Why We Need sleep. And Natural Lifestyle Tips to Sleep Better.
By Katolen Yardley, MNIMH – Medical HerbalistOctober 20, 2016
A sound sleep is something many of us take for granted, until a couple nights of compounding sleeplessness sets in, affecting our decision making ability, thinking capacity and energy during our waking hours.
An occasional restless sleep is tolerable and perhaps even serves a higher purpose to illuminate areas in our lives needing more attention. Our subconsciousness is active highlighting priorities, providing solutions to a gnawing problem or the calling of our higher self propelling our consciousness towards a new path.
After consecutive nights, insomnia becomes a larger issue. Chronic insomnia can create a domino effect when our longevity, cognitive function, ability to complete common daily tasks, short term memory and ability to fully engage in daytime activities is impacted. Even the worry of NOT having a rest filled restorative sleep can compound the cycle and lead to more anxiety and stress.
According to a report by Statistics Canada (2002), an estimated 3.3 million Canadians have symptoms of insomnia; 1 in 7 individuals have trouble both going to sleep and staying asleep, and many Canadians with insomnia obtain less than 5 hours of restful sleep per night.
What we do when we sleep.
Dream time is when we replenish ourselves on both a metabolic and cellular level.
- Our liver cleanses, eliminates waste and supports the detoxification pathways in the body, encouraging cell turnover and endocrine function.
- Sleep can restore our adrenal function; our hormone production, and our immune system.
- Natural killer cells, our immune fighters, peak during the early stages of sleep.
- During our deepest sleep our blood pressure drops, our breathing slows, muscles experience a deep state of relaxation and our body can focus on healing, tissue growth, repair and rejuvenation.
- Endocrine hormones, including reproductive, anti aging and growth hormones are released. In addition, research on ghrelin and leptin show that they help to ensure a balanced appetite.
- Night time released hormones are essential for muscle development and tissue repair, as well as physical and mental energy restoration[ii].
- Two key hormone levels drop during sleep. – the stress response hormone, adrenalin. And cortisol – an adrenal hormone linked with heightened awareness. High cortisol levels when we should be sleeping can predispose and contribute to long term health issues such as cardiovascular problems, obesity and diabetes[iii].
Insomnia means missing out on all the above benefits, leaving our spirit in less than an optimal state and our physical health compromised. This leads to difficulty coping with daily tasks and imparts a deep sense of frustration, short temperedness, and even makes us more accident prone. The impact to Canadians is an increase in work absences and a decrease in productivity, a lowered sense of personal satisfaction with life and burnout. Insomnia interferes with our ability to be our best!
Lifestyle solutions to help you sleep better.
- Go to sleep at the same time each night and commit to a regular sleep routine. One hour prior to sleep begin to consciously unwind, read quietly, consider meditation techniques, prepare a warm bath, and avoid action packed television shows which will create more adrenal stimulation.
- Limit stimulants. Even one cup of coffee in the morning may be too stimulating for sensitive individuals and interfere with sleep later in the day. Limit your caffeine intake to one small cup daily or less. Identify and eliminate hidden sources of caffeine including, chocolate, caffeine packed energy drinks, and certain prescription medications.
- Eliminate all artificial light – create a bedroom blackout scenario, turn off glowing computer screens and switch to a non electric radio (without glowing numbers), block light from under doorways, street lamps and night lights alike. Melatonin, our natural sleep hormone, is produced when in complete darkness and tells our body when to sleep.
- Exercise daily – physical fitness and daily movement go a long way to support natural sleep rhythms and to minimize our reaction to stress. Exercise in the morning or at least 2 hours before bed to prevent endorphins from stimulating you at night, when you should be unwinding for sleep.
- Manage and minimize stress. A nightly bath, exercise, a walk and chat with a confidant, yoga, aromatherapy all will provide stress relief. If you find worries are filling up the mind at night, then practice some deep breathing or meditation techniques to gently focus your mind and transition to feelings of contentment and peace.
- Supplement with Calcium and Magnesium support at bedtime, as both minerals can assist with deeper REM sleep, minimise muscle cramps and restless leg syndrome- a frequent contributor to nocturnal waking.
For occasional sleeplessness, address these lifestyle tips and also read part two – Herbal Solutions for Insomnia.
[i] Statistics Canada, Insomnia, November 16, 2005 http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/051116/dq051116a-eng.htm
[ii] Jo Abbott, Chemical messengers: how hormones help us sleep. September 9, 2015 12.45am EDT
Swinburne University of Technology. http://theconversation.com/chemical-messengers-how-hormones-help-us-sleep-44983
[iii] Rachel Leproult and Eve Van Cauter, Role of Sleep and Sleep Loss in Hormonal Release and Metabolism. Endocr Dev. 2010; 17: 11–21. Published online 2009 Nov 24. doi: 10.1159/000262524 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3065172/