If you’re not getting enough sleep (who is?) then this is just for you.
Clearly the duck I captured in my photo is getting enough, catching forty winks right in the middle of the day…or maybe not, because he’s sleeping on his feet! Whatever it is, getting enough sleep is crucial for our health and well-being, as well as our ability to function well during the day. Last week, a young guy I know stayed working until 1 a.m.. Later that morning, while cycling back in to work, he fell asleep momentarily and fell over, grazing and bruising himself badly. While that may seem obvious, lack of sleep is one area that we could be paying more attention to.
Ever since the invention of the electric bulb, we’ve been defying our natural body (circadian) rhythms and staying up later into the night, doing whatever it is that we do. We might watch TV or, if you’re like me, you’ll be reading or writing on your computer. The bottom line? Our mind is over-stimulated at a time of day (actually, night) when we should naturally be winding down, getting ready for sleep and rest.
Many studies have now shown that we should ideally be getting 8 hours of sleep each night. Both our mind and our body need that time to rest, re-energise and re-charge. In addition, both our mind and our body are inextricably linked. If our mind is not rested, then neither is our body. So here’s the question – do you feel as if your mind is properly rested? The answer for most is “rarely”.
[Tweet “We live in a mind-oriented culture, and we seldom recognise that we are not properly rested”]
While we may have heard the term, “stress,” we often don’t associate mental tiredness with it. Mental pressure, yes, but not mental tiredness. Have you ever been working at your desk, for example, and you’ve felt tired, but pushed it away and carried on anyway? Lol, me too, I’ve been there, done that. We all do. That tiredness is physiological stress, and it affects us, not just mentally, but also emotionally and physically. Quite simply, it affects our entire well-being.
We all know how grumpy we can be when we are tired and are suffering from lack of sleep. Ogres appear as if out of nowhere and we can snap at people without meaning to. Imagine what’s happening inside of your body for you to be doing this.
Here are just some of what happens in our bodies when we are stressed (extracted from Deepak Chopra’s book, Grow Younger, Live Longer):
- One part of your adrenal glands pumps out adrenaline and noradrenaline, which constricts blood vessels
- Another part of your adrenal glands pumps out cortisol
- Your pancreas releases more of the hormone glucagon
- Your pancreas releases less insulin
- As a result of the increased glucagon and decreased insulin, your blood sugar level rises
- You reduce the blood supply to your digestive organs and increase the blood supply to your muscles
- Your pituitary gland releases less growth hormone
Hormones (insulin, glucagon, cortisol, growth hormone) are chemical messengers. The change in the cocktail of hormones mentioned by Dr Chopra above tells our bodies to “keep going” and not spend effort or energy in healing and repairing because we need to keep on “keeping going”. To properly heal, regenerate and rejuvenate, we need adequate rest.
In the short-term, we all recognise how a lack of sleep affects us from the mental perspective – our ability to concentrate, our mental agility and ability to respond quickly are all compromised, but we don’t necessarily recognise how lack of sleep over the long-term will impact on our health and well-being.
Our bodies are amazingly clever. We can’t ourselves heal a cut or wound and we trust our bodies to do that for us. But we take our bodies so much for granted.
Today, the invitation is to give yourself the gift of adequate and restful sleep. Restful sleep is when both your body and mind are in deep rest and your mind is sleeping. You drift off easily to sleep and you sleep soundly through the night. If you happen to wake up during the night, you are able to get back to sleep easily (that means, no middle of the night prowling or sending emails! I laugh, because I have been known to do that)
Here are six tips to help you get more sleep and to sleep more deeply:
- Find ways to practice waking meditations. These are moments when you are awake, but your mind is restful. You are fully present and attentive to whatever you are doing, be it washing the dishes, going for a walk or tidying your papers, but your mind is at rest, relaxed and focused on that one thing.
- Power down your computer half an hour earlier each day and do something less stimulating instead. Perhaps read a book in bed.
- Download the F.lux programme (free) from www.justgetflux.com. Light from our computers are primarily in the blue spectrum, but our brain recognises light in the orange spectrum (think sunset) as a sign to get ready for sleep. The flux programme changes the colour of the light emanating from your computer in the evenings and nights so that it is less stimulating (blue light) on your brain.
- Make your room as dark as possible. When light hits your skin, it affects your circadian rhythm, affecting the depth of your sleep and interfering with weight loss. By the way, light in your child’s bedroom will also affect their sleep, so consider turning off their night light after they’ve fallen asleep.
- Keep your room cool but not cold, to encourage your body to “mini-hibernate”.
- Make it a habit to go to bed at the same time each night and go to sleep before midnight. Our bodies do its best healing work between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., with the hours before midnight being the most significant. You’ll also find that these hours before midnight are the most rejuvenating. There’s a reason why “beauty sleep” is a recognised term in our vocabulary.
Happy restful sleep to you. Do let me know how you go.