Keys to Quality Sleep

Healthy sleep is a vital part of a healthy life.

Posted May 29, 2013

The complete rest we experience during deep sleep provides the most favorable setting for both body and mind to truly heal and recuperate. Like many other important areas of our health, sleep has come under pressure in the modern world. Long working hours and disharmonious daily rhythms disrupt the natural patterns required for a healthy mind and body. Furthermore, stress and an unhealthy lifestyle can jeopardize the quality and length of our sleep. An adequate amount of sleep is needed to be able to deal with the inevitable stress and challenges of life.

Since the invention of the lightbulb, it has become easy for us to neglect our need for quality sleep. Many of us have allowed ourselves to get out of balance with our body’s natural rhythms. Our circadian rhythms historically have revolved around sunrise and sunset, leading to an instinctive propensity to prepare for sleep with the setting of the sun. In the modern world, we are able to stay up later for whatever reason—work, socializing, various obligations—while at the same time we still must wake early in the morning for our daily commitments. This is further complicated by factors such as travel across different time zones and the resulting jet lag, which our bodies are not designed to cope with; shift work, or working multiple jobs while still managing other aspects of our lives; or raising infants and the associated sleepless nights, not to mention the huge burden of accumulated stress and anxiety from the day. The natural rhythm of the hormone cortisol is for it to be secreted in the morning in relatively high levels to spur our bodies for action, and for relatively low levels to be present at night in order to allow for sleep. In an age when artificial light reigns supreme, our cortisol rhythms have shifted to a point where it’s common to experience high cortisol levels at night. Our circadian rhythm—the twenty-four-hour cycle that our bodies run on—is often disrupted in our modern environment, meaning that our natural rhythm is confused, making quality sleep more difficult.

As a simple illustration of the role that stress and anxiety play in sleep patterns, consider how sleeping tablets—a manifestation of our inability to cope with stress levels commonly experienced today—have become one of today’s most-prescribed drugs. With regard to sleeping tablets, I always like to say, “There’s no pain while you’re asleep”; they allow us to avoid dealing with our stress directly. Mouth guards worn while sleeping to protect against teeth-grinding, another result of excess stress, also have become popular. Sleep difficulty is closely associated with conditions such as depression, anxiety, and stress, and up to 90 percent of adults with depression are found to suffer from sleep deprivation. There also are people who have problems not with a deficiency of sleep but with low energy that requires them to sleep for longer than the recommended time. Regardless of which group you fall into, the Nine Natural Steps I advocate are a powerful means to help you restore balance and energy to your life. In this blog post I’ll outline my approach to restoring healthy sleep in one’s life. Here are some of the key points to consider for healthy sleep:

•Learn to say No to commitments that impinge upon your own personal time and space at night. There are times when urgency exists and we may need to be working or active into the late hours of the night, but this will make good sleep extremely difficult if it occurs on a regular basis. Analyze your daily routine and find the courage to say No to commitments that are preventing you from being able to relax before bed or from getting to bed at an hour that allows you enough sleep.

•Release the accumulated stress of the day before going to bed and preferably before dinner. If there are serious meetings or conversations to be had, try to schedule them in the morning or early afternoon. Do your best to cease all demanding and stressful activity by dinnertime so that you are able to enjoy a relaxing meal with minimum tension. Then, after dinner, do something that you enjoy or find relaxing. Be careful not to engage in any activity before going to bed that may stimulate your adrenaline too much, and refrain from using e-mail or looking at a computer screen, the light from which may inhibit melatonin production.

•Avoid any form of strenuous exercise late at night, as this will reactivate your energy and appetite, which can cause restless sleep.

•It is also especially important to avoid eating C.R.A.P. (Caffeine, Refined Sugar, Alcohol, and Processed Foods) during the evenings or at night; nighttime exercise and C.R.A.P. can interfere with the conversion of serotonin into melatonin, thus disrupting your natural biorhythms. Given that the “second brain”—containing 95% of our serotonin receptors—is located in the gut, what you eat can have a significant impact on how well you sleep.

•Honor your bedroom. The bedroom is certainly not the place for an argument, nor is it a place to watch television. Do whatever needs to be done in a different room whenever possible, ensuring that your bedroom is kept for relaxing, reflecting, loving, and sleeping.

•Ensure that your bedroom is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature. If you find it difficult to darken your room, try using a sleeping mask. Daylight and its absence are detected by the pineal gland. Both sides of the day/night cycle play an important role in regulating our circadian rhythms and in the production of melatonin, thus helping us to sleep effectively.

•If needed and if possible, feel free to take short naps during the day (be aware that napping for longer than half an hour may disrupt your nighttime sleep rhythm, so exercise your judgment in this). Napping has been shown to increase productivity and to support good health.

•If you frequently wake during the night and find it difficult to get sustained, restful sleep, this is most likely the result of mental and emotional activity resulting from stress. Practicing the other Nine Natural Steps will help you to move through these problems and balance your mind and body.

It is recommended that adults sleep between seven and a half and nine hours each day. The figure increases as the age of the person in question decreases, with newborns needing from twelve to eighteen hours of sleep per day. In today’s fast-paced world, we often do not receive anywhere near the recommended amount of sleep. Even a minimal loss of sleep affects your energy and ability to handle stress. If you want to be at your best, sleep must be a priority; it is essential for a healthy life. The quality of your sleep affects the quality of your waking life, including your mental faculties, emotional balance, and physical vitality. If you can honestly say that you experience consistently restful and restorative sleep and that your energy and alertness are satisfactory throughout the day, then you are likely receiving a sufficient amount of sleep for your needs. If you feel otherwise, then it is important to make changes so that you are sleeping soundly for the recommended number of hours each night. For many years I suffered from sleep deprivation due to the demands of my work and constant travel across time zones, and this took a heavy toll. At least ninety different diagnosable sleep disorders exist; sleep deprivation is a dangerous tightrope to be walking, so beware and ensure that you prioritize quality sleep.

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