It seems the most natural thing to do to keep up with our fast-paced lives is to sacrifice sleep, so we can cram more into our twenty-four hours. But slow down. Research is now suggesting that even if you miss only a few hours of shut-eye tonight, you are more likely to become ill tomorrow.
On average people spend 24 years of their lives asleep. Something that takes up that much time and is so closely linked to our immune system must be one of the most important things for us to respect.
If ever you have felt ill or under the weather, the body’s instant response is to want to sleep. There is a very good reason for this. Cytokines (immune system hormones) flood throughout the body when an infection is present and also act as a powerful sleep inducer, giving your body the chance to heal and save energy.
Getting a good night’s sleep may be one of the most important things you can do to maintain good health and live longer. It won’t matter if you exercise, eat well, take supplements or meditate, if you don’t get enough sleep for prolonged periods of time, your health will eventually suffer. An immune system without enough sleep is like a car with no fuel. At some point it will say ‘enough!’
It can be as simple as turning down the lights of an evening and using low voltage bulbs or candles, steering away from stimulating beverages like chocolate, coffee and alcohol or taking a relaxing bath. Even a meal consisting of fish and green vegetables will help enhance a good night’s sleep. These foods are rich in magnesium and calcium, both necessary to help the body relax and for brain chemistry balance.
Good Sleeping Statistics
- The time most adults need to sleep each night is around 8-9 hours.
- An ideal temperature for a good night’s sleep is around 18-23°C.
- Moving in your sleep is normal – most adults will move between 40-70 times a night.
- Sleep is vital for the proper functioning of all systems in the body.
- Rest from relaying messages to and from the outside world gives the brain a chance to perform maintenance.
- Sleep is an important factor linked to longer life.
You know you are not getting enough sleep when you:
- feel drowsy throughout the day
- have a desire to sleep in
- fall asleep within minutes of lying down
- find it difficult to get up
- are grumpy and irritable for no reason
- feel emotional at the drop of a hat
- need a cup of coffee first thing in the morning
- dose off watching television at night
There are five distinct stages of sleep:
The brain emits various electrical patterns at various times of the day. When you are awake and in a busy thinking state, your brain emits what is known as beta waves. As you go through the various stages of sleep your brain emits different electrical patterns as follows.
- Eyes barely move, muscle activity slows and you drift in and out of slumber. You can easily be woken at this stage. Often you are in alpha state (the same state when meditating) just before falling asleep.
- Eye movements almost stop, brain waves become slower. You will need to be prodded to be woken.
- This is considered one of the stages of deep sleep. Extremely slow brain waves called delta waves can be measured in this phase.
- No eye movements at all, muscles are relaxed, blood pressure is at its lowest and heart and breathing rate are at their slowest. This is the stage when the body repairs itself with the aid of hormones.
- REM (Rapid Eye Movement) occurs approximately 70-90 minutes after you fall asleep and recurs throughout the night. Breathing becomes more rapid, irregular and shallow. The heart rate increases and blood pressure rises. Brain waves break up and begin to look like those when you are awake, however, while your brain is very active, your body does not move at all in this phase.
To ensure you get a good night’s sleep, get into positive healthy habits before taking yourself off to bed. Studies show that if you exercise regularly, you sleep better. Time spent in the outdoors also increases your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Prepare the bedroom for sleep by lighting a vaporiser and placing two drops each of Lavender, Chamomile and Orange an hour before you are ready. Try not to watch television in bed, it may only stimulate you. Reading can do the same, but a lot of people find reading positive and helpful for a deep sleep.
As already mentioned avoid sugar, coffee, alcohol and other stimulants before bed (although my grandmother would have suggested a hot toddy as the best way to get off to sleep!). It might work for some to try a warm milky drink before bed because it contains an enzyme called tryptophan, which induces sleep. Soothing classical music can help your nervous system to slow your heart rate, breathing and blood pressure. If you are suffering from sleep disorders like insomnia, some of the more innate natural therapies like kinesiology, acupuncture, chiropractic or herbal medicine may help you to get a better night’s sleep and create more healthy sleep patterns.
I will say this however… If you are the mother of a newborn baby, then sorry, we have no instant cure or remedy to suggest how you can get more sleep! Sleep deprivation can unfortunately become the norm and often causes a lot of emotional upheaval for everyone in the home. Catch daytime naps when the baby goes down and sleep when your baby sleeps, if it is possible. Once you have toddlers or other children with a new baby, it comes down to good time management and accepting help (if it is ever offered) without hesitation! I personally found the essential oils of Lavender and Chamomile beneficial for both my children and us as parents. Either place three drops each of Lavender and Chamomile in a vaporiser or place a drop of Lavender on your pillow.
Ultimately if you are not sleeping well means that something may not be quite right in your life and this is the body’s way of letting you know. Stress and worrying are often the most common causes. Look at your diet and make sure you include plenty of leafy green veges, quality protein and fats and small amounts of quality carbs like sweet potato. Ensure you are getting enough exercise into your day – research suggests just 20mins of fast paced walking will help a better night sleep. And try your hand at meditating or at least quietening the mind.
And finally, being more mindful for just a few moments a day can really support the brain to switch off and become more calm and centered. In other words just aim to be grateful, look at nature, really notice a conversation with someone, be aware of what you are eating and be very aware of how you speak! All of this teaches us to connect within and when restless or unable to sleep you can try to recapture the essence of these feelings.
Take care, be kind