Why Sleep is So Important and How to Get More of it

You’ve been hearing the case for getting more sleep, but here are some concrete and motivating reasons why making sure you get enough sleep is important. The amount of sleep you get each night impacts your overall health and well-being tremendously,
Sleep plays a critical role in immune function, metabolism, memory and learning. Lack of adequate sleep affects mood, motivation, judgment, and our perception of events.
Memory consolidation takes place during sleep through the strengthening of the neural connections that form our memories.  Without adequate sleep and rest, over-worked neurons can no longer function to coordinate information properly, and we lose our ability to access previously learned information.
Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. Sleep affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood glucose (sugar) level. Sleep deficiency results in a higher than normal blood sugar level, which may increase your risk for diabetes.
Sleep deficiency also increases the risk of obesity. Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When you don’t get enough sleep, your level of ghrelin goes up and your level of leptin goes down. This makes you feel hungrier than when you’re well-rested.
When you get enough quality, un-medicated sleep, inflammation decreases.  The body produces more growth hormone, and stress hormones are metabolized. Sleep can lower blood sugar levels and can help lessen cravings, even taking them away completely.
Making sleep a priority can be one of the most important things you can do to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally, so go to bed and get some sleep!

SETTING UP AND FOLLOWING A BEDTIME ROUTINE

As children, if we were in relatively positive environments, bedtime routines were established and maintained for us. They gave us a sense of security, a feeling of comfort, of boundaries and predictability.
Life is often a series of unknowns and comes at us with a frenzy, at times. We can feel scattered and overwhelmed and feel as though there aren’t enough hours in the day. This feeling of “time deficit” can affect our devotion to a good night’s sleep, especially if we take our problems to bed with us.
We already know that we need sleep to heal, to energize, to rebuild our cells and tissues and to create the hormones necessary for health and well being.  We need sleep to alleviate stress and to help us feel balanced.
Creating a bedtime routine can be one of the kindest and most loving things you can do for yourself. It can be a nice ritual to end your day and honor your body, mind and spirit with a peaceful rest. Going to bed is our chance to let go of the day, to reset our minds and bodies so that we’re able to experience the fresh and new tomorrow that is waiting for us.
Here are some suggestions on what you can do to give you the best chance at a wonderful sleep.
  1. Be consistent. Consistency is not always easy, but try as best you can to keep your bedtime at a set time. Plan your dinner so that you give at least 3 hours from the time you eat until you go to bed.
  2. Front load your water. This means that you drink the majority of your water early on. I recommend 12 -16 ounces first thing when you awaken. Drink the bulk of your ounces throughout the day, but start tapering off towards evening. This will prevent you going to bed with a full bladder, one of the biggest culprits in sleep disruption.
  3. Start your ritual 30-40 minutes before you get into bed. Turn off all electronic devices, including your television, computer, etc. This is your time to let go of it all!
  4. This is where you can get creative:
  • Write out tomorrow’s to do list and get it all out of your head and down on paper before you go to bed. You’ll be less likely to wake up worrying about things you might be forgetting about. Keep the list next to your bed in case you think of any last things before you fall asleep.
  • Do some light stretching or gentle yoga for 15 minutes.
  • Read something inspirational, funny or engaging, but make sure it is positive.
  • Do some journaling. Let your feelings come out, but then circle back around and end with a gratitude list. Focus on the positive aspects and acknowledge what you appreciate in your life and about yourself.
  • Think of a desire and then set an intention for yourself to know that you can have that desire. Make it something easy and doable.
  • After getting in your jammies, washing up, brushing teeth, etc., do some calming breathing exercises. Find one that you love. I recommend Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4:7:8 Breathing exercise.
  • When you finally lay down and turn off the light, make a point of feeling and acknowledging how nice the bed feels…how soft and warm. Notice the sheets and the comfort of your pillow. I call this “self-soothing” and it’s so nice.
  • Have what I call a “happy daydream”. Focus your thoughts on something that desire to have or be and let those thoughts play out as though it is happening right in this moment. You’ll fall asleep in such a good state!
  • If you wake up in the night to use the restroom or for any reason and your mind starts up, use the breathing, the self-soothing and the happy daydreams. With practice, you’ll see how well this works and you drift right back to sleep.
As with anything, creating a bedtime routine takes patience. Establishing new habits are not easy, but are absolutely possible and so worth the effort. I encourage you to try this for 30 days in a row and see what happens. Sleep is life giving!

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