It has been a long day that began with a less than a stellar night of sleep. Tossing, turning, getting up for a bathroom run once or maybe twice. There is a project due at work. Someone needs help with homework. There is a game to attend. Tasks throughout the day seem to pile up, including dishes from dinner. If this sounds even remotely familiar, it confirms you are part of the human race and a race it always seems to be.
All the things we do throughout our day-to-day lives affect our mood, our health, and of course, this can spill into how we manage our personal and professional relationships. One of the most important activities critical for our health that does not get the attention it deserves is sleep. Without it, our brains cannot rest. The ramifications of sleep deprivation grow and compound each other, disrupting every system in the human body.
There are four stages of sleep that are part of a sleep cycle and there are several cycles, approximately 4-6, throughout the night, each lasting about 90 minutes. Sleep studies have shown that of the four stages of sleep, three are categorized as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and the fourth as rapid eye movement (REM). All four stages are necessary for our bodies to be able to function while we are awake. It might be a surprise to learn that even though the act of sleeping involves being still for several hours, our brains are quite busy repairing, resetting, and recharging.
During the first three NREM stages, we experience progressive transitions that bring us from wakefulness to sleep. Throughout this process, our sense of awareness of the environment around us lessens and our heart rate and breathing slow down, muscles relax and body temperature drops. When the third NREM stage starts, our relaxation deepens, and delta brain waves are active. Delta waves are the slowest and at the lowest frequency and occur during sleep, and during deep meditation. They are essential to maintaining a healthy immune system, our natural healing, and restoring ourselves as well as solidifying memory, insight, and creativity.
When sleep is disrupted it is usually due to stress, a traumatic event, or medical problem. While the reason for the lack of restful sleep differs by individual experience, it is extremely damaging to health and wellness and must be addressed. The consequences involve an increased risk for cancer, heart disease, stroke, depression, and obesity. All of these and other health risks like our ability to balance on our feet, our mood, and immune system efficiency will travel through life, like a domino effect, damaging careers, and relationships along the way.
There are some simple steps to take if you are experiencing insomnia in some way. Consider a few of these sleep hygiene suggestions:
- Create a schedule and stick to it. That regularity helps to reset your circadian rhythm, which is the body’s own “sleep clock”.
- Take a hard look at your nutrition and pre-sleep habits. Eliminate stimulants, alcohol, smoking, eating meals late (close to bedtime), high sugar foods, or caffeine intake which create a mixed chemical message to your brain.
- Turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before bed, even better to make it an hour. This removes light pollution from your brain and helps you gain relaxation and balance more quickly.
- Meditation and deep breathing. This practice will help teach control over relaxation and managing bursts of anxiety which interfere with normal sleep patterns.
For other more prolonged and repetitive episodes of insomnia or frequent interrupted sleep, there are over-the-counter options that may offer a remedy but come with negative side effects. Many studies have shown that other more natural or homeopathic alternatives like aromatherapy with lavender oil and/or Cannabidiol (CBD) promote balance in our Endocannabinoid System and reduce anxiety, a major cause of sleep disruption. This coupled with meditation and yoga practice may yield a more positive result with no unsettling effects like stomach upset, digestive issues, or headaches.
It is always best to consult a physician to develop a plan that is specific to an individual’s needs, especially if insomnia persists. Most resolutions will come with an open mind and a multi-pronged strategy.
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