What is it about sleep?!

The other night I got the crappiest night sleep I can recall.  Thankfully it doesn’t happen too often to me.  But it got me thinking, what is it about sleep?  What are its magic powers?!

We’ve all been there.  A night when you really need your sleep–maybe you’ve got something super important going on the next day and you really want to be on your game–and then you just can’t sleep.  It’s maddening.  The fallout from the lack of sleep is most troubling, though; it’s kind of like moving through a fog, everything can seem like it is in slow motion.  Or perhaps the exhaustion is too much, so you hunker down for an afternoon nap, and then, bam!, you can’t get to sleep the next night either.  It can be a vicious cycle.

Sleep is mission critical to the body and there are many factors that come into play to create a good night’s sleep.  First of all, hormones help us sleep and wake: melatonin helps us sleep, and cortisol helps us wake.  It is important to have these two in balance, or you may not be able to get a good night’s rest.  How to do that?  Consider keeping regular hours for yourself, even on the weekends.  Going to bed and waking at or about the same time each day is going to help your body clock, help your hormones, get stable.

Light is an important factor for hormones.  Getting sunlight in your eyes (that’s right, take off the sunglasses, people!) every day allows you to bank melatonin for that night’s sleep.  And making sure your bedroom is really dark will help your cortisol stay low during the evening so that you can stay soundly asleep.

The goal is a solid seven to eight hour stretch of sleep.  You are not a super hero if you are functioning on less; you may be more of a super hero the next day if you get a decent sleep!

If you are going to bed and winding it down in the evening consider the addage, “an hour’s sleep before midnight is worth two afterwards.”  More cellular maintenance and repair happens early in the evening (stimulated by melatonin).  So get it working for you, try getting into bed a bit earlier.

Secondly, minimize lights.  This doesn’t just mean the lighting in your bedroom, but also the computer and tv screens.  They emit blue light which makes it harder to fall asleep (they even make “blue light glasses” for our devices!).  So shut it all down and consider picking up a magazine or book (not an ebook!) and winding it down before bed.

Alcohol also disrupts our sleep.  You might really enjoy a glass of wine in the evening, but did you know that it is sabotaging your rest by making your liver work a bit harder during the evening?  On top of that, it is slowing your metabolism.  I’m all for an occasional indulgence, as long as it is just that, occasional.

Caffeine.  Oh yes, our good friend caffeine may be undermining your zzzzz’s.  You may think you are one of those people who doesn’t get bothered by caffeine.  I would suggest limiting any caffeine, whether it be coffee, tea or chocolate to before 2 p.m.  It can take six hours for caffeine to move through our bodies, and maybe more if you suffer a slower metabolism.

This may sound simply ridiculous, but waking also disrupts your sleep–and yes, many of us are waking without knowing it!  When you have undiagnosed sleep apnea, where the body wakes due to disrupted airways, you might think you’ve rested but might not feel refreshed when you get up in the morning.  That’s because you haven’t been able to get that valuable REM sleep that you need.  Especially if you are a snorer, consider a sleep study to determine if you are a good candidate for a c-pap machine (it’s a breathing device you wear at night to ensure a deep sleep, people swear by them!).

The draggy day after a bad sleep can be dangerous on many fronts.  They say your driving can be as impaired as if you are drunk if you are sleep deprived.  I recall those days when our first son was a toddler and I was pregnant with our second son, and driving a good distance to work.  Exhausted on all accounts, I remember putting my car in park at lights just so I could safely close my eyes.  NOT GOOD.  If this sounds like you, seek help!

Internally things are running amok as well.  Rob Wolff of The Paleo Solution says that the day after a bad night’s sleep you can be as insulin resistant as a diabetic.  Your hormones ghrelin and leptin, the ones that tell you that you are full and that you should stop eating, get disrupted so we lose some control of our appetite.  Simply said: sleep more, eat and weigh less.

I was able to catch up on my sleep last night.  Was it teaching three yoga classes yesterday and the power walk in the sunshine (glasses off!), or was it just doing the “legs up the wall” pose, which is good for insomnia?  In any case, when I woke up today it felt just great to be alive.  I hope this post can help you feel that way, too!





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