I like to classify sleep as one of those things we “know we need more of” but fail at actually getting more of (kind of like veggies :P)
There are many health benefits to improving your sleep and without getting too sciencey on you, here are a few quick facts regarding our bodies and their need for Zzzz’s
A lack of sleep can actually cause the body to act similar to a state of intoxication
- Less sleep can mean more weight gain (due to a lack of time for the regulation of necessary hormones)
- A lack of sleep can impede any muscle building attempts due to HGH (human growth hormone) not having enough time to release and regenerate
- While you sleep your immune system restores. A lack of sleep can cause you to become more susceptible to colds and flu
- There is such thing as sleep debt. While you may function “just fine” on four hours of sleep, your body and hormones do not. Eventually you will have to makeup that time
Now, I won’t bore you with the different kinds of sleep but know that in order to function optimally the next day (increased brain activity, creativity, improved energy etc) you need to have hit a deep sleep (or your REM stage).
In order to get into that deep stage, there needs to be a calming process. Ideally, you would begin to calm down as night came and your body would subconsciously begin to rise as day break came. Due to our modernized world though, this normally isn’t the case.
So what can you do to start improving your sleep cycles?
Well, for starters attempt to limit your exposure to light directly before bed. Instead of starting at your phone, the TV, your Ipad try reading within the 30-60min pre bedtime. The light emitting from all our technology causes our body to remain stimulated and believe that it’s time to “be up”. Easing yourself into darkness or less light before bed can help your body understand that sleep should be coming.
A few quick rules you can implement would be:
- No cell phones or ipads sixty minutes before bed
- No TV in bed
- Make use of blackout curtains or a dark eye mask
Think ahead, don’t over stimulate yourself. Thinking of work or stressful issues immediately before bed will result in a poor sleep. Reading intense books can also cause your body to hold onto stress. Instead, opt for a light fiction novel to wean you over to relaxation.
Next on the how to improve your sleep cycle is to ensure you like your bedroom. Seriously. Having a relaxing (non cluttered) space will help your body not make “to do” lists mentally. Ensure your bedding is comfortable; your mattress, pillows, blankets. All of those things should promote relaxation. If there are certain smells you find relaxing use an air or pillow mist. Anything to get your body to calm down.
In order to get a better sleep and thus reap it’s wonderful benefits, you’ve got to actually sleep. I can’t stress this enough; make sleep a priority. An ideal sleep range would be roughly 10pm-6am. It is possible to change your sleep schedule but it does require some work.
Start weaning yourself off of late nights slowly and take your time getting to bed earlier and earlier. Good sleep won’t just “happen”, you need to put in an effort. Start by taking small steps:
- Don’t drink coffee after lunch
- One by one, eliminate technological exposure before bed
- Get into bed half hour earlier each week until you’re able to fall asleep at your desired time
- Turn off any stimulating TV shows prior to bed (like walking dead! You don’t want Zombie dreams!)
It’s a big process to learn to sleep better. And much of it depends on your daily life. But the results and benefits are pretty awesome so I’d suggest taking the time to improve your cycle.
It is possible to change your sleeping patterns but there will be some effort required. Like any other goal, take it step by step. Another thing to look at are your wake up patterns- though that’s a blog for another day 😉
All in all, sleep is the time for our bodies to repair, recover and reset from our day. It needs time to give us the building blocks to function optimally- don’t rob it of that.
So grab some herbal tea, snuggle up with a book and start weaning yourself into a better schedule.
And if all else fails… there’s always that sheep counting thing 😛