Sleep is vital. Being well rested is shown to improve our feelings of contentment and joy. When we are rested we make better decisions and feel more connected with ourselves and our community.
Do you welcome sleep or think of it as an unpleasant requirement of the physical body? How many hours of sleep each night are best for your body?
All mammals sleep
The requirement for sleep, in mammals, has an inverse relationship to size and relative metabolism, with the smaller mammals, (higher metabolism), requiring more sleep. Humans seem to function best with seven to eight hours of sleep, elephants require three to four hours of sleep.
During sleep the body’s balancing and repair functions peak. Without sleep, particularly without deep sleep, our body, our mood, and our mental capabilities suffer, then eventually fail. Rats deprived of sleep die faster than rats deprived of food.
Sleep and the Quality of Sleep
Good quality sleep, reduces the impact of stress in our lives, and enables us to respond rather then react, to stressful situations. Good sleep reduces our sensitivity to pain, elevates our mood, and facilitates the metabolization of sugars. Good quality sleep also impacts on our weight. Research (University of Chicago) has associated poor sleep with unhealthy increased weight, and with the development of Diabetes Type II.
Do you have trouble finding sleep? Do you wake in the middle of the night, thinking of obligations, stressors, or problems?
Many of us have trouble getting to sleep. During times of stress sleep can be harder to find, and we can wake during the night, overwhelmed by the challenges of life. In the 2 am to 5 am time period those challenges can seem huge – even insurmountable!
How does eating and food impact your sleep?
A common contributor to poor sleep, happens hours before we go to bed. Eating heavy foods within four to five hours of bedtime sets the digestive process in motion at a time of day that it is designed to be least active. Yogic methods, and many traditions around the globe, encourage eating the largest meal, and protein, fat, sugars, closer to mid-day or early afternoon. Later in the day, but at least three hours before sleep, is the final food – a light meal.
What sleep rituals work for you? What techniques and practices help you enter sleep and rest deeply?
Good habits around sleep establish a stable structure that facilitates relaxing, and entering easily into a deep restorative sleep; so does reducing stimulation prior to sleep. Listen to soft music rather than watching television or reading a stimulating novel. Having a regular time for waking and sleeping helps. What else will help? Sufficient day-time exercise, and a metabolism that is not overly taxed by caffeine, alcohol, or hard to digest food will help. Meditation, prayer, contemplation or journalling can be beneficial. It frees the mind from ‘chatter’ or ‘clutter’. A bath in sea-salt is also great as part of an evening ritual. Finally, consider your environment. Is the room temperature moderate and comfortable? Is the area clutter-free, and electronic-free? Does the sleep area feel safe, peaceful and inviting?
Other specific practices to enhance sleep include:
Breathing long and slow through the left nostril. If you lay on your right side, your breathing naturally shift to the left nostril. Breathing this way shifts the nervous system, bringing about relaxation.
For two to five minutes, lay on your back with the legs out, slowly inhaling and flexing the toes and feet toward your head then slowly exhaling and flexing the toes and feet away from the head. Or, for two to five minutes, lay on the back with the legs out, heels together. Inhale open the toes wide but keep the heels together, exhale big toes back together. Other forms of meditation and breathing are very beneficial in preparing ourselves for sleep. Consider finding one that works for you.
Some of us find a tea, spice or herb combination helpful. Explore and experiment.
What can happen in our lives when we commit to setting ourselves up for a great night’s sleep?
We not only improve the quality and length of our sleep, but perhaps more importantly, we see other benefits: greater sense of continuity with our natural rhythms, a greater connection with our essence, with joy. There is a calm feeling throughout the day, (in spite of challenging circumstances), much better food digestion, greater resilience and greater confidence in taking on demanding situations, knowing that the energy expended will be restored.