We all know sleep is important, and we all sleep a bit pretty much every day of our lives. It's vital to our well being, it's vital for our bodies to function at peak levels. Without it, we can become ill, and even getting just a bit too little sleep over the long haul sets us up to be more susceptible to disease and illness. Why is sleep important, and how do we ensure we are getting it appropriately? That's what i am going to visit on here today.
First let's throw out a controversial statement to get you thinking: Sleep and rest can be two distinct things. One can sleep, but not rest. Follow me on this. Rest occurs when we spend a good amount of time in REM (Rapid Eye Movement, not the rock band)sleep. REM sleep is the deepest levels of sleep. It is not as vital for us to sleep as it is for us to reach REM sleep. At these deepest levels of being asleep is when rest really occurs. And getting to rest allows our bodies to do the repair work that needs to be done after being awake for 16 hours.
We all have had times where we slept for a long time. Have you ever slept a long time and NOT felt rested? That's the difference between sleep and rest. Something kept you from getting to REM sleep. Maybe it was too much caffeine, eating too late at night, not feeling well, stress, exercising too close to bedtime etc. Even alcohol abuse inhibits REM sleep, which is why people can drink all night, sleep for 12 hours and feel horribly tired. Alcohol may put you to sleep, but it interferes with REM sleep, thus keeping you from resting.
The more often we miss out on rest, the more we move toward the illness side of what you hear me call the "Wellness Spectrum". Our immune systems drop, our ability to think clearly is impaired, our energy levels decrease, our productivity decreases, we become more on edge with our love ones. None of this fits in with a wellness lifestyle does it? Of course not. So what do we need to do to ensure, or at least improve our odds of getting proper rest? That's where we're going next.
Sleep hygiene refers to the habits we have prior to bedtime. These become more important as we age and our body secretes less of a hormone called melatonin that helps regulate our sleep cycles. One of the first things you can do is begin to create a regular routine for your bedtime. Go to bed (and rise) at the same time, or at least close to it, every night. Do this even if you aren't working the next day. Routines are very important for helping us develop good rest patterns. People with jet lag are caught out of their routines and thus don't rest well.
Avoid substances that interfere with sleep too close to bedtime. No caffeine after 5 pm is a good rule of thumb. I know some of you will say "I can drink a pot of coffee and still go to sleep". I remember doing that in college too. You may be able to sleep, but you won't rest well since caffeine interferes with your ability to get to REM sleep (rest). Alcohol in excess does the same thing as we mentioned earlier.
Shower about 30 minutes prior to your bedtime every night. Turn the lights down lower as you approach bedtime. These are factors that get your body ready for rest.
No exercise for about 2 hours prior to bedtime, it tends to keep your heart rate up too high in some people to allow for good rest.
Turn on some soft music and spend some time without the TV on (tv will stimulate the brain too much). Learn some deep breathing techniques to begin slowing your mind patterns down.
If you have trouble sleeping there are some things to do to help out as well. Don't toss and turn for 20 minutes or more, get out of bed if you can't sleep and go read something pleasurable, or practice more deep breathing. If you stay in bed too long, your body will begin to associate the bed with stress. If you get up, do NOT turn on the lights too brightly, this signals your body to wake up more. You can try some natural relaxants like Passion Flower, Valerian Root, or even melatonin. Check with your natural health care provider for ideas on supplements that will work for you. We carry in our office something called Formula 303 that is a combination of relaxing herbs and minerals that we use for muscle spasm and for de-stressing/relaxing.
Remember, the goal is to develop a healthy pattern for rest. Good sleep hygiene will put you on the road to resting well.
Until next time...Be Well!