Sleep Hygiene: The Importance of Prioritizing Shut Eye For Your Health
When I was younger, I never gave much thought to the importance of sleep. As many, I would often pull a sunrise, careless to the damage it was doing to my mind or body, internally and externally.
Later on, it was about finding time for work, hobbies and having the time to have a decent social life. And that meant staying up until the party was over, if I saw it fit. There just weren't enough hours to get it all done.
Then one day I showed up at my skincare appointment and my esthetician commented that although I didn't feel tired, my skin was saying something completely different. Although I felt I still had miles to go, my body was screaming one message to me: Stop! You need sleep desperately! But as the years go, we yawn it away and carry on.
Unfortunately, I was stubborn and still had to get it all done and it didn't hurt that I age well. I can't imagine parents who have to juggle it all. I know that just being a partner has already added extra bullets to my to-do list as a woman. But to have kids? I salute all parents out there who still find the time because I know that there are only 24 hours in our every day, and for a lot of us, even that sometimes needs to roll over into the next.
It took me years before I realized just how right my then-esthetician was. Luckily, it didn't take wrinkles or a facelift to start taking pillow time more seriously. What I found was that my priorities naturally changed, and therefore my lifestyle did too.
What sleep does for the body and mind
Sleep plays a vital role in our productivity and physical health. It is restorative for the brain and we can't function effectively without it. When we don't get enough of it, we tend to become moody and irritable. It affects our ability to concentrate and leaves us feeling impatient, effecting those around us.
Lack of sleep prevents the immune system from building up its forces. And we miss out on appreciating what we usually would when we don't have adequate sleep.
Being seriously sleep deprived alters the hormone levels that affect our appetite, causing us to feel peckish and craving - you guessed it - carbs. This, in turn, can cause weight gain. And if you're anything like me, I'm fine just as I am, thanks.
If you're not getting enough sleep because you haven't wanted it enough, below are some tips to help set up a good sleep regime:
1. Catch Your Dedicated Flight
I'm not one for routines (yuk), but I will admit one thing. And this I learned all through rebelling and fighting the clock. Do your best to go to bed at the same time each evening, because it trains your body to expect rest. Imagine your sleep coming in like a plane ready to jet you off to rest and restoration.
Researchers believe that every hour you get before midnight is equivalent to two hours sleep after midnight. So, set a time each evening to catch your 10PM or 11PM flight to LaLaLand. Go on, catch that trip.
2. Wind Down
Not enough people are paying attention to the fact that when heading to bed, technology is not our friend. Books are. Meditative rituals are. Journalling is. A gratitude practice and visualization are. These are all designed to wind down our internal system, while technology stimulates it.
I know, I know. You've heard this before. But do we really hear it enough and act? Stop the use of all technology at least half and hour before bed. That means no cell phone, no laptop and no Kindle. The light that derives from these devices blocks the hormone in charge of regulating sleep and wakefulness.
A 30 minute wind down with relaxation, reading a hard copy, or any of the above-mentioned suggestions all have a calming effect to make it easier to fall asleep.
3. Alcohol before bed
We all like a good glass of wine now and then. If your alcohol intake is to close to bed time, you might want to stop two hours before you hit the pillow. Not only does it effect the quality of your sleep, it may also make it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep, affecting you in the wee hours of the morning.
Alcohol induced sleep also effects the quality of our dreams, for those who might have a dream journal practice.
My cup of coffee is the one that helps me ease into the morning. I rely on it for balance and it is a winner in preventing me from barking at my loving partner when he's trying to gently get me up. However, it's a pick me up and I never need it beyond 11AM. Once I've gotten the boost I need from it, I send it on its way.
Caffeine goes beyond just coffee. It includes anything from ordinary to green teas too. The same should be said for the evening. Things that have long-lasting stimulating affects should be used for their purpose and not beyond. Be sure to monitor your caffeine intake.
Decide on a time to stop having it during your day and then stick to it. I'm going to go further to suggest that any time after 4pm is a no-no.
5. Don’t rely on weekend catch up
When our shut eye account is in heavy arrears, we feel the sum of all the hours we've missed out on. I used to think the weekend was there to fix things, but reality is: there is nothing we can do to 'catch up' on sleep. Once it's gone, it's gone. The body has already felt its effects. The only thing we can do is sleep better now.
So, cut yourself some slack for past choices and start today to give your mind and body the rest it deserves. It doesn't matter what your sleep regime looked like yesterday. What matters is what it looks like as of today.
Start seeing rest as a self care practice, refueling or beauty regime to get the best out of a replenishing, luscious ritual that's benefits go far beyond just eight hours.
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