What You’ll Learn
- Sleep is essential for health, and the lack of quality sleep can be a contributing factor to a number of chronic conditions.
- The CDC recently reported that more than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.
- Research shows that watching TV, drinking too much caffeine, and sleeping with our smartphones are all aimed at keeping our minds stimulated and avoiding one of the most important bodily functions there is – rest and recovery.
- We provide 5 actionable steps from leading integrative medical experts to help prepare your mind and body for sleep, and strengthen your ability to sleep soundly.
In the technology-driven, fast-paced era we live in, it is commonplace for people to run on fumes, ignore their internal alarms, and exhaust themselves to a point of seemingly no return. We’re here to tell you that it’s never too late to change, and never too late to implement adjustments that will alter your body’s ability to recoup and regenerate – as it is naturally meant to.
Most people seem to be aware of the fact that sleep is important. It’s essential for a person’s health and well being, yet, millions of people suffer from a lack of truly restorative sleep. As a matter of fact, more than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, according to a recent CDC study (source).
What keeps us from getting adequate sleep?
There are a multitude of reasons why people don’t get enough good sleep. Stress, poor dietary habits, sleep disorders, medical conditions, and the list goes on. And often times, people do everything they can to stay awake, and ultimately avoid the body’s natural tendency to want to take a breather. From watching TV, to drinking too much caffeine, to sleeping with our smart phones – all of these activities are aimed at keeping our minds stimulated and avoiding one of the most important bodily functions there is – rest and recovery.
Quite simply, our society has become hyper focused on productivity, and it’s even been said that we’ve become “human doings” instead of human beings. Surrounded by activities aimed at further exertion, we seem to have forgotten one of the most fundamental laws of physics: polarity. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When we ignore the body’s need to rest, the health consequences are paramount. Countless studies have shown that lack of proper sleep (which many experts define as 7-8 hours per day) can lower brain function, increase risk of depression, lower immunity, lead to heart disease, and is associated with a host of other issues.
Regardless of the reasons, there are a plethora of things that can be done in an effort to minimize the issue, and work towards a healthy sleep goal.
Actionable steps to restorative sleep
Encouragingly, there are a variety of simple lifestyle changes you can make to help prepare your mind and body for sleep, and strengthen your ability to sleep soundly.
1. Have a life purpose
Ever feel like you don’t know what path you’re on, what direction you’re going in, or felt feelings of self doubt about what you have (or have not) accomplished in life? These types of thought patterns are familiar to many, and ultimately open the body up to feelings of stress, which we know are detrimental to health.
According to recent studies, one of the secrets to a good night’s sleep is having a good reason to get up in the morning. Jason Ong, a neurologist who led the research at Northwestern University in Chicago, said that encouraging people to develop a sense of purpose could help them to keep insomnia at bay without the need for sleeping pills. Furthermore, there are many studies and articles that indicate having a sense of purpose has an effect on aging and adult development, and has actually been associated with longer life span and healthier, more fruitful lives in general.
2. Engage in sleep hygiene exercises
As we mentioned, activities are increasing in popularity that aim to train our exertion (sympathetic) mechanisms, but seldom are those brought to our attention that enhance and improve our recovery (parasympathetic) mechanisms, which are vitally important. By participating in some simple techniques to help prepare your body and mind for optimizing your natural biorhythms, you’ll be on the path to a full night’s rest in no time. Some of these techniques include:
- Removing all potential distractions from the area surrounding your bed. This includes televisions, lights, cell phones and tablets, etc.
Mounting evidence and clinical studies conclusively demonstrate that these distractions are disrupting our natural rhythms, i.e. being at odds with nature and our environment, and are the root cause of insomnia, sleep disorders, chronic fatigue, and a host of modern chronic diseases that are becoming more and more prevalent every year.
“We prove that major killers like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are caused by short nights, working long hours, and the electricity that gives us the ability to do so. Lights are the ultimate endocrine disruptors that shut down proper hormone production and ruin our health, unless we take very specific action.”T.S. Wiley, acclaimed author of “Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival“
- Ensuring that your room is cool and dark. Studies show that between 67-69 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal, as is complete darkness.
- Setting a bedtime for yourself, and sticking to it daily. Maintaining a sleep routine is crucial, for the human body craves consistency.
3. Pillow conditioning technique
For those who suffer from insomnia even after exhausting a multitude of other techniques like the ones set forth above, pillow conditioning is a great method to enact immediately. Habits such as watching TV and using your smartphone in bed can be deeply ingrained, and are often very difficult to break. One method to use to begin training your body to participate in healthy sleep hygiene techniques is to pre-determine a specific “just in case” activity that you will do in the event you are unable to fall asleep within 20 minutes. You’ll want to make sure the activity is something non-stimulating, such as making flash cards or reading a textbook (everyone is stimulated by different things, so the activity chosen will differ from person to person).
Once you commit to doing the identified activity if you cannot sleep (and following through to participate in the activity every time you’re laying in bed awake after 20 minutes or so), your subconscious mind will begin to choose breaking through the discomfort, fear, and old thought patterns that existed previously to get to sleep before it allows you to engage in the chosen activity.
4. Evening meditation ritual
This one may seem obvious, but have you actually taken a moment to attempt meditation? It may be difficult to do at first, as we’re constantly surrounded by distractions and being able to focus on “nothing” is truly an art. However, the benefits of meditation are clinically verified and extremely valuable, and there are so many resources available to ease beginner meditators into the practice.
To help determine the efficacy of mindfulness meditation to promote sleep quality in older adults with moderate sleep disturbances, the University of Southern California did a randomized clinical trial that was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine in 2015. Half of the participants completed a mindfulness awareness program that taught them meditation and other exercises, and the other half completed a sleep education class that taught them ways to improve their sleep habits. After 6 weeks, compared with the people in the sleep education group, those in the mindfulness group had less insomnia, fatigue, and depression (source).
Ending your day (and starting, for that matter) with a brief meditation exercise will set the stage for deep, restorative sleep and assist in overcoming insomnia and other sleep related disorders.
5. Tai Chi and Qi Gong exercises
When most people think of exercise, they think of exertion exercises such as running, swimming or playing conventional sports. However, there are movement exercises that are aimed specifically at allowing the body to recover from exertion, and bring energy back into the system.
Active recovery techniques such as Tai Chi, Qi Gong, slow stretching and conscious breathing exercises use specific types of motion to further elicit your body’s relaxation response and can be very helpful in training your body to prepare for rest. While these movement exercises actually bring energy into the body and it may seem counterintuitive to do something energy-inducing to help prepare for sleep, the opposite is actually true.
In a recent New York Times article, a study was referenced that concluded that Tai Chi, when used in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy, may reduce both insomnia and inflammation.
“Tai chi and cognitive therapy are used to treat insomnia because, unlike medication, they produce no unwanted side effects…with the improvement in insomnia, there’s a reversal of inflammation at the systemic level and the genetic level. Inflammation contributes to cardiovascular disease, depression and cancer.”Dr. Michael R. Irwin, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles
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