For Part 1 of the Sleep Series, click here.
Much of the typical American-lifestyle I’ve encountered, includes many ways to combat sleep deprived human beings. We see the ways to combat sleep deprivation as if it were apart of our social norms. It includes, drinking coffee, drinking a 5-hour energy beverage or some type of energy drink, getting “immunizations” like the flu shot, eating convenience foods such as, fast-food, doughnuts and sugary cereals for breakfast, drinking soda, and treating ourselves to comfort food at the end of the day. Every one of these are common social norms followed by many Americans, and many of them are quick fixes to sleep deprivation.
In this post I’ll address those who do not get enough sleep (instead of those who spend the entire night awake). Getting enough sleep, for the purpose of this article is defined as: “Enough rest to wake up with ease in the morning, during a reasonable time frame; to feel rested.” When we feel the need to “Sleep-in”, it can mean one of two things:
A.) You stayed awake too late the night before.
B.) Your body is fighting some type of imbalance (usually an illness of some sort).
We are incredibly concerned with having a caffeine “fix” in the morning or eating something for “energy.” The Western idea of “energy” is usually a heavily sweetened cereal, doughnut, pastry, muffin, bagel, etc. Many of the social norms mentioned previously are really just bad habits picked up by a lot of people in our country. It is as if you would be the minority, should you wake up feeling great, with lots of natural energy. The United States in particular has become a nation of zombies transforming their lack of sleep through artificial fixes. These fixes are not long lasting, and they can have serious long-term affects on our health. Everything in moderation is the key to a healthy life, but many of us are beyond moderation when it comes to energy fixes.
So what can you do? Sleep!
There is no getting around the need for sleep. Everyone falls asleep at some point, but you can add years of a healthy life just by getting enough quality rest. Here are some ways to help yourself:
1.) Let yourself settle into the evening hours at least one hour before you plan on going to sleep. That means, creating comfort for yourself, mentally and physically.
To do this, find ways to let go of the days events.
If your mind tends to wander endlessly as you try to fall asleep, it’s because your brain assumes that, quiet, bedtime-hours, are a time to reanalyze the day. You’ll duke it out with the person who cut you off, the comment your co-worker made, the new deadline your boss gave you, etc . If you let go of these things before you try to fall asleep, you lessen the chance of a wandering drastically.
2.) You can let go of the days events by dedicating 5 minutes to either a breathing exercise, simple yoga routine, or meditation. (You can try the meditation or breathing techniques mentioned in other blog posts on DCHeal: Body Scan Meditation, Breathing Technique for a Wandering Mind).
3.) Minimize the electronics you use at night, especially 1 hour before going to sleep. Electronics such as TVs, cell phones, and video games are a stimulus overload for your brain. There are thousands of bright pixels stimulating your visual senses when you plug-in to any of these electronics. Most of them also incorporate movement, sound, and create a heightened emotional state. This makes the brain very bored by sleep because it isn’t stimulating at all! Your brain will think you should do something stimulating if that’s what you’re doing moments before bed.
4.) Light a candle or use dim lighting.
5.) Spend as much time in natural sunlight during the day. It does not mean you have to be outside (this wouldn’t be good for your skin), it means opening the curtains and letting natural sunlight in. Your brain will understand when it’s time for rest better this way.
5.) Lying flat on your back tells your brain its safe to rest. Sometimes trying to fall asleep by doing this, even if you aren’t tired, may help trick your brain into agreeing that it’s time to sleep .
6.) Avoid caffeinated beverages and heavy foods (such as dairy, large amounts of sweets, meat dishes, etc.) after the sun sets or at least 2-3 hours before bed.
7.) Be aware that caffeine is an addictive substance. No one actually needs caffeine. It’s something your body has grown accustomed to, and when you don’t supply it you crave it more intensely to combat the feelings of withdrawal. Still, you don’t actually need it.
By finding healthier alternatives to caffeine you can break the addictive cycle, and fuel your body with natural energy. If you’re interested in removing caffeine from your diet, start by switching to green tea, and eventually to decaffeinated teas. Drink plenty of water, and fuel your body with fresh, wholesome foods (see the 4 part, 30 day Nutrition Challenge on DCHeal for healthy eating solutions). Finally, use the tools you have to get a good nights sleep. You won’t need artificial energy any longer. By bringing your body into balance, it provides the natural energy you desire.
Photo borrowed from the lovely Reiki website of: http://www.reikiclasses.com/reikiclasses/?p=2259