This post contains affiliate links. If you decide to purchase from one of the links below, I'll receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!
(Note: This article is a part of our 31-day series, “31 Days to a Whole Body Makeover“.)
Like diet and exercise, sleeping is a vital part of our health and well-being. When we sleep, our bodies are resting, and our minds are active. While our body repairs from the stresses of the day, our mind unravels the problems from the day. Sleep lays the groundwork for the busy day ahead.
We know how important sleep is, and yet, 40 million Americans are still sleep deprived! Let’s take a look at how exactly a lack of sleep affects our health, and ways that we can get better sleep. In fact, not just better sleep, but a deeper, richer sleep… every night!
Before Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb, people slept an average of 10 hours a night; today Americans average 6.9 hours of sleep on weeknights and 7.5 hours per night on weekends. Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are estimated to cost Americans over $100 billion annually in lost productivity, medical expenses, sick leave, and property and environmental damage.
Lack of Sleep Causes Weight Gain and Hormonal Problems:
Not getting enough sleep affects the production of hormones and damages our metabolism. This includes decreased glucose tolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity, leading to diabetes. The increased evening concentrations of cortisol is a major cause of fat storage. Ghrelin is also increased and levels of leptin decrease, making hunger and appetite cravings very intense. Progesterone suffers in women, causing fertility issues and depression.
Lack of Sleep Causes Mental Fog:
Studies show that driving while sleep-deprived is just as dangerous as drunk driving. Our reflexes and reaction time are severely reduced, making us extremely dangerous drivers.
Our performance in every day tasks are affected, making us less productive, and our jobs and school work suffer.
Lack of Sleep Causes Illness:
Our immune systems are severely compromised when we are not getting enough sleep, causing us to come down with different viruses much more often.
Lack of Sleep is Damaging to Your Skin:
Lack of sleep causes accelerated aging in your skin and will contribute to hormonal imbalances that cause acne.
How to Conquer the Mid-Afternoon Drowsiness:
It’s 2:30 PM and you are struggling to stay awake. As tempting as it is to lie down and take a long nap, you know you will pay for it later in the evening when it is impossible to slip into sleep! However, power naps are shown to not interfere with our nighttime sleep.
One common culprit for day time drowsiness (if you know you’ve had your eight hours) is dehydration. Make sure you are drinking enough fluids.
Go outside and get some fresh air and sunshine. This will help recharge your batteries.
Anemia (low iron levels) is also another cause for sleepiness. If you frequently feel out of energy and tired check with your doctor, a simple blood test can determine if you are anemic.
Expend Enough Energy:
Ayurvedic guru and endocrinologist, Deepak Chopra, has said that the inability to fall asleep is our body’s way of saying that we had not expended enough energy during the day. Many people find that falling asleep is easiest when we have spent our day doing the things that bring us the most personal satisfaction. This could be in the form of exercise, work, taking care of our family members, service work, etc.
Create a Routine You Can Stick To:
Ayurvedic practitioners teach that the most important time to fall asleep is before 10:00 pm. If you stay up past 10:00, you get a second wind, and then it is very hard to fall asleep after that. Therefore, it is recommended that you are asleep by 10:00 and ready to rise before 6:00 am. Doing so will help hormonal production to get you to sleep, and get you your best sleep.
Although this is the ideal, not every one person is exactly alike.
If you are a night owl that just cannot fit into that 10:00 pm to 6:00 am routine no matter how hard you try, then try focusing on the routine, until you can work your way back down to those prime sleeping hours.
Pick a set of nighttime rituals you like to do, and stick with them. Make sure you do not cheat your routine by sleeping in on the weekend! Don’t negate all that hard work during the week to establish your hard-earned sleep routine!
Relaxation rituals are the things you do every night before bed, to help wind down your internal cycle. Some of the suggestions are as follows:
- A warm bath.
- Lavender essential oil.
- Herbal peppermint or chamomile tea.
- Reading scriptures.
- Writing in a journal.
- Reading a light book (no non-fiction, or any book that brings about stress to read).
- Exchanging a back massage with your spouse.
- Grooming habits: Brushing and flossing your teeth, removing your makeup, combing your hair.
- A light snack.
Create an Atmosphere for Your Best Sleep:
- Invest in a good bed that is right for your body. If you get too hot, buy a mattress with gel, and not a pillow top. If you have a bad back, opt for a firm bed. These are tiny details that make a huge difference!
- Purchase linens for your bed that you love, and be sure to wash them no less than once a week! Very little feels better than slipping into freshly washed sheets straight from the dryer!
- De-clutter your room. Take out as much as possible, leaving only minimal things. Make sure clothing and shoes are hidden away in the closet and dresser. Remove televisions and radios; your bedroom is meant for only sleep and sex.
- Hide your alarm clock. If you wake up in the middle of the night, it will stress you out to look at your alarm clock, and begin to fret over how little time is left in the night. Just let yourself worry only about going back to sleep. Move your alarm clock across the room to make sure you are not tempted to peek. This goes for your cell phone, iPad, and laptop. Make sure they are left outside of the bedroom.
- Make sure your bedroom is dark. Melatonin, the hormone that lulls us to sleep is called the “vampire hormone” for a reason. It is only produced in the dark. One to two hours before bed time, begin turning off the lights of the house to get your entire family sleepy. Turn off electronics, as the screens of our Kindles, phones, and laptops actually energize us and shut off melatonin productions.
- Keep it cool. Ideally, your room should be 65 degrees for optimal sleep. In the summer time, keep a fan or small air conditioning unit in the room. If you tend to still be too hot, try keeping a cool wet cloth on the back of your neck before going to sleep.
For the Love, Turn Off Computer Screens/Phone Screens at least one hour before bed.
The light waves from the blue light tells your body, “Hey! There’s a bright blue sky outside! Look alive!” Instead, I learned recently that there exists an amazing product: Blue light blocking glasses! You can put these on, and because they block blue light, your body is much better able to produce melatonin for sleep! I think we all need a pair.
Eat the Right Kinds of Food for Sleep:
2-3 hours before bedtime, avoid all caffeine (including chocolate), nicotine, and alcohol. Minimize fluid intake to avoide multiple trips to the bathroom.
Magnesium, calcium, and potassium are all minerals that help you relax and fall asleep. One food that has all three is bananas! These three minerals also greatly reduce leg cramps and charley horses in case you suffer from those in the middle of the night as well.
Gelatin is known for cooling your body before sleep, promoting a much deeper sleep.
Cherries are rich with melatonin!
Here are a few recipes found online that would make an excellent addition to your relaxation rituals!
- 1 cup tart cherry juice
- 1/2 banana
- 1/2 cup soy milk or 4-6 oz soy yogurt (if using soy yogurt, add an additional 1/2 cup fat-free milk)
- 5 ice cubes
- 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Combine the cherry juice, banana, milk or yogurt with fat-free milk, ice and vanilla in a blender. Blend until smooth.
- 2 cups orange juice
- 3 (1/4-oz) packets granulated unsweetened gelatin
- 1/2 cup frozen strawberries
- 1 small banana
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
- Add ingredients to blender. Blend and [url href=”http://amzn.to/1K33bKF” target=”_blank”]pour into popsicle molds[/url]. Freeze for 8 hours. When ready to eat, run popsicle molds under warm water for 15 seconds. Gently remove and enjoy!
If you are having major sleep problems:
If your issues go far beyond very simple insomnia, keep a sleep journal and take it to your doctor. It is going ot be very important to be checked for sleep apnea and other very serious issues. You will want to receive the proper diagnosis to treat any underlying causes. You will be glad you did.