Why is sleep so important?
Next to importance of, what you feed your body, and how you move your body, is how you rest your body and that is called sleep. Without proper sleep habits, you cannot expect to have a healthy immune system. We all know how awful we feel when our sleep gets disrupted. We cannot function well both mentally and physically. This is so obvious when we experience jet lag. When is it that people tend to come down with a cold or the flu? It is typically after travelling abroad. They are quick to blame the airplane and lack of oxygen, but most of the time it is due to lack of quality sleep.
The link between sleep and cortisol
The most critical hours of sleep are between 10 p.m. – 2 A.M.. Your lowest levels of cortisol are around 10 P.M. This allows the anabolic hormones testosterone, growth hormone, and melatonin to elevate. It is very important that we keep our rhythm of cortisol in check by living closely to the rising and setting of the sun. Cortisol, a catabolic hormone released by the adrenal glands to combat stress is at its peak at 10:00 AM, and starts to lower around 4:00 pm. If we create regular sleep patterns, meaning rising with the sun and taming our work day down with the setting of the sun, we will set the tone for stable cortisol response. But if we constantly disrupt this rhythm by working late into the night, or looking at our screens, instead of slowing down, we will keep chipping away at our cortisol (stress hormone), causing a disruption in the flow. Even looking at television (especially the news) will contribute to the release of cortisol. This will result in a loss of sleep quality, and the ability to handle stress when we need it the most .
Healthy habits to create healthy sleep patterns
So what can we do to ensure that we get a good nights sleep? Setting regular to bed and wake time hours are crucial. It is the only way to make permanent lifestyle changes. Aim to get into bed by 10:00/10:30, and rise with the sun. The few hours before bed are best spent either in nature, reading a book, listening to music, taking a bath , or relaxing with your pet. This is not the time for catching up on a project, or watching the news on television. Of course choosing the right book is also important. Stay away from politics, scary mysteries etc. This is a good time to read relaxing fluff or calming poetry.
Your last meal should end by 7:00 pm the latest. This is because your body is still working hard to digest your food from the day. When we eat late, especially if it is meal of animal protein or starchy carbohydrates, we add to the digestive processes and have to call on cortisol and insulin even more to help with the break down of these food groups. Do not forget that cortisol and insulin are fat storing hormones so if you are trying to lose weight, eating late will only exacerbate the problem. I always like to suggest having your last meal of the day between 5:00 and 6:00 and eating something light and easy to digest. Good choices would be a salad or fish dinner as opposed to beef which takes a long time to break down.
Deep breathing while in bed also helps to fall asleep easily. There are so many different apps and blogs on breathing that are available. I just like to suggest a slow inhale through the nose, holding for a few second , and then exhaling slowly through the mouth.
Your bed room should be free of Wi-Fi , and as dark as possible. The room should be cool. I always sleep with my window open even in the death of winter. Keeping a plant in the room for added oxygen is a good idea or having a diffuser of essential oils such as lavender, which is well known for slowing heartbeat and relaxing muscles. Magnesium citrate is also recommended before bed as this mineral helps to calm us down and our soil is extremely lacking in this nutrient.
If you still need an alarm clock to wake up, I strongly suggest that you use the one that includes a gradually glowing light with nature sounds so that you can start your morning peacefully as opposed to the sound of a blaring alarm. I know that many use their phone and say that it is on airplane mode. I do not like this because it still tells me that you are looking at your social media before bed and most probably first thing in the morning. This habit does not fall into the proper flow of cortisol as discussed above, and keeping it in your room will make it even harder to change. The expression “Out of sight, out of mind” cannot be underestimated.
By gradually introducing the tips I outlined, your sleep should improve along with your mood and energy.
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