“Sleep that knits up the revell’d sleeve of care
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course
Chief nourisher in life’s feast, “
–William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Over 400 years ago, Shakespeare knew the importance of sleep for its recuperative powers but for three and a half centuries, most scientists believed sleep to be an inactive state of little or no value. Even today, most of us consider sleep an inconvenient luxury.
Only in the last few years have science and medicine begun to understand that without sufficient high quality sleep, our health and our lives unravel. It degrades our health, leading us into a non-sick state (the limbo between the 5% who are outright sick and the 5% who are optimally healthy) prematurely as much as unhealthy eating and lack of movement do.
First things first– are you getting enough sleep?
- wake up tired in the morning?
- need a nap in the afternoon?
- fall asleep watching TV?
- have frequent small accidents at home, or large ones on the road?
- have trouble focusing on the job?
- find yourself sleepy after lunch?
- feel irritable or depressed most of the time?
- drink several cups of coffee or energy drinks to stay awake?
- have difficulty falling asleep?
- have difficulty staying asleep?
If you answered yes to more than three of these questions, you are probably not getting the kind of sleep you need to support good health. Sleep is your body’s way of restoring organ function, stabilizing chemical imbalances, refreshing areas of the brain that control mood and behavior, and improving performance. Much like computer programs, sleep allows our brains to shut down, defragment and download all the experiences of the day.
Lack of sleep affects our bodies in a number of negative ways including the obvious mental blurriness, decreased productivity, and impaired relationships. Not only that but a growing body of evidence links poor sleep to increased inflammation, higher risk of heart disease and even obesity. Here’s how:
Sleep and Obesity. Getting too little sleep disturbs appetite regulation. Have you ever noticed how you have much more hunger on days after getting too little or poor sleep? Researchers found that getting less sleep almost doubled the risk of obesity, even in children as young as five. Why? When you are sleep deprived, your body secretes excess ghrelin, a hormone that increases appetite and less peptin, a substance that tells you to stop eating. In addition, lack of sleep prevents your body from replacing dopamine and seratonin, two brain chemicals that bring comfort and satisfaction. As a result, you begin to crave sugar and energy-dense, nutritionally polluted foods.
Sleep and Immunity. Your immune system needs sleep in order to repair, recharge and do the maintenance necessary to keep out intruders. This makes you more susceptible to disease. In fact, getting fewer than six hours can raise your risk of viral infection by 50 percent!
Sleep and Inflammation. Researchers are discovering that lack of sleep can raise your blood levels of inflammatory activators including CRP, a substance that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition to heart disease, this constant inflammation can lead to cancer, premature aging, and other negative consequences.
So, what can we do?
First, set a bedtime. Women need about seven hours of sleep and men need eight. This is a guideline so find out what your optimal sleep time is then count back from the time you have to get up, allow yourself some time to fall asleep and that is your bedtime. If you stick with this schedule, you should reach a point when you’re going to bed at the same time each night and waking up the same time each day feeling rested. Even cutting back by one hour can decrease your alertness by 35%.
Next, set a routine. Include these practices:
- Limit in-bed activities to sleeping and sex.
- Limit caffeine after noon.
- Avoid eating within three hours of sleeping, especially high carbohydrate foods.
- Say no to naps.
- Decrease stimulation by lowering ambient light several hours before bed and turn off electronic devices (including TV) 30 minutes before bed.
- Minimize fluid intake two hours before bed.
- Avoid exercise within two hours of bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol within ninety minutes of bedtime.
- Resolve family issues such as arguments with your spouse, logistical plans about getting kids where they need to be the next day and to-do lists.
Still can’t sleep? If after twenty minutes, you can’t get to sleep, don’t lie there getting frustrated! Get up and do something else (but not TV or computer). Go for a walk around the house, take a bath, or read a relaxing book– then reboot and try again.
One practice that I have found to be a wonderful addition to the above sleep habits is the use of essential oils. I place them in a carrier oil in a 1:1 ratio and rub two drops on the bottom of my feet each night. They can also be diffused by placing 1-2 drops of each essential oil in distilled water in a diffuser each night.
Here is my recipe:
3 drops of vitamin E as a carrier oil. I figure that if I am rubbing it on the bottom of my feet, I may as well use an oil that will help moisturize. That way, I have the added benefit of soft feet.
1 drop of Lavender. It is well known for its relaxing, calming effect. Researchers at the University of Miami found that inhalation of lavender oil increased beta waves in the brain, suggesting heightened relaxation.
1 drop of Cedarwood. It is recognized for its calming properties by stimulating the pineal gland which secretes melatonin.
1 drop of Peace & Calming. This is a blend of oils that all have calming and/or restorative effects.
Ready to begin experiencing the power of essential oils?
Let me know your favorite sleep tip by leaving a comment below and get some rest.
note: the information above was found in Dr. A’s Habits of Health book and the Essential Oils Pocket Reference.