Sleep is a major player when it comes to good health, yet one of the activities we tend to neglect the most. Most of us are aware that we need to get adequate rest to function, but for many of us sleep gets low priority to our relationships, our bills, and the never-ending to-do list. Insomnia can be defined as “a chronic inability to fall asleep or to enjoy uninterrupted sleep”. Many of us have suffered from lack of sleep at least at some point in our lives, but if it’s an ongoing struggle for you to get to bed and actually fall asleep once you’re there, here are some simple ways for you to take the reins on your sleep cycle and get back on track.
A few reasons why sleep is important
- During sleep, our brain sifts through all of the stimuli we have taken in throughout the day. Everything we have seen, heard, learned and said is being sorted and filed. Adequate sleep equals a stronger capacity to learn and store information. Tip: if you really want to learn or remember something, try reading or listening to your audio book right before sleep. I used this technique back in high-school to pass chemistry tests that I didn’t study for and it really worked.
- Sleep is the time when your body gets a chance to regenerate and heal. During the hours between 10pm to 2am (your local time), the body produces HGH (human growth hormone). Lifting weights in the gym or doing a power yoga session can only fully pay off when your body is at rest and has the opportunity to re-build. On nights that you are healing, you’ll likely need to sleep a bit longer.
- Hormones regulate when you are well slept. There are so many contributing factors to hormonal imbalance, that I know all too well from suffering them myself – however sleep plays a huge role in whether you feel balanced or not. Cortisol (the stress hormone) rises during the day and goes to a low point around 10pm at night. Staying up late increases the cortisol running through your body inhibiting proper healing, and creating more opportunity for weight gain, skin problems and general moodiness.
- Sleep impacts our food choices. Studies show when our brains are tired, we have less willpower and make poor choices when it comes to food. People seem to be more likely to eat fried, sugary or high fat foods when they haven’t had a good nights sleep, and I can relate. Whenever Caleb and I haven’t slept well and are at an airport somewhere, I feel my willpower wanting to go out the window. We also tend to eat more calories when we are tired, either because our bodies need more fuel or because we make poorer choices when it’s time to eat. Getting your sleep schedule regular can also help you reverse cravings and maintain a healthy diet.
How To Get More Sleep if You’re Suffering with Insomnia
- Worrying is one of the biggest culprits of a sleepless night. As counter intuitive as it may be, one of the reasons a lot of us suffer from lack of sleep is because we’re up worrying about getting enough sleep! Dr. Fuhrman brought this up in one of his tele-seminars that I was listening to a few days ago and it got me thinking about how true that really is. I myself have been guilty of laying in bed checking the clock, and restlessly counting the hours of sleep I would get if I fell asleep quickly. Worrying about how many hours of sleep you’ll get, hoping you’ll get to sleep quickly, being concerned about having to get up early; all of those things actually prevent you from getting to sleep in the first place.
- Another layer deeper; worrying about personal issues, finances, relationships or other issues can prevent you from getting a good rest. Instead of staying in bed and torturing yourself, just get up and write out a list of your worries. But don’t stop there, write down a few solutions that will help you with your problem. Even if your solution doesn’t solve everything, get yourself one step closer to resolution and when you feel ready, go back to bed.
- Dim down bright lights, get off the computer and keep your surroundings quiet before bed. Have you ever experienced feeling super tired all day from lack of sleep and then getting that “second wind” that keeps you up late, yet again? Understanding that your brains run on very intricate hormonal cycles grants you with a new option to work in harmony, rather than against these natural rhythms. When light hits your retina, it stimulates a nerve pathway in the brain to the hypothalamus. Once the light arrives there, it reaches a place called the supra-chiasmatic nucleus or (SCN) which is basically a control panel responsible for sending out signals to other parts of the brain that control hormone production, your body temperature and other factors involved in feeling either awake or tired. Our brains are wired the same way they were wired 1000 years ago when we went to sleep at sun down and woke up with the sunrise. Light and darkness are triggers for your brain to either wake, or prepare for its sleeping state. The pineal gland is activated by darkness which then begins to release melatonin (a sleep hormone). If light is hitting your retinas, you are activating a surge of hormones to keep you awake which is the opposite of what you want right before bed.
- It’s equally important to make sure you are turning of the melatonin production upon rising. If you are in a dark condo with little sunlight when you wake up, melatonin can continue to produce throughout the day which depletes the melatonin that is meant to surge at night and prepare you for sleep. Try exposing yourself to sunlight for 15-30 minutes as soon as you wake up. I like to take my lemon water outside for a stroll before I start my day. If it’s too cold outside where you live, find other ways by opening up the blinds and turning on the light or poke your head out for a few minutes and breathe in the cold!
- If you get exercise during the day like yoga or weight lifting, dance, pilates etc. your body will have exerted energy and be more prepared to repair itself during sleep. I find I need a bit more sleep after an intense hot yoga class or weight lifting session and because of the energy I used I actually get ready for bed earlier which is great.
- Meditation and trances can also help if you feel you’d like a peaceful guide to help relax your brain, calm your worries and put you in a sleepy state. You can download meditations, trances or hypnosis tracks from itunes and put them on your headphones. Or you can even get free chakra relaxation meditations on youtube. Remember to keep the bedroom room very dark when listening to these for the best effect.
- I like to do things that will prepare me for bed like make sure the room is cool, enough so that I need a cover. Sometimes I will take a luke warm shower and use essential oils like lavender or peppermint on my pillow. Be careful with the peppermint if it’s not diluted it can burn. A few drops of lavender on the pillow, wrists and temples is really relaxing.
- Reading for just 10 minutes can actually change your state, if you’re worried or in a stressful state, pick up a book and read something for at least 10 minutes and this should help your brain and body shift gears into a more relaxed, happy state.
- Avoid heavy meals before bed, digestion and discomfort can make your sleep less healing. It’s better to eat 2 hours before bed or more, so that when you go to sleep your digestion system isn’t working overtime and your body can heal anything else that needs attention. You’ll have a sounder sleep as well.
- If you have to use an alarm clock, set the noise to something relaxing and peaceful. If you’re like me, just the thought of being startled out of bed int he morning to a loud alarm clock is enough to keep me waking multiple times in the morning to check the time and make sure I catch the alarm before it goes off, resulting in a broken sleep.
Lastly, look for areas of your life that may be creating more worry or stress for you than necessary. Sometimes we are stressed on a sub-conscious level. Meaning things are bothering us, but we have avoided them for so long that we are really not even sure that those things are anymore. Explore the ways you can enhance your life by making healthier choices and honouring yourself on a deeper level. Living in gratitude has amazing benefits, so count all of the things you are grateful for on a day-to-day basis and watch how things change around you.
Learn more recipes and tips like this in our 3 month course How to Go Raw, Not Crazy! We’re taking a few more student testers, so if you’d like more details on how you can get a discount on registration you can email us with the subject line “how to go raw”.