The Importance of Sleep



If you’re anything like me, you can NEVER get enough sleep. Not just that, but I have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep at night (did you know that 87% of adults in America report they have insomnia in any given year??).


I struggled with getting even 4 hours of sleep earlier this year because of how many drastic changes were going on in my life – moving into a new house, sharing my bed with my husband instead of just myself, learning to sleep with a dog in the bed, starting a new job, taking new medications, the list could go and on and on…


Now with working from home longer than I expected due to this virus, my sleep routine has changed drastically AGAIN! Personally, if my sleep schedule is disrupted, it takes a big toll on my mental and physical health. Therefore, I thought it would be beneficial to talk a little bit about sleep and its benefits, as well as some tips on how to improve your sleep quality.

The first thing to be aware of when it comes to sleep is that our sleep cycle is one of nature’s most important rhythms. As a part of nature, we crave cycles and periods of rest followed by periods of activity. All of nature does this; for example, after stress, there’s recovery. After day, there’s night. After being awake, there’s sleep. It’s just the way of the world – nothing is “on” 24/7 in nature. Therefore, we need some time to “turn off”. I mean, sleep must be pretty important if we were designed to be unconscious for about 1/3 of our lives. But what is it that makes it so crucial? Why would we need to be that vulnerable for that many hours of a day?


Immune System and Inflammatory System

For starters, sleep is crucial for the health of our immune system. Have you ever noticed when your sleep cycle has been disrupted, you start to not feel so good during the day? You might feel like you’re coming down with a cold or just more sluggish than normal. When I don’t get enough sleep, I get strep throat-like symptoms – it literally is so scary! Pus pockets start to form on my tonsils and my throat just burns for days or even weeks… Anyway, when we sleep better, we are better equipped to fight off invaders like viruses because we are not in an environmental “deficit” where those viruses can form and grow (It’s the same way with your vitamin/mineral intake). When we sleep better, our inflammatory system also works better so we don’t overreact to viruses. Sometimes it’s the overreaction of a virus that will cause so much potential damage. We want to make sure we to reduce the amount of inflammation in our bodies as much as possible through nutrition, sleep, and exercise.


Toxins and Metabolism

Our brains metabolize throughout the day producing byproducts and toxins that need to be cleared out when we sleep. Specifically, when we are in deep sleep, brain cells have a chance to shrink, allowing channels to open up and get rid of the debris produced from metabolism. It’s kind of like the cleaning crew that comes in after work hours to clean the office – they can’t get everything deep cleaned in the building unless everybody is out of the room.


Repair and Recovery

Another benefit of sleep is that it is the only time the body can actually repair itself. Your body can only recover when it is fully at rest. Some examples would be recovery from injuries, building and repairing muscle and bones, etc. When we are in dreaming sleep (REM), the body’s stress hormone norepinephrine goes WAY down, which also can give you the chance to work out out some of the “stuff” you’ve been struggling with or difficult situations you have been encountering during your waking hours.


Mood

Sleep affects your mood – that’s a no brainer. If you have had even one night of really good sleep after a period of high stress or not sleeping well, you will notice how much better you feel after just one day. Adequate sleep is extremely beneficial for people who suffer from clinical depression, and studies have shown an 87% chance of mood restoration back to baseline in those who were depressed when they received a quality night of rest.


Top Strategies to Improve Your Sleep

  1. Set your day up for sleep. Make sure you are getting physical activity throughout your day to set yourself up for a restful night of sleep. According to the CDC, adults need 150 minutes or more of exercise each week. Children require even more physical activity, ranging anywhere from 1 to 2 hours PER DAY!

  2. Manage stress during the day by taking relaxing breaks from your work, teaching mind body skills during the day, and practicing breathing techniques. Even something as simple as listening music or having a a few good laughs during the day can help manage your stress levels. Make time for it!

  3. Keep your sleep pattern on a really regular 24-hour cycle. TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY. I HIGHLY recommend if you want to improve not only your sleep but your mental health, to get up and go to bed at the same time every single day (including weekends).

  4. Use light exposure really wisely. Try to mimic the sun as best as you can. Rise when the sun rises and go to sleep when the sun sets. If you cannot do this with natural light, do it with artificial light.

  5. Remove electronics from the bedroom within 60 minutes of bed time. Adults should be just as strict with our electronics as we are with our kids. Blue light exposure is known to effect your sleep drastically. So turn off your TV, turn off your phone (or take it out of the room), and create a dark and tech-free sleep space.

  6. Keep your sleep space cool, comfortable, and quiet. You sleep best when your body is cooling, so keep your temperature in the bedroom anywhere from 60-70 degrees. Also, when you cycle into a lighter stage of sleep, even the slightest sound can wake you up, so try to keep the room as quiet as you can.

  7. You sleep what you eat – so choose well!

Sleep enhancing foods (eat more of these):

  • Cherries

  • Almonds and Walnuts

  • Green leafy vegetables

  • Chickpeas

  • Turkey

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Bananas

Sleep disrupting foods (avoid near bedtime):

  • Alcohol

  • Caffeine

  • High fat foods

  • Spicy foods

  • Chocolate

  • High sugar foods

  • Energy drinks


The above content is intended for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice.


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