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Sleep. The Final Frontier…

Are you getting enough sleep? Do you even know what enough sleep is? Of course, this is probably different for everyone, but ‘they’ say that we should be getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. And, I imagine the definition of quality is as unique as we are. Getting adequate amounts of quality sleep is truly crucial to your overall well-being. So how does one go about that? More on that later…

First though, why is sleep so important? Some things may be obvious, like not walking into things cuz you’re too tired to open your eyes. Or, you know, driving into things…

Ok, all fun aside. While we sleep, critical things are happening in our bodies. This is when our bodies get to repair themselves and manage things like stress, appetite control and metabolism. Did you know that when we don’t sleep well – we tend to grab higher-calorie foods? Yup. Sleep more and you’ll have those cravings less. And perhaps release some stubborn pounds!

Sleepy-time is when our organs get to rest and recover. And when our tissues, bones and muscles are repaired and restored.  It’s also a time of growth. While that may seem contradictory, HGH or human growth hormone is released while we sleep. Yes – even in adults! We’re always growing. Not like children, of course, but in other ways. We’re building new muscles. Or we’re healing from a bruise or paper cut. Our bodies are being renewed – while we sleep.

And speaking of children – good quality sleep is even more important for them! There have been studies that showed children who reversed sleep apnea suddenly had growth spurts because they were finally getting the HGH their bodies needed.

Stuff also happens in your brain, like memory consolidation. Our brains are active while we sleep, filtering all the information and emotional events it experienced throughout the day. Some of these are kept and some discarded. The brain does this by strengthening neural pathways that were used that day and weakening others that maybe weren’t used, so the important stuff remains.

Sleep may prevent cancer.  There is a ‘cancer killer’ called tumor necrosis factor or TNF that has been associated with tumor regression. It regulates immune cells and pumps through our veins while we sleep. Studies have shown people who are sleep-deprived have less TNF in their cells.

There is a direct connection between good sleep and good health. It improves your mood by reducing mental exhaustion and anxiety. It reduces your risk of depression. It gives you energy so that you can make better life choices. It heightens creativity, mental alertness and focus. It also increases libido 😉

So the bottom line is that sleep – good quality sleep – keeps you healthy.

But how does one go about getting good quality sleep?

One important factor is to have a consistent bedtime routine.  Avoid stressful activities for at least an hour or so before bedtime. Try taking a bath, reading a book, or do relaxing yoga. Have a cup of calming tea. Listen to a guided meditation. Do breathing exercises. Try aromatherapy. Lavender is known to help sleep. Go to sleep at the same time each day. Yes even weekends!

Reduce caffeine, alcohol and tobacco. Avoid them altogether at least 4 hours prior to your bedtime. Some people think alcohol helps them fall asleep, which may be true. But it’s actually a stimulant and will wake you up in the middle of the night disrupting your sleep patterns.  Also, try to avoid too much water too close to bedtime – or you’ll be up all night peeing.

Turn off all televisions and electronics. If you sleep with or near your cell phone, put it in airplane mode. Some people will recommend actually removing your television and all electronics from your bedroom to make that room strictly for sleeping. And sex. But mostly for sleep. If you can do that – great! I don’t know anyone who can…

Keep your bedroom dark and quiet and cool. Think of hibernating bears. Black-out curtains can help with light. So can covering those annoying LEDs and other lights from electronics if you can’t banish them from the bedroom. How about a sleeping mask to cover your eyes?

Don’t eat too late. You don’t want to go to sleep with a full stomach. You want your body to be resting and relaxing and rebuilding. Not digesting.

Get regular exercise, but not too close to bedtime. When you exercise, the body secretes cortisol which is a stress hormone. This is normal, but too close to bed and your brain will be wired. Early morning or afternoon is best. This will help you fall asleep more quickly.

Invest in luxurious bedding. Let’s face it – we spend about a third of our lives in bed. Shouldn’t we be comfortable? For me, that’s a necessity! You want to be comfortable while sleeping. No one wants to wake up with a sore neck or aching back. Try different things like a mattress pad-topper-thingy, softer or more firm pillows, silk sheets, perhaps a new mattress is warranted. If you share a bed with a blanket stealer, try using two blankets so you each have one. Experiment. Find what works for you.

Imagine waking up every morning refreshed, energized, focused and ready to greet whatever the day throws at you. I swear it’s possible.

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