The Magic of Sleep
The importance of restorative rest can’t be overstated
Sleep is vital for good health, and we all need to be prioritizing it on a nightly basis.
While we’re sound asleep, our bodies are hard at work releasing hormones and proteins that rebuild damaged cells, regenerate tissue, and combat inflammation. Sleep even helps our bodies regulate weight. Pretty cool, right?
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Our brains also declutter, sort, and categorize new information and convert it into long-term memory while we sleep. Every system of our body is positively affected by healthy, restorative sleep, and conversely every system is negatively affected by a lack of sleep.
People who do not get enough sleep are more prone to chronic health and mood issues, weakened immune systems, and mental fogginess. Our nightly slumber restores our energy and gives our bodies the chance to truly relax and prepare for the next day, physically and mentally.
I’m sure you’re getting the picture — for good health, we need good sleep!
The Sleep Conundrum
Like many things in life, however, getting a good night’s sleep is easier said than done. In much the same way that our eating habits have suffered because of our modern, hectic lifestyles, so has our sleep. For optimal health, our circadian rhythm — meaning our cycle of wakefulness and sleep — needs to remain consistent. But things like variable sleep/wake times, TVs and phones before bed, a lack of sunlight and exercise during the day, eating too late at night, and chronic stress (to name just a few) set us up for failure.
We need a bedtime routine that is the same night to night, and trains our mind and bodies to wind down and relax before getting into bed.
My Top Tips for Restorative Sleep
First of all, aim to get 7–9 hours of sleep each night — that’s extremely important!
Beyond that, here are my recommendations to get the kind of restful slumber that improves health:
- Screens Off
Screens right before bed or early in the morning alter your sleep cycle and affect your circadian rhythm. Keep the phone out of bed, even early in the morning when you first wake up. Make sure you turn off the TV at least an hour before bedtime, preferably 2 hours, and definitely no laptop in bed.
- Limit Artificial Light & Get Sunlight During the Day
An hour or two before bedtime, limit artificial light from lamps and overhead lights in your house. Use warm lights whenever possible and pull blackout curtains to keep street lighting out of the house. Use a sleep mask if you can’t block light from your bedroom. And speaking of light, make sure you’re exposing yourself to plenty of sunlight or bright light during the day, as this helps your body maintain a healthy circadian rhythm.
- Go to Bed Earlier
When you fall asleep, you go through a 90-minute cycle of non-REM sleep (deeper sleep) before you go into cycles of REM sleep. From about 9 pm to 3 am, your sleep cycles are composed of deeper sleep. Deep sleep is when the most healing, tissue restoration, and true cleansing of the body takes place. Getting to bed earlier and going to bed and waking at the same time each day will help you achieve better sleep. Also, if you tend to nap during the day keep them short and early — napping too late in the day can affect your ability to sleep well at night.
- Eat Well and Early, and Move Your Body
Eat earlier in the evening (at least two to three hours before bedtime) to allow your body time to digest before bed, so that the majority of the work done while sleeping is for healing rather than digesting. Eat the right foods, too. Avoid foods you know you are sensitive to or could trigger an inflammatory reaction. Taking a walk after meals can help you digest food quicker and ensure that your belly is ready for bed, too. And speaking of moving your body, a regular exercise routine will do wonders for your sleep — just make sure you’re not exercising right before bed.
- Weighted Blankets
Just as infants love to be swaddled as it helps them relax, adults can benefit from sleeping with a weighted blanket, too. These blankets offer deep pressure stimulation, which has been shown to calm adults with anxiety and attention difficulties. Anecdotally, people report that the weight from the blanket helps them stay asleep longer and feel more rested upon waking.
Give these recommendations a try and watch your health improve overnight — literally!