Sleep Hygiene Requires Daytime Decompression
It’s really easy to ignore the primal needs of the body and dive into a weight loss, or exercise program or pop a pill to improve the condition of one’s body. But, it’s not always sustainable. Last month’s article focused on hydration, the second in line to oxygen. Today, sleep is on the agenda as the very necessary next step in creating a foundation of health. As a population, we need more sleep. According to the CDC, insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic.
We yawn and our eyes become heavy. This is our body’s way of communicating to us that it’s time to go to bed. Do we actually go to sleep? No. The sad reality is, most of us don’t. We put off sleep because there is always one more thing to do.
What is your thing? Are you on social media, Facebooking, Instagramming, or YouTubing when you should be sleeping? Is there a Netflix series that you need to finish? Dirty dishes, laundry, or paying bills calling your name? The most important question is: Are you decompressing when you should be sleeping?
When I met Sarah, she was a frustrated mom with 3 kids, who complained that she wasn’t losing weight and was tired of trying things that produced no results. She felt she was doing her part: spending money on weight loss programs, gym memberships and supplements. She abstained from carbs, ate no fat and measured her food portions. Zero success. Worse, she was grumpy, irritable and angry on good days. On bad days, she was depressed, forgetful and foggy headed. She believed that losing weight and feeling great wasn’t occurring for her this lifetime. Sound familiar?
Together we reviewed her day-to-day activities. Sarah routinely pushed herself hard. She was hitting the gym at 5a.m. Before getting dressed and heading to the office, she was making lunches and getting kids off to school. Afterwards, she was picking up the kids, chauffeuring them to after school activities, grocery shopping during soccer or cheer practice, coming home to cook dinner, cleaning up, chaperoning the kids to do their homework, ensuring that they showered, flossed and brushed their teeth, then on to opening up snail mail, answering emails, telephoning her parents, while folding laundry and washing dishes. Her day just kept on going. She hadn’t realized how she was throwing her body around and not taking 5 minutes to decompress or to replenish her reserves.
Every time she yawned, it was a mad dash to get things done. A race against the clock. Going to bed at midnight, Sarah would wake up 4 and a half hours later to perform her hard core workout at the gym. She ignored her body’s request for a temporary shut down so that it could do its thing: repair.
Did Sarah know that she was putting her body in a constant and chronic state of stress? Not even close. Unbeknownst to her, she was triggering her sympathetic nervous system, the body’s fight or flight response. Too little sleep can lead to weight gain when the sympathetic nervous system is activated and fat is stored. Leptin production is reduced or even ceases altogether which means you have an increased appetite during the day. Your brain will send you cravings to eat sugars and carbs in order to get quick energy. In fight or flight mode, ALL digestion stops, ALL fat is stored; NO restoration or rejuvenation occurs. The body is at war and it’s retaining its reserves for battle. This is why Sarah was not losing weight.
We need our sleep. We increase our risk for diabetes because the insulin, the hormone that controls blood glucose, is higher than normal. If we sleep less than 5 hours a night, the risk for diabetes increases 2.5 times. Sarah, not only wasn’t losing weight, she was increasing her odds of even more health risks.
Our body desperately needs the down time to recover from the physical and neuro-chemical fatigue, to restore and reset its depleted reserves, to heal from the wear and tear, and to digest the plethora of emotional and intellectual stimuli of the day. We learn, we heal, and we grow as we sleep.
Some of our most amazing chemicals are produced most effectively as we sleep. Up to 75% of human growth hormone is released during the first period of Stage 3 sleep (slow wave sleep which is the most restorative of all stages). We need it in order to repair, to feel good, to think clearly, and to fight the stressors of life. Melatonin comes into play as a major influence in our mental peace and overall hormonal functional balance.
Sleep is when our system allows itself to be on standby so that it can replenish and restock the emptied reserves. Some say that dreams are how our neuro-emotional being tallies the day’s events and presents us with the answers to the questions we have. We need to deeply sleep in order to dream.
Sarah learned that her insufficient sleep was causing her irritation and depression and thwarting her weight loss efforts. Without adequate and refreshing sleep, we lose our mental capacity to think clearly, our physical prowess to withstand physical strains and injuries, and the emotional tolerance to handle daily stressors and chaos.
Sarah’s biggest problems was that her day didn’t end until very late into the evening. She hadn’t given herself any time during the day to decompress or unwind. This meant that she was having her “me” time when she should have been sleeping.
We discussed strategies to refill her emotional reservoir throughout the day. This helped to level out her emotional responses to her kids as opposed to being rattled when her kids demanded her attention or got out of order.
Sarah, hadn’t been aware that her shallow breathing throughout the day was triggering her fight or flight response. Deep breathing techniques helped to invoke the rest and relaxation response, the parasympathetic nervous system. Music and the use of aromatherapy helps individuals get into peak state, experience relaxation and get “space”.
Sarah created a playlist of her favorite music and diffused her favorite essential oil in the car, which is where she spent a large portion of her day.
I taught her mindful meditation techniques that she could practice in 3 to 5 minute intervals throughout the day.
When Sarah began decompressing at various times throughout the day, she was able handle the demands and be mentally ready for bed when it was time. Her mood swings and irritability stabilized and patience became more of an automatic response. The weight began to drop and the things that challenged her before seemed effortless.
She began taking moments to decompress during the day rather than to try to decompress before she went to sleep. At her first yawn, Sarah was ready for bed.
Decompressing and filling one’s cup throughout the day is a crucial part of sleep hygiene. Other sleep hygiene requirements include going to bed at the same time. Your bedroom should be peaceful, uncluttered, and non-stimulating. Your room should be cooler when you sleep and needs to be dark. Having clean air is crucial and can easily be accomplished with an air filtration system.
Eliminate caffeinated beverages and stop drinking liquids at least three hours before bedtime. If possible, eliminate any excitement and turn down the lights and store your smart phone in another room.
So let’s allow this wonderful daily bodily retreat to happen in most wonderful way: let’s create a sleep hygiene that ensures all of the above to occur most naturally and without interruptions.
For more information about sleep restoration, overcoming sleep challenges and avoiding sleep deficiency, please contact me at [email protected].
Be kind to yourself. Sleep is your friend.