In Search of Sleep?

I never thought I would say this, but at one point in my life, I dreaded going to sleep. Yes, dreaded it. Sleep was never really easy for me. It would take me at least 30 minutes to fall asleep. I'd wake up here and there throughout the night. I would also be such a light sleeper, that any little sound would wake me up. So going to sleep for me, wasn't something that I looked forward to. 

Most people I talk to these days also have trouble with sleep. It's no surprise to anyone that lack of sleep can cause many other issues: weight gain, lack of focus, unhealthy cravings and much more. The time that we sleep is the time that our bodies are healing and repairing from an entire day of using our bodies and minds. Consistent lack of sleep compromises our brain function and emotional state, and physical well-being. Some of the most common effects of lack of sleep are:

  • Compromised immune system: If we aren't giving our bodies enough hours of sleep to repair each night, we leave ourselves susceptible to colds and other illnesses. It also takes longer for our bodies to recover from illness.
  • Weight gain: Lack of sleep increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol and lowers the hormone leptin, which basically tells your brain that you have eaten enough. Your body also increases insulin after you eat, which causes your body to store fat, and can ultimately lead to type 2 diabetes.
  • Compromised decision making: Most of us have had the "I can barely keep my eyes open" feeling when we haven't had enough sleep. Consistently feeling this way reduces our reaction times to situations and can cause harmful accidents. It can also stop us from remembering important things, learning new things and concentrating.
  • Chronic diseases: Since sleep allows our bodies to heal and repair our heart and blood vessels, lack of sleep can lead to chronic diseases such as heart diseases, high blood pressure and stroke.

Even though you may feel that you can function properly on little sleep (as dangerous as that can be with compromised decision making), it's the long-term effects that most of us need to be mindful of.

By just implementing a few sleep inducing tricks into your evening routine, you can greatly reducing your risk of developing any of these conditions. Here are my top 5 ways to get a better night's rest:

  1. Turn off phones and read before bed. HEAR ME OUT. I know I am not the only person to say this. Constantly looking at artificial blue light from our phones and tablets disrupts our production of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. Try it for 1 week. Read a book instead and take note of your sleeping habits for that week.
  2. Practice deep breathing exercises. While laying in bed on your back with the lights out, place both hands on your stomach. Close your eyes. Breathe slowly and deeply in through the nose for a count of 6. Feel the air filling up your stomach, not your chest. Slowing breathe out through the mouth. Repeat for 8-10 times.
  3. Keep a notebook and pen next to your bed. Too much on your mind? Try writing down everything that is on your mind before bed. The act of taking what is in your head and putting it down on paper helps to 'remove' it from your brain so you can sleep at night. It doesn't have to be a novel. It can be words, things you have to do, people's names, etc.
  4. Use lavender essential oil. Mixing a few drops of lavender essential oil with water in a spray bottle has been one of my best tools for a good night's sleep. A few sprays on my pillow helps me to relax and decompress, while I do my deep breathing exercises. 
  5. Avoid eating at least 3 hours before bed. Going to bed shortly after eating while the body is digesting will disrupt sleep greatly. The body will be pre-occupied with digestion versus helping the body to heal and repair. 

Sleep doesn't have to be this elusive thing that we are constantly searching for. We easily get caught up in hectic and busy lives that sometimes just the simplest of changes can help a great deal. Try a few of these tips and see how your sleep pattern changes.