Do you remember when you were a little kid, and you absolutely detested sleep? I have a three year old that hates when the sun goes down, because she knows bed time is coming, and reminds me every single day that she doesn’t need to take a nap when my littlest goes down even though she hasn’t taken naps in months. I, on the other hand, would give anything to take an afternoon nap, and go to bed at 7pm!
In all seriousness though, sleep is definitely one of the elements of our health that is easy to forget about it. Everybody knows if you want to be healthy you should eat well, and exercise. But, I don’t know that many understand the importance of a good night’s rest. Since we live in such a fast-paced, I want it yesterday society, and we’re bombarded with digital messaging all day long, sleep is more important now than ever, because our brains and bodies rarely have a chance to rest during the day.
When I began studying what occurs in our bodies while we sleep, I was pretty surprised.
Did you know that when you sleep, your brain creates new pathways and connections regarding new information that you have received and are processing. For example, if you are learning to play an instrument, working on your golf swing, or starting a new craft, your brain is creating new pathways to assimilate all of that information and learning while you sleep. If you don’t get adequate sleep, your ability to learn quickly will suffer.
In addition, when you are not receiving proper sleep each night, you brain will slow specific areas to help compensate. For example, if you are a busy mom chasing toddlers all day, and you’re not getting enough sleep, you may notice that you’re able to keep up with the tasks and skills needed to care for your children, but you have trouble remembering activities or tasks outside of that realm- part of this can be due to your brain going into “optimize” mode and slowing down in one area to help compensate in another area.
While we sleep, our hormones are given an opportunity to reset and balance. During the day, our hormonal responses are constantly reacting to circumstances occurring at any given moment, what we’re eating, if we’re exercising, if we’re feeling stress, and so forth. They are constantly in “go-mode”. When we sleep, they have an opportunity to rest and to balance themselves for the next day. Studies by the National Sleep Foundation have shown that adults who were deprived of sleep over long periods of time were at a higher risk for diabetes, because their insulin levels did not have an opportunity to regulate properly, which, in turn, caused higher blood sugar.
Sleep is also a time for our bodies to heal and restore at the cellular level- this is the only time during the day where your body isn’t on-call to respond to your active lifestyle, but can, instead, focus on internal healing and repairing damage. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, high-blood pressure, and other chronic and acute illnesses.
So, how do we get good sleep? Studies conducted by the National Sleep Foundation have reported that 60% of American adults report having trouble getting 8 hours of sleep per night at least 3-4 days per week- over HALF of American adults. The NSF also made an interesting point- every adult should be getting an average of 8 hours of sleep per day, but as we get older, our ability to sleep for a straight 8 hours will diminish, and we will sleep shorter period of time during the night, but will need a nap or two during the day.
Here are some strategies to begin implementing if you are not making sleep a priority, or if you’re troubling to get good sleep:
- Create a Bed-Time Ritual or Routine– our bodies are very good at adapting, so creating a routine that begins 20-30 minutes before you go to bed, will begin training your brain. In the future, completing this routine will trigger your brain to prepare for sleep. Generally, low activity, calming activities are great for this routine- reading, meditating, stretching, taking a bath, etc.
- Unplug 30 Minutes Before Bed– it is so common to fall asleep with the TV on or with your phone in-hand- trust me, I do it too But, studies have shown this is a terrible way to fall asleep. You are not allowing your mind to turn off, and shut down, but are rather drifting into a lighter sleep where your brain is continuing to process the data and information coming in as you fall asleep. It’s best to turn off all TVs, computers, phones, radios, and music systems at least 30 minutes before bed.
- Create a Relaxing Ambiance– Dim the lights, turn the lights off and light a couple candles, diffuse some essential oils, wash your face or take a bath- think about the type of setting and atmosphere that helps you to calm down and be at peace before falling asleep.
- Stay Away from Sugar– I know this may not seem like it connects to sleep, but staying away from processed, high-sugar foods is really important when trying to get good sleep. Processed foods, GMO products, and high-sugar items disrupt your gut and overall immune system, which can lead to difficulty sleeping.
- Exercise– Some people find it really helpful to workout, take a shower, and then go to bed. Others have to exercise earlier in the day, because it gets their heart racing, and ready to work. Regardless, fitting in 20-30 minutes of active time each day will help your body regulate hormones, and burn energy.
I hope you learned something new, and I hope you find these tips helpful!