Confession: I have some issues with sleep. I love it but I often struggle to get the right amount of quality sleep. In the past, I’ve relied on sleeping aides to help me sleep. I also have bad habits like eating too close to going to bed, sleeping with lights on, working on other things in bed, etc. But I love to be and feel healthy and my poor sleep habits are holding me back!
Sleep is a major component of good health. Incredible things happen during those hours of sleep that do not occur at any other point in our day– muscle repair, memory enhancement, the release of hormones, regulating metabolism among other things. When we don’t have proper sleep, our mental and physical function begin to deteriorate. Our muscles do not repair, leaving us achy and stiff. Our brains are fuzzy and slow. Not cool.
Experts say that adults need about 8 hours of sleep per night to be healthy. But not all sleep is created equally. Many of us are not getting quality sleep (I’m in this group). We have difficulty falling asleep, we wake up often, we feel like we are in a half awake/half asleep mode for much of the night (and day!) It’s not fun and its not healthy!
The problem with this kind of crappy sleep is that we don’t get into the deep delta-phase sleep we need for our bodies to release growth hormone–which is essential for our bodies to repair themselves. Why are we not entering this phase? The answer, in many cases, is cortisol. Cortisol is a chemical released by our adrenal glands when we experience stress–physical or mental. It is IMPOSSIBLE for our bodies to experience delta-phase sleep if our cortisol levels are high! This is why you don’t sleep well when we’re feeling particularly anxious!
Have you ever been in bed worrying, unable to sleep because of stress, watching the clock and allowing the fact that its getting closer and closer to your wake up time to drive your anxiety up? You get up in the morning, down some coffee, releasing more cortisol into your body and repeat. Its a nasty cycle.
There are some stressful situations in our life that might seem out of control. But one of the stresses we can control is our diet! We are 100% in charge of the food we put into our bodies! By lowering our nutritional stress levels, we reduce our cortisol levels, allowing us a better shot at some lovely deep delta-phase sleep!
Here are a few things we can do to reduce nutritional stress:
Avoid stimulants– coffee and sugar are America’s two drugs of choice. Both of them put strain on your adrenal glands, releasing cortisol, and making it difficult for you to sleep. If you do drink coffee, try to cut yourself off before noon–switch to herbal tea in the afternoon!
Avoid processed foods–Usually full of sugar (see above), stressful for your body to digest.
Eat Whole Foods– veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains. Your body knows what to do with these guys and therefore it is less stressful for it to break them down and deliver the nutrients where it needs to go!
But what about my 3:00 slump? I need some sugar/carbs and a cup of joe!
Once you reduce your nutritional stress and begin getting higher quality sleep, you won’t crave those stimulants as much. And if you do feel a little sleepy, its your body saying its time for a little down time. I know you’re crazy busy people, but if you can take 5-20 minutes to relax during your afternoon, it will do wonders! Can you take a power nap? Do it. Maybe you can take a few minutes to do some breathing exercises, drink some herbal tea, do legs up a wall pose (extremely restorative).
It might seem “cool” to be so busy you hardly sleep. But its not cool to look and feel exhausted, old (yep, lack of sleep makes us age faster), and grumpy! Taking care of yourself is not selfish–you are better able to love others when your healthy and energetic!
Let’s get our Delta-Phase Sleep on!