“Sleep is not a lifestyle luxury- it’s a non-negotiable biological necessity.”- Dr. Matthew Walker
Sleep is a big topic of debate in this country. It's something that we know we need, but our mindset and habits around sleep have shifted, leaving us sleep deprived and struggling with insomnia. But I'm curious, now that you're sheltering-in-place, and perhaps getting outside in the fresh air to go for a run, walk, or bike ride, how is your sleep?
I struggled with my own sleep habits for many years, especially when my children were younger. Somehow things like all of the dishes being put away and a clean and orderly house were more important than my sleep. Now don't get me wrong, I like a clean and organized house just as much as the next person. But what I didn't realize at the time is that if I would have made my sleep a priority I would have had the clarity to better prioritize my day, or to realize that it's OKAY to let it go!
As one of The Four Seeds of Self-Care, sleep is enormously important because it supports our brain health and every system in our body! After doing some research of my own over the past two years, I have been able to make some changes in my own sleep hygiene, including having a bedtime routine and making my bedroom a sleep sanctuary!
So, what is going on inside your brain and your body while you sleep? Why should you create your own good sleep habits? For starters, sleep is where your body finds balance for its many functions from the emotional to the cognitive, to a strong immune system. The glymphatic system is 60 percent more productive while we sleep. It’s this system that is responsible for removing waste from our brain. All of the unseen toxins that we are exposed to on a daily basis can be escorted out of our brains, helping to protect our memory and other cognitive functions as we age.
Our bodies have a biological clock that influences our circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms send messages to say it's time to shift into "sleep mode" so that our brains can get to work repairing and protecting all of the other body systems. The problem is that in this age of productivity and technology, we've shifted into an autopilot that keeps us constantly busy and plugged into our devices so much so that we don't even notice the signals that our brain is giving us!
So how can you reconnect with the natural sleep patterns that will support optimal health? Think of your bedroom as a lab and "experiment" with your sleep. Be curious and explore some ideas that you are intuitively drawn to. Maybe you KNOW that staying on your cell phone until your head hits the pillow (something we are all prone to doing from time to time- myself included!) is not helping you shut down and get to sleep. Or maybe you remember a time when you used to make yourself a cup of tea and curl up with a good book, or take a warm bath to help you relax before bedtime. Start with a change that feels right for you- a small change; something you are confident you can accomplish. Here are a few more ideas:
1. Circadian rhythms respond to light and darkness, turning genes on or off and potentially changing your biological clock. These changes can have a negative impact on your hormones, eating habits and digestion, just to name a few. To ensure that your body maintains it's natural cycles make sure that you control your environment to support it. Dim the lights about an hour before bed. Maybe set an alarm on your phone to kick start the habit. This is a small change that can make a BIG difference.
2. Make your room as comfy and cozy as possible! Regulate the room temperature. Organize your room. Remove papers and clutter to create a sleep sanctuary. Add a plant to your nightstand or purchase new sheets or pillows to make your bed comfortable and inviting. While you're at it find yourself a comfortable pair of pj's that you love!
3. Make your room off-limits for work! You don't want your brain to connect work to your room. Your bed should be reserved for sex and sleep. Period.
4. Set a consistent bedtime routine and sleep schedule. Just like the other Four Seeds of Self-Care, when we practice consistent sleep habits it will become easier and we will notice the positive benefits! Adults need an average of 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Yes, we are all individuals and have slightly different needs, but don't kid yourself into believing that you can "get by" on 5-6 hours. Science is showing us that we function at our best with 7-9 hours. You want to THRIVE not just SURVIVE!
5. Alcohol and caffeine may be affecting your sleep. Yes, it's possible that you may fall asleep faster after that glass or two of wine, but if you are not sleeping restfully through the night that glass of wine might be the culprit. The same goes for that afternoon cup of coffee. Maybe it's time that you honor what your body is trying to tell you. Try an afternoon workout or a short nap instead of that cup of joe!
“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.” Dr. Matthew Walker
This is a stressful time in our history. I have personally experienced needing more sleep in the past month during our shelter-in-place. Some days I feel energetic and tackle one project after another, and other days I just want to put my pajamas on and crawl back into bed.
Noticing what your body is calling for and honoring that can help us to cope with this situation in a healthy way. And if there's one lesson that we are all being reminded of right now, it's that life is precious and fleeting. We are all holding tight to our loved ones and community and finding ways to support one another. This goes back to the very thing we say about The Four Seeds of Self-Care: We believe that being self-centered is actually a positive quality achieved by making our own health and well-being a priority above ANYTHING and EVERYONE else. Consistently practicing The Four Seeds of Self-Care will strengthen our innate abilities to accomplish personal goals, foster more meaningful relationships and reconnect with our community.
With Love and Gratitude,
Kinda and Rachel