4th and last in a series on thoughts from a 6-day silent retreat I attended in August-September
I hear it all too often, “I woke up at 1:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep.” “I only slept a couple of hours last night, I’m exhausted.” And many are wide awake on their devices, posting on social media in the dark hours of the night.
We all know sleep is important. So why is it so hard for some people to get a good night’s sleep? And what harm does it do if we don’t?
Studies show people are sleeping less as the decades pass by. Yet it is so terribly important on so many levels. Here are some of the benefits of consistent, sound sleep:
- Keeps your metabolism working, making it easier to keep weight off, making it the best diet ever according to Suhas. After just 5 days of reduced sleep you can experience significant insulin resistance, meaning the body is primed to gain weight.
- It is a powerful anti-inflammatory. A good night’s sleep over time means less metabolic disorders and heart disease. When people have a sleep deficit, they have larger inflammatory markers in their bodies.
- Keeps your immune system functioning properly, less colds and flu.
- Your stressors are released in sleep as your body repairs itself.
- Your brain clears itself of toxins that build up between the cells, flushing them away. The brain has no lymph system like the rest of the body and depends on sleep to carry this out.
- A longer lifespan.
- In Ayurveda, sleep is also spiritual experience, a split from the ego, and you exist in a purer state.
- Vitality and enthusiasm is the natural result of a good night’s sleep
So certainly, it is worth spending some time to create a lifestyle that includes restful sleep. It is an integral part of our circadian rhythm. My last installment of this series was about the growing field of chronobiology and losing weight. When we sleep outside of our natural circadian rhythm—(nighttime), such as napping or sleeping in, we find we don’t get the quality sleep that produces the optimal functions our body and mind needs.
We are connected to our planet’s rhythms and a part of nature. The more we separate ourselves from this natural cycle, the more stress is placed on our systems and physiology as it attempts to regain balance. The body produces hormones and substances that tell it when to digest, when to get sleepy, when to feel energized, etc. Eating at the most opportune time means you will completely digest your meal before sleep so your body can perform the needed cleansing functions. Eating at the wrong times will cause weight gain and throw a hurdle into other functions that need to be primary.
Preparing for Sleep
In the evening everything is slowing down. Your digestion, body temperature, blood pressure, hormone levels and cortisol are on a 24-hour cycle, at least they are trying to be, yet your habits may be interfering. Some suggestions:
- Have your last meal by 6:00, 7:00 at the latest.
- If you drink alcohol, have it in late afternoon so it isn’t present in your system at bedtime to disrupt your sleep.
- Drink water, warm almond milk or herbal tea. If you’re hungry put some honey in your tea to squelch the hunger.
- Do quieter activities like reading, writing, bathing, gentle yoga, sharing family time, journaling, meditating, etc.
- Turn off the electronics by 8:30 or 9:00. Dim the lights in your bedroom and make sure there is no devices on in your room. If you must leave your cell phone on, put it in another room. Get a simple analog clock for the bedroom. Those lights, as well as the tv and computer, keep your brain stimulated and don’t allow the melatonin to build up to be released normally in the evening.
Melatonin makes you feel sleepy. It communicates with your organs and systems that the rest and restoration period has begun.
- Give yourself a self-massage, or Abhyanga. Instructions for a wonderful massage with warm oils can be found here. It removes the surface tension and stress from the body and helps prepare you for better, deeper sleep among so many other benefits.
- Lights out by 10:00 or 10:30. Leave the curtains or blinds slightly open so you will wake naturally as the sun rises in the morning and streams into your bedroom.
What happens when you sleep? The first two hours of sleep the cells in your brain are discharging cellular debris. Sleep is necessary for this function. It is being researched as to the link between this essential activity and it’s lack contributing to the onset of Alzheimer’s.
The first ninety minutes of sleep you enter the first stage of rapid eye movement or REM. Each cycle lasts about ten minutes and you are most likely dreaming. You need at least three of these cycles. In between these is when your body repairs its cells and strengthens its immune system. If you awake in the middle of the night don’t put the lights on or look at your devices. Either lie still and repeat a calming phrase or mantra, or try some Yoga Nidra if you can. Here is more information on these.
When you wake up, open all the window coverings allowing that natural light to flow in signaling your brain that it is time for activity.
What you can do during the day to make your night restful.
- Talk some walks outside in the fresh air and sunshine. This will help your circadian rhythm reset properly. The absence of natural light during the day could be what hampers a good night’s sleep. Those who work in windowless offices all day have more disrupted sleep.
- Don’t sleep in, even on the weekends
- Try to awake naturally without an alarm. If you must get up very early at least use a gentle sound to stir you from sleep gradually.
- Exercise before breakfast. This sets your metabolism for the day. More about this was in the October newsletter.
Wishing you all a good night’s sleep!