Updated: Jul 5, 2021
How important can sleep really be?
While it seems as though our bodies only go into shutdown mode for a couples of hours, there are countless additional healing properties that are happening simultaneously while asleep. As author Virginia González recently wrote in the book Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions, "sleep is as essential to our daily needs as food and water."
What really happens when we’re asleep?
Our brains are filled with neurotransmitters which are special chemicals that assist in communication between the nerves in our brain. Neurons in our brainstem keep our brain functioning while awake and neurons in the base of our brain are in charge of us falling asleep. Our body will alert us when these chemicals are imbalanced if we cannot regularly fall and remain asleep.
When asleep, our bodies will fluctuate in and out of something called REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep. REM sleep typically occurs within 90 minutes of falling asleep. This is a period where our brains become more active, our dreams become more intense, and our breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure increase. While non-REM sleep is a bit of a lighter slumber, this is a time where our bodies repair and regrow tissue, build bone and muscle, and strengthen the immune system… all of which are important and essential!
With that being said, it is imperative that we create a schedule or routine where we can provide our body and brain the critical amount of time to work their magic. What are some ways in which we can develop our own healthy and productive sleep schedule?
1. Bye-Bye Caffeine.
Try your best to avoid drinking coffee and/or tea at least 4-6 hours before bedtime. Because it’s a stimulant, consuming these caffeinated beverages will hinder our bodies from falling asleep at nighttime even when we feel the most tired!
2. Ditch the electronic devices.
It’s best to keep our electronics out of sight, out of mind at least an hour before going to sleep. The kind of light that comes from computers, TVs, tablets, and/or smartphone devices can disrupt natural sleep rhythms.
3. Practice mindfulness.
Sometimes all we need is a quick 10 minute body-scan meditation or 5 minute breathing exercise to help brace our bodies for a good night’s sleep. Nightly mindfulness practices not only help us fall asleep but oftentimes they help us stay asleep, as well.
4. Do the same things every night before going to bed.
This can be anything from reading a chapter of a book, to taking a warm bath, to recapping your day with yourself in a journal or aloud with a partner/spouse. By making and sticking to a “get ready for bed” routine, you alert your body that it’s time to unwind and relax.
BONUS TIP #5! When you wake up…Get some sun and fresh air.
Even if it’s only for 15 or 20 minutes, getting natural sunlight on our bodies early in the morning helps our body clock and rhythms become regular.
The bottom line is that our bodies are both extremely delicate and mighty powerful. It is our responsibility to nourish them when they are weak and protect them when they are strong. As we start to incorporate a sleep schedule into our daily routines, we are providing ourselves with long-lasting energy for a productive day-time and relaxing energy for a restful nighttime.
For more information Harvard's School of Public Health has an excellent overview on the important of sleep as well as additional tips.