(This article is published in the Healthy Living Section of Tallahassee Woman Magazine’s August/September 2017 issue. I love writing and sharing ways to live healthfully. I had a great time brainstorming and researching for this project. The best part was watching Sleepless in Seattle to prepare for the theme! The topic covers the importance of sleep for a healthy life and tips to get the restful nights you deserve.)
“Sleepless in Tallahassee”
Second to love, sleep is the closest thing we have to magic.
Today, we face a sleep deprivation epidemic in which incidences of dozing off at work or behind the wheel happen all too often. Our modern world dances to the beat of it’s own drum, an unhealthy fast-paced society whose sleeping hours are dictated by the flip of a light switch instead of the absence of sunlight. While we can’t stop evolution, we can take hold of our lives as individuals. Developing healthy sleep patterns cultivates synchronicity, attuning us to the circadian clock, a biological mechanism that guides the lives of not only humans, but also plants and animals.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need about 8 hours of sleep every night, but many get less than seven on a regular basis. Western culture glorifies self-sacrifice as a success strategy, but the truth of the matter is that ignoring biological limits has detrimental effects on our health and quality of life. These effects include weakened immunity, brain-fog, mood swings, weight gain, low libido, and higher risk of heart disease and diabetes. Ongoing sleep deficiency contributes to chronic stress, which may even cause heritable gene mutations and degenerative disease.
So what exactly makes sleep so magical?
Well, the fuel of life known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the biochemical energy source for all living things, is restored to a healthy balance in the brain during our deepest sleep. ATP transports the energy necessary for all cellular metabolic activities. During sleep, our glymphatic system (special clearing pathway of the central nervous system) rids the brain and spinal cord of neurotoxic waste products. This includes beta-amyloid, a protein fragment that clumps together forming the amyloid plaques found in Alzheimer patients.
Adequate sleep also supports healthy hormone levels of leptin and ghrelin, our satiety and hunger hormones. Our body’s entire defense system depends on getting quality sleep. A good night’s rest is a first priority in achieving homeostatic wellness.
Let’s explore ways to restore balance and promote restfulness:
Diet: Stay hydrated and make healthful food choices. Think positively about food, chew slowly and breathe through your nose. Avoid caffeine in the evening and abstain from food within three hours before bed. This gives the body time to digest earlier meals and prepare for the work that must done while you sleep.
Activity: Exercising in the morning helps you sleep better at night and stick to a routine. If you have time to nap, take it! Practice yoga nidra (yogic sleep) using a guided meditation. When setting your alarm, use a sleep calculator. Sleepyti.me mobile app tells you when to go to sleep or when to set your alarm so that your sleep cycles are not harshly interrupted.
Mentality: Start and end your day with healthy inner-dialogue sprinkled with positive affirmations. Focus on the present moment to dissipate anxious mind chatter. Do not obsessively start replaying your interactions throughout the day or try to analyze every little detail of tomorrow or go on a guilt trip about what didn’t get done. This type of thinking stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, prompting the body to prepare for wakeful functions instead of restful sleep.
Environment: Choose surroundings that cater to your needs, focusing on your senses.
- What do you hear? Listening to binaural beats can help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.
- What do you smell? Aromatherapy has been used as a natural remedy for centuries. Diffuse essential oils like lavender and bergamot to reduce stress and relax the body.
- What do you see? Turn out all the lights. The light from phones, televisions and laptops signal your brain chemistry for wakefulness, thus suppressing the release of melatonin (the primary sleep regulating hormone).
- What do you feel? Have the attitude of gratitude. Before bed, think of all that you are thankful for while finding the coziest spot in your bed. Check in with your body. Good sleeping posture means optimal spinal alignment. Try sleeping on your back with a pillow under your knees. If you’re a side sleeper, place a thin pillow between your knees.
You may not get in the swing of things right away, but healthful living is a product of a million little tiny things, when you add them all up, it just feels right. Start one night at a time. In the words of Sam Baldwin, “I’m going get out of bed every morning…breath in and out all day long. Then after a while I won’t have to remind myself…”.
Tavia Rahki Smith
Link to online magazine below