Updated: Jun 19, 2021
Spacey? Tired? Irritable? You can have restful and restorative sleep by understanding your body’s functions and needs.
Startling Fact: Lack of sleep weakens our immune systems, more than doubles our risk of cancer, and increases our risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity and depression.
We are massive consumers. I’m not talking about only goods and services. We consume data, mountains and copious portions of information daily. Per day, the average person consumes the equivalent of 174 newspapers. With emails, texts, media, social-networking and the constant pings and dings, we now receive five times as much information in one day than we did in just 1986.
We consume light. Generous and unlimited surpluses of light. With the availability of electricity, we have the ability to choose to live in never-ending daytime, unbound by the cycles of the sun. Not to mention how we greedily gobble up blue light, the type of light emitted by our beloved devices; computers, cell phones, televisions, ipads, etc., etc., etc. Studies are showing that 60% of people spend about 6 hours per day gazing upon blue light, which has a very short wavelength, thus producing high amounts of energy. Nom, nom, nom!
Then there’s food. We consume lots and lots of food. Americans consume upwards of 23% more food today than we did in 1970, according to the Pew Research Center., and 29% more in grains. That’s about 122.1 more pounds per year of food. That’s like eating a whole person. Gobble, gobble.
We consume a lot.
With abundant consumption of data, light and food comes the need for more energy to process and “digest” these consumptions. What goes in, must come out…eventually.
Wait a minute, you may be thinking, digest light and data? How in the world does that work and what does this have to do with my dreams?
Well, my friend, a huge lot, actually. Let’s first take a look at just how the intelligent machines of our magnificent bodies operate.
The human body literally “turns on” when it takes in anything from the outside. Firstly, our brain centers light up with activity and brain waves quicken when information comes our way. This is a blessedly necessary function of learning. Novelty causes us to pay attention, to become alert. Layer on the flood of available artificial light and brain-wave-quickening blue light and, zing! We are awake.
Conversely, when the human body takes in food, other systems “turn on,” drawing energy (blood, etc.) away from the brain’s ability to focus and learn. When food is introduced, the digestive system comes to attention, requiring blood and energy to work its wondrous role of moving food efficiently through and out of our bodies.
Following me? Good, cuz this is the fun stuff.
Imagine, for a moment, a crying and worn out baby. You know this baby is tired. You want desperately for this baby to go to sleep. Do you, (A) Place the baby in a room full of stimulating sights, sounds, bright lights, moving parts and feed it sugary snacks? Or, (B) Bring the baby to a quiet, darkly lit room away from stimulation, wrap it up in softness, turn the volume down and sooth it with Mother’s milk?
Ding, ding, ding, Happy Baby!
Are you catching my drift?
Now, before we move on, let’s geek out for a moment and talk about Melatonin, the “Queen of the Nighttime,” as Sleep Specialist, Rubin Naiman, PhD, calls it. Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland that not only regulates our sleep/wake cycles (circadian rhythm), but is as well a pre-curser to Leptin, which helps regulate our eating, appetite and cravings.
Side Note: Yup, you guessed it. When we’re not sleeping well, nor producing adequate Melatonin, this may result in over-eating or feeding unhealthy cravings, leading to weight gain and obesity. Yikes. Read on…
The quality of our sleep is driven by our Melatonin levels and our body temperature. One affects the other. Body temperatures must drop at bedtime and throughout the night, then start to rise before the dawn. This assists with deep sleep. Melatonin dilates our surface blood vessels, which allows body heat to come to the surface and dissipate.
So, you ask, what affects Melatonin and how can I make more of it? Thanks for asking.
Before you rush out to your local health food store to purchase yet another supplement, let’s return full circle to our over-consumption and digestion of data, light and food. What can we do to support our busy brains and busy bodies?
Light and lack of light respectively inhibit or empower our body’s ability to produce and maintain proper levels of Melatonin needed for deep sleep and dreaming.
Darkness tells our bodies to produce more Melatonin. In a light-filled world, we are rigorously giving our bodies the message to stay awake and alert.
Data and blue light influence a busy brain (remember those rapid brain waves?) and, just like a computer, this takes time and effort to calm and shut down. Studies are showing that approximately 2 hours are needed for our brain systems to wind down and sufficiently “digest” information for fulfilling sleep and restoration.
