Exhausted, and still can’t sleep?
Join many Americans today who wear sleeplessness as a badge of honor and others who can’t seem to shake the title. Our lives can become hectic in a climate that rewards busy, full, production and constant work. However, our long term health starts to slip away as stress and lack of sleep result in chronic fatigue, poor food choices (sugar and caffeine) little motivation to exercise and little or highly structured leisure and social time. In our lofty goals to achieve, we leave ourselves depleted, unrecovered and unrestored. Despite the exhaustion, many of us can’t get a good night’s sleep even when we try.
*No time for the full article right now? Skip to the bottom for better sleep tips.
Sleep is a wonderful thing, but has somehow become an activity of the lazy. Who has time for all that sleeping when there is so much to be done? However, as you sleep, there is much needed activity going on in your body, several of which improve our overall health. Arianna Huffington writes about our current sleep crisis in The Sleep Revolution after having fallen asleep while burning the midnight oil, resulting in a fractured check from the corner of the desk. She addresses many of the common issues with a society hell-bent on achieving goals, hailing less sleep and failing to see the big picture of chronic sleep deprivation.
What is keeping us awake? Many contributing factors to this, but one of the bigger factors in sleeplessness is increased cortisol. Cortisol is a necessary hormone that keeps us motivated, awake and responsive. Clearly, there are times when these are favorable, and also, undesirable. Cortisol begins to elevate a few hours before we wake to get us ready for action, and levels are highest in the morning. As the day progresses, our cortisol levels essentially drop, allowing us to rest and sleep when the day is finished. Increased stressors and some medications artificially elevate cortisol levels that remain increased even through the evening hours disrupting our sleep, and can result in weight gain, anxiety, sleep disorders, hormonal imbalances, fertility issues among others.
Sleep helps us on a very immediate level, and that translates into the long term. Muscles relax as we enter light sleep. Our breathing, heart rate and body temperature (slightly) decrease. As deep sleep begins our brains produces delta waves, and we enter rapid eye movement (REM) when muscles relax, HR increases and breathing becomes rapid and shallow. Delta waves are what cause sleep to be restorative, and are associated with healing, improved immune system, regulated autonomous systems (breathing, heart beat, kidney function etc) relaxation and can increase, interestingly, empathy. I’m better rested and have more empathy for another seems logical when we put it in those terms. However, too much delta wave can cause someone to lose focus and interest as is common with ADHD or similar. How do we know if we are getting the right amount of sleep? We all need different amounts of sleep at different stages of life, but for adults, The National Institute for Health recommends 7-9 hours of sleep each night. A good indication of getting enough good quality sleep is waking feeling rested, and without an alarm clock.
*Tips for Better Sleep
Lowering stress through the day can have a positive effect on overall stress and stress hormones.
- Manage stress throughout the day.
- meditation and visualization
- breathing exercises
- take short walks and/or partake in aerobic activities.
Signaling your body to wind down can help foster good sleep.
- Prepare for sleep.
- 30 minutes before bed dim the lights and put the electronic screens away.
- Use lavender – place in a diffuser, in a lotion or rub in to soles of feet
- Foot massage – with or without lavender will help prepare you for sleep
- Breathing – many breathing exercises exist and can be helpful to promote relaxation. Try breathing in on a 6 count and exhaling on a 6 count for one minute.
- An Ayurveda practice is to drink some warm milk with a dash of honey, and a pinch of nutmeg and turmeric.