Anyone who has come to visit me at Sacred Health knows it doesn’t take long for us to approach the topic of sleep. I regularly refer to it as one of the foundational pillars of health, and far too often I see many of us NOT treating it that way. There are plenty of others who despite respecting and understanding the value of a good night’s rest, still find themselves incapable of getting enough restful ZZZs.
We all know how miserable it can be to get a poor night of sleep, but it is a whole other level of suffering to experience poor sleep night after night, week after week, month after month.
In general, more and more of us are keen to the idea that sleep is helpful for our health, both mental and physical. Sleep plays an integral role in metabolism, weight loss, the immune system, mood, anxiety, memory and decision making just to name a few. This blog would carry on for days if I were to list all the health promoting benefits of consistent, quality sleep. The list of negative effects from sleep deprivation would be equally as long. Weakened immunity, trouble concentrating, accidents, high blood pressure and low sex drive barely scratch the surface of possible complications from not getting enough sleep.
One of the most exciting developments in sleep research has been the idea that sleep is a time for the brain to dump the emotional baggage from the previous day. The brain is the most metabolically demanding organ in the body. It expends massive amounts of energy every day, and all that thinking leads to cellular byproducts (waste) that must be released for the brain to be able to function properly. I’m oversimplifying here, but the brain has a glymphatic system. This waste system, which can be thought of as the lymphatic system for the brain was unknown to us until 2013 (just think of all the wonderful things about the mind/body we don’t even know that we don’t know yet). Sleep is the time of washing out or draining out for the glymphatic system. All the residue or cellular byproducts from your thinking all day long accumulates in the brain until we reach the deep stages of sleep at night, and the glymphatic system rinses the brain of the buildup, helping us to feel refreshed and clear in the morning. Hopefully, this can be another justification for sticking to that bedtime. We need sleep to clear the waste from the previous day, and failing to do so, makes it so much more difficult for the mind and body to function effectively.
There are some great resources out there when it comes to sleep. I often reference the work by Dr. Matthew Walker who is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley. He has published over 100 scientific studies and his book “Why We Sleep” is a must read for anyone intrigued to learn more about the science and healing power of sleep. At the end of the book, Matthew provides an appendix with 12 tips for healthy sleep. I highly recommend anyone struggling with sleep to give this book a shot. It just might open up a world to quality, restful sleep (something I don’t think you can put a price tag on). While I won’t give away all of Dr. Walkers 12 tips, I will touch on a couple of the ones that I have found the most beneficial for myself and my clients.
Tip number 1- Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. I know this sounds simple, but it may be the single most important thing you can do to get better sleep. Unfortunately, most of us have all kinds of reasons why we can’t stick to a sleep schedule, but the evidence clearly shows consistent sleep and wake times have a massive impact on sleep. To quote Dr. Walker “If there is only one piece of advice you remember and take from these twelve tips, this should be it.”
Tip number 2- Get direct sunlight early in the morning. This is huge. The sunlight sets in motion all kinds of electrochemical processes that regulate our hormones, balance circadian rhythms and prime us for positivity. Even if it is cloudy, get outside first thing. Artificial light is better than no light, so be sure to flip all the lights on or open the shades first thing in the morning. However, windows, windshields and sunglasses can block out some of these health promoting sun rays, so get outside and soak up some sunshine every morning if you want to see major improvements in your sleep quality.
Sleep is our greatest asset when it comes to healing both the body and the mind. It’s time to start treating it that way.