. This can help to release cortisol (stress hormone) and prepare your body for sleep. Remember, this is used to calm you down, so try not to engage in anything too strenuous. (I’ve used yoga poses for sleep that are easy and adaptable for anyone!)
- Sleep Meditation/Body Scan. This can be accomplished through an app, or simply by being mindful. A sleep meditation’s intent is to release thoughts and help prepare your body for sleep. Alternatively, using a body scan is something you can do on your own. When you lay down at night, begin to mentally “scan” your body from head to toes. Be mindful of each body part, without moving it, until you’ve calmed your mind and can easily fall asleep.
Wishing you a restful night’s sleep after these tips!
Dreams: Unlock inner wisdom, discover meaning, and refocus your life by Rosie March-Smith
Center for Disease Control and Prevention
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