What if, getting more sleep was a giant key to having a healthy & successful day?
My husband, Curt, was telling me about a friend of his who lost a large amount of weight, just by increasing the amount of sleep he was getting. Just by sleeping more?! Let’s dive deeper into the awesome importance of sleep!
Right now, many parents, children and college students are gearing up to take on the world as the summer slowly winds down. Sleep is often a major consideration for getting ready and creating a new learning routine. The reason sleep becomes a priority, during the end of the summer season, is because we inherently know, and research demonstrates, how sleep can foster success, improved ability to focus, to learn and to manage energy levels. If we look at the seasons- fall is a time of planting, so symbolically we are coming into a time that we “prepare the soil of the mind, body and spirit” in order to later reap a full harvest.
Bottom line, focusing on improving your sleep right now is following the natural rhythm of the seasons.
How can you create a new and improved sleep routine? Often, we shift our focus immediately into preparation. Most everyone can stand to benefit from the art of preparation for any change that is to come. In the case of adjusting your sleep routine, preparation is vital since the rest of the night, you experience limited control. Preparation for creating any new habit often comes in the form of to-do lists and schedules which has ballooned into a vast industry of planners and scheduling systems. If we stacked up ALL the different to do-list books, calendars and “uniquely” designed planner systems, I venture to guess it would reach the top of the Freedom Tower. Meal planners, family planners, school planners, small business planners, spiritual planners, baby planners, Crossfit planners and even sleep planners…you get the idea! We are constantly looking for simple (aka elaborate) ways to master the art of preparation in order to create more order and increase energy and efficiency into our day.
I am all for a good planner and schedule, but there is a crucial step before that. This one is often glazed over as we post haste to the nearest Target or Etsy shop for that shiny new planner.
The art of preparation is only as strong as the step which precedes it. You must first have a strong “why.”
Why are you interested in improving sleep? Why does it really matter? What will you gain? How will it improve other areas and people in your life? If the why isn’t strong enough, then it becomes more challenging to stick with lasting habit change.
Unless you live under a rock or like to live life dangerously, we all know sleep will help us. But how? Often, we have a general idea that something is “healthy” or “good” for us but WHY then do we not act on it? Since the brain is linked for pleasure and is ruled by a hormonal response system (to be simplistic): if we derive more pleasure, or joy, from finishing the to-do list, zoning out with our friends on social, watching TV or eating that last bowl of ice cream, by golly that is exactly what we will do. We are creatures of habit for goodness sake, it usually takes us at least 90 days to create a new habit and by habit, I mean it is automatic after a new neural pathway has been laid down within your nervous system. If you cruise the same walking trail in your kitchen to go get that ice cream every evening, that is a pleasure induced, habitual response. Hint: if you are looking to create a new habit, change your movements- change your walking path to the fridge, eat with your left hand, walk backwards, sing a random song, anything to break free from the old neuro-habitual pathway!).
So, to take advantage of something that is more than likely already on your mind right now (improving and getting more sleep) and help you to cultivate a stronger why, let’s dive into the science behind some of the benefits of getting more sleep.
Natural Detoxification Happens During Sleep
The brain has been found to be detoxifying during sleep(1), so does the liver and other organs. Sleep occurs when the parasympathetic nervous system is predominately active. During this high parasympathetic activity, the organs are more readily able to function, release toxins and prepare the body for the next day. In the case of the brain, it helps to “clear” the mental load so you have more clarity and focus for the next day. Even taking a nap can help!
Working with Your Weight
If you get less than 5 hours of sleep and have a reduced calorie intake (because you are trying to lose weight or just don’t have the time to eat) you are losing muscle mass and not fat. As if that isn’t a downer, studies show that when we are sleep deprived, the reward centers of the brain are on higher alert, making it much more likely to overeat, or go for high fat, high carb options(2). Mmm hmm, I have experienced this many a time.
Reproduction & Menstruation
If you are stressed, and stressed for prolonged periods of time, an increase in cortisol will inhibit the necessary steroids and hormones for proper ovulation and libido. In addition, high cortisol will affect heart and bone health as well as increase belly fat.
The Thyroid and Why You Need to Know
It has been shown that even partial sleep restriction (and reduced sleep for minimal amounts of time) can throw off thyroid levels. Your thyroid produces hormones that regulate your metabolic rate including heart rate, energy levels, mood, digestive function and bone health(3). Did you read the word mood?! Getting more sleep can reduce these pesky little issues that affect your relationships, career and health. Bottom line, the thyroid is IMPORTANT!
In order to have a strong “why” behind creating a new sleep pattern it helps to understand how your body functions and how to capitalize on that function. That alone is not enough. If it was, then all the countless articles, magazines and information we voraciously consume would have us flying high on adequate sleep, living joyfully and eating only the most colorful of foods.
If the brain is linked for pleasure and interested in having a good time, education can only take you so far. Unless you are naturally a disciplined, goal oriented, self-starter you will need some down to earth HELP.
First, get specific!
How will sleep improve aspects of your life? Why is it important to you? How will it benefit your family, partner, your career? Will there be any downsides? If so, how can you work with these?
Second, prepare by setting a realistic goal.
Goodness, I hope you didn’t glaze over that word. Let me repeat it- realistic. If you usually go to sleep at 11:30 pm, for goodness sake don’t make 9:30 pm your goal right out of the gate. Your primitive brain will freak out and feel denied sooner or later. Instead, be realistic, think small and manageable.
Studies show that blue light can disrupt and suppress natural melatonin levels. which leads to reduced and poor sleep patterns, as well as some links to cancer, diabetes and heart disease(4). Knowing this- what steps can you take to prepare yourself for going to bed? Do you calm down by reading a book, listening to music or using specific essential oils? Do you need a scheduler? Do you need a new set of jammies?
Blue light and your last sip of water should roughly be 2 hours before you fall asleep. Wow!
Start slow, but do keep going to make the sleep improvements you wish to see. Are you ready to increase your creativity, focus, clarity and confidence, just by getting some Z’s? Your health will improve, you will be fresh and ready to take on the day with any new activity. Sleep patterns are a big focus with some of my clients. There are endless ways to improve these patterns and often the smallest shifts yield the largest results.
Brain May Flush Out Toxins During Sleep: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/brain-may-flush-out-toxins-during-sleep
Sleep Restrictions Increases the Neuronal Response To Unhealthy Food in Normal-Weight Individuals: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3883872/
The Role of Thyroid Hormone In Sleep Deprivation: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24468575
Blue Light has a Dark Side: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side