Then we come to food and nutrition. Think about it. If the consumption of “junk information” keeps our brains busy, what do you think the consumption of “junk food” does? Our digestive system has to work overtime, keeping our metabolism at a higher rate, thus not allowing our body temperature to naturally descend and rest.
The digestive systems of all living creatures are meant to rest during our sleep cycles. Eating for your body’s health, giving it proper nourishment, limiting portions and sugary, high energy/high digestion foods is a cornerstone for deep sleep and dreaming.
What else can you do? Oh, so much!
Power down your devices. I know, I know, the addiction is strong, but you are stronger! Turn it off, read a book, play a game or work a puzzle. Let your busy brain wind down, digest and disperse the light and data so you can slumber peacefully.
Turn the lights down low. Ooooo, romance! Light candles and quietly daydream. Or, perhaps gentle conversation? Remember that age-old art?
Learn your body’s righteous rhythm. Maybe that 5:00am workout is actually hurting your ability to function during the day because you’re not getting enough sleep. Maybe your bedtime really is 8:30pm and you go there with pride! The repose knows and your daytime body and brain function is your guide. Listen and learn.
Just say “No” to data. That “one more email” may feel like success, but it could be keeping you from sleeping and affecting your daytime performance. Keep your phone and computer in another room to avoid the pull…that’s what good ‘ol alarm clocks are for! You’ll be better equipped to kick ass the next day when your sleep comes first.
Cool your room. Turn the temperature down before bed so your body can dispense the heat of our over-heated lifestyles. Snuggle up in your soft blankets like our dreamy babies do and enjoy deep sleep.
Create a sleepy, safe and sexy bedroom space. Soft, neutral colors have been shown to induce sleepiness. Cover the windows with blackout curtains. Move your bed away from the window for the noise and safety factor. And, for goodness sake, keep the photos of your children and parents out of the bedroom! Who wants to get sexy with our family’s faces staring back at us? Blah!
Leave your worries outside the door. As much as possible, let it go. Imagine a box outside your bedroom door and see and feel yourself placing anything troubling you into that box, shut the lid and leave it until morning. It will still be there if you need it the next day.
Adopt a mindfulness practice. Gentle/Yin Yoga postures, meditation, staring at a candlelight or fire, or simply getting horizontal on the floor and deep breathing for 5 minutes are going to help your busy brain and body to digest and calm down before bedtime. If you need support learning how to do any of these things, I am an EMAIL away.
Drink Sleeptime Tea. It works. Chamomile is very soothing and calming, as are many essential oils such as lavender. I recommend the high quality Young Living or Doterra products either in a diffuser or a couple of drops in the palm of your hand, rub together and inhale.
Limit your caffeine. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant, so best left for mornings, if at all. Some people can drink a pot of coffee and go right to sleep. However, what we don’t take into consideration is how it affects the quality of our sleeping and dreaming. While we may be asleep, caffeine can cause restless sleep and inhibit dreaming.
Dreaming is as critical as sleeping.
We’ll wrap things up by explaining a few things about the magical and essential experience of dreaming.
Dr. Naiman explains that most of what we consider “sleep loss” is actually dream loss. We are a dream-deprived nation. While most of our deep sleep occurs in the first third of the night, dreaming happens in the last third of our natural cycle and is a highly important element to our health and well-being.
Dreaming fulfills the following crucial functions:
Helps consolidate memories. Research is showing that memory deprived conditions such as Dementia and Alzheimer may be linked to lifetimes of poor quality sleep and dreaming.
Causes emotional healing. “Sleep on it,” is actually good advise. Ever wake up in the morning feeling better about a situation you were worried about the night before? Dreaming often let’s us work through our emotions, “digest” and disperse the heat of situations that trigger us.
Assimilates information for learning. Studying for a test? Learning a new language? Preparing for a presentation? Dream on! Deep sleep, and specifically dreaming, will solidify your learning without you lifting a sleepy finger.
Furthermore, deep sleep and dreaming boosts our immune systems and decreases our risks of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity and depression by up to 50%. Who doesn’t want that???! Why and how? That’s a whole other Blog.