Ancient wise men all preached about the benefits of sleep
“Sleep is the best meditation “ — Dalai Lama
“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Our grandparents and ancestors also knew the value of sleep and old sayings such as “the early bird catches the worm” where common among their generation. They didn’t have the same level of scientific research as we have now, however what they did possess was something that’s lacking in our generation, a little common sense. As it turns out, common sense is not so common!!
Modern living promotes a lifestyle that’s is not conducive to a good night’s sleep and sacrificing an hour or two sleep takes a toll on your mood, energy, mental sharpness, and ability to handle stress. And over the long-term, chronic sleep loss wreaks havoc on your health.
Sleep isn’t merely a time when your body shuts off. While you rest, your brain stays busy, overseeing a wide variety of biological maintenance that keeps your body running in top condition, preparing you for the day ahead. Without enough hours of restorative sleep, you won’t be able to work, learn, create, and communicate at a level even close to your true potential. Regularly skimping on your “service” and you’re headed for a major mental and physical breakdown.
Including your productivity, emotional balance, creativity, physical vitality, and even your weight. No other activity delivers so many benefits with so little effort!
By understanding your nightly sleep needs and what you can do to bounce back from chronic sleep loss, you can finally get on a healthy sleep schedule.
So let’s start with why we require sleep in the first place…..
- The brain is able to reorder without the inputs it gets while awake. The brain has a chance to exercise important neuronal connections that might otherwise deteriorate due to lack of activity.
- Sleep gives the brain an opportunity to reorganize data to help find a solution to problem, process newly learned information and organize and archive memories.
- Sleep is a time for serious rest. Sleep lowers a person’s metabolic rate and energy consumption. The allostatic load on the body takes a toll and sleep is a respite.
- The cardiovascular system also gets a break during sleep. Researchers have found that people with normal or high blood pressure experience a 20 to 30% reduction in blood pressure and 10 to 20% reduction in heart rate.
- During sleep, the body has a chance to replace chemicals and repair muscles, other tissues and aging or dead cells. Growth hormones are released during deep sleep.
The Circadian Rhythm or Body Clock
When a person falls asleep and wakes up is largely determined by his or her circadian rhythm, a day-night cycle of about 24 hours. Often referred to as the “body clock“, the circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that tells our bodies when to sleep and regulates many other physiological processes. This internal body clock is affected by environmental cues, like sunlight and temperature. Your circadian rhythm is to blame for not allowing you sleep in on weekends as your body clock has been set for whatever time you wake midweek. When one’s circadian rhythm is disrupted, sleeping and eating patterns can run amok.
Circadian rhythms greatly influence the timing, amount and quality of sleep. More than 20% of Americans are shift workers who work and sleep against their bodies’ natural sleep-wake cycle. While a person’s circadian rhythm cannot be ignored or reprogrammed, the cycle can be altered by the timing of things such as naps, exercise, bedtime, and travel to a different time zones and exposure to light. The more stable and consistent the cycle is, the better the person sleeps. Disruption of circadian rhythms has even been found to cause mania in people with bipolar disorder.
Stages of Sleep
Usually sleepers pass through five stages: 1, 2, 3, 4 and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. These stages progress cyclically from 1 through REM then begin again with stage 1. A complete sleep cycle takes an average of 90 to 110 minutes.
Stage 1 is light sleep where you drift in and out of sleep and can be awakened easily. In this stage, the eyes move slowly and muscle activity slows. During this stage, many people experience sudden muscle contractions preceded by a sensation of falling.
In Stage 2, eye movement stops and brain waves become slower with only an occasional burst of rapid brain waves.
When a person enters Stage 3, extremely slow brain waves called delta waves are interspersed with smaller, faster waves. In Stage 4, the brain produces delta waves almost exclusively. Stages 3 and 4 are referred to as deep sleep or delta sleep, and it is very difficult to wake someone from them. In deep sleep, there is no eye movement or muscle activity. This is when some children experience bedwetting, sleepwalking or night terrors.
In the REM period (Stage 5), breathing becomes more rapid, irregular and shallow, eyes jerk rapidly and limb muscles are temporarily paralyzed. Brain waves during this stage increase to levels experienced when a person is awake. This is the time when most dreams occur, and, if awoken during REM sleep, a person can remember the dreams. Most people experience three to five intervals of REM sleep each night.
So now we have a good understanding of sleep and its inner workings, here are 5 tips from our wise ancestors that will guarantee a good night’s sleep.
1. Take a warm bath before bed. This will send blood away from the brain to the skin surfaces and make you feel relaxed and drowsy. Your body temperature will soon plummet if you have a moderately cool bedroom, which will initiate sleepiness and deep sleep
2. Establish a regular and relaxing bedtime routine. Go to bed the same time every night and wake up without an alarm clock at the same time every morning, including weekends. Ban TV, arguing, and eating from the bedroom and use your bed for only sex and sleep, associating the bedroom with pleasure and rest.
3. Practice gratitude. Research has shown that what we think about for the last 5 minutes before we go to sleep, has a huge bearing on the quality of our sleep. When we sleep, our subconscious mind is still hard at work, processing thoughts. The key is what’s on our minds as we’re trying to fall asleep. If its worries about the kids, or anxiety about work, the level of stress in our body will increase, reducing sleep quality, keeping us awake, and cutting our sleep short. Spending the last 5 minutes before we sleep practicing gratitude induces the relaxation response, increases sleep quality, reduces the time required to fall asleep, and increases sleep duration.
Thomas Edison said “never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious”
The 5 minute journal is a superb book for the practise I have just suggested. It’s filled with weekly tasks and gratitude challenges start to finish.
4. Some herbs, such as sage or valerian, taken as bedtime tea with honey have sedative properties that can help put you to sleep. Other no caffeinated herbal teas include chamomile. Lemon and evening primrose is also a snooze-enhancer.
5. Move. Generally speaking, our ancestors didn’t have to worry about this. Everyday chores and tasks resulted in huge volumes of daily workloads resulting in the need for rest and recovery. In modern living, we no longer have the same day to day labor intensive tasks, we have replaced them with sedate jobs. Exercise has become an outlet for movement and calorie expenditure. It will also help you settle into a good night’s sleep.