One of the most important ways to nourish our minds and our bodies is through sleep. It is a time for the body to rest and to heal, and it is vital that we set aside enough time to relax, close our eyes, and get the amount of sleep that our body needs.
I have been really feeling the affects of sleep lately, both in needing a certain amount and recognizing when I haven’t gotten enough. Not sure about you, but it took me a little while to get back to my usual sleeping schedule when the clocks jumped forward, and since then I have been feeling like I have needed a bit more sleep than usual. Now, I think this is somewhat personal because usually around this time of year is when we come out of our hibernation mode, but I have attributed my ‘need for sleep’ to a few things. Spring is all about changes, increased activity, new ventures, and although it can be very exciting, overindulging may be something that I have to watch out for.
So why is sleep so important? Well, I am sure that you have experienced a few late nights staying up doing work, hanging out with friends, or even just relaxing (just a few, right?). So I am sure you have also felt the effects that late nights and early mornings can cause. This is because your body and mind need time to rest and repair, and without that time, they are unable to properly function.
First things first… find out how much sleep you need. It is estimated that the average person requires about 8 hours of sleep every night. This can be different from person to person, but begin to pay attention to the amount of time your head is on the pillow each night and how you feel the next day. You can always keep a sleep journal to help you keep track.
If you are having trouble sleeping, there are a few things that you can do:
- Create a regular sleep schedule. This is one of the best ways to get in sync with your body’s natural sleep rhythms. By setting a regular bedtime and waking up around the same every morning, you and your body get into a sleep pattern, and soon enough you may not even need an alarm to get out of bed. Crazy thought, right?
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine. When you make a consistent effort to relax before bedtime, you will usually experience a deeper, more relaxed sleep. Over time, your body will begin to send a signal to your brain that it is time to relax and get ready for sleep. Lighting a candle, reading, doing some easy stretching, listening to soft music, meditating, journaling, applying some lavender essential oil to the temples, and taking a warm bath are some of the ways to encourage your body to relax before bedtime.
- Turn off your electronics. Staring at a bright screen, whether it’s on your phone, your computer or your TV, stimulates your brain and prevents melatonin production, a hormone that is produced at night to encourage sleep. This can have a dramatic effect on falling asleep, and even staying asleep. For me, this made a dramatic difference in my sleep routine. In the past, my phone was the last thing I looked at before bed and the first thing I reached for in the morning, but after setting some boundaries, I find it a lot easier to fall asleep and a lot more peaceful to wake up. Choose a time, maybe an hour before your bedtime, and shut everything off. It’s empowering, I promise.
- Eat right. You know I had to throw this in the mix, right? But eating right isn’t only on the list because of my personal mission to encourage you to eat good, healthy foods. Your eating habits have a direct relationship with how you sleep, especially in the hours before bedtime. Try to stay away from big meals at night because they take a lot of work to digest. This may keep you up, but it also prevents your body from properly cleansing and repairing itself when it has to focus on the big ‘rack o ribs’ that you just took down. It is also recommended to decrease caffeine consumption in the evening, to stay away from sugary foods, and to avoid excess liquids in the hours before bed to prevent multiple trips to the bathroom during the night.
- Move that body. You will experience a more deep sleep if you make exercise a regular part of your day. 20-30 minutes per day is said to make a difference in sleep, and the awesome part is that if you don’t have time every day to hit a yoga class or go for a run, you can break it up throughout your day. Take the stairs, enjoy a brisk walk on your lunch break, stretch and/or lift light weights in the morning, or find exercise in your housework. There are plenty ways to get your heart pumping and your body moving each day, so make it happen.
- Keep stress and anxiety in check. I know, this is a big one. Left over worry, stress, anger and anxiety from the day can make it very difficult to sleep well. If you are waking up or can’t fall asleep, take note if there seems to be a reoccurring theme. This may help to figure out what you need to do to get your stress under control during the day, preventing nighttime worry. You may also want to incorporate some relaxation techniques before bed, or even throughout your day. Some things to consider are meditation, deep breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, or simply visualizing a peaceful, restful sleep.
- Fall back asleep. If you wake up during the night, make sure to give yourself some time to fall back asleep before getting out of bed or turning on the television. Stay in a comfortable, sleeping position and keep your focus on the relaxed state of your body. If you have a thought or worry about the following day, quickly jot it down and decide to worry about it tomorrow. If you are still experiencing trouble, you can practice some of the relaxation techniques or bedtime routine options mentioned above.
I know that even the idea of making changes to your sleep schedule can be challenging… I have been there. A few years back, I was basically nocturnal. But after experiencing the benefits of creating a regular sleep schedule, I am pretty confident in saying that I will never go back. Remember, you don’t need to do everything at once. Start with one thing from this list; incorporate it into your life and notice if you feel any improvements. With small, gentle shifts we can create life-changing movements.
with love and deep, reviving sleep,