How to Sleep Blissfully

tired at desk

I hear it all the time, “I’m always tired!” We live in a sleep deprived country, many of us walking around like zombies, irritable, and short-tempered. We fall asleep at our desks in the afternoon. We wake up at 3:00 am and have trouble falling back asleep, then are barely able to crawl out of bed in the morning. What would you give for a good night’s sleep? I’m talking 8 hours of uninterrupted blissful sleep?

Sleep is so restorative. It is actually when our bodies do their healing work. I’ve written about the importance of sleep before but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately as my body goes through Round 2 of chemo recovery.

I think sleep is so important that I’m naming it one of the Fundamental Pillars of Good Health. And possibly more important than its health benefits, is the downward spiral that not getting enough sleep has on our health. When we are tired, we reach for quick energy fixes like caffeine and sugar. They give us a quick boost, but they also are quite addictive and lead to a crash in energy just a few hours later. When we start eating these junk foods regularly, we start gaining weight adding other health problems. Obesity also ironically disrupts sleep, which of course is the next loop down the spiral.

As a country, we are all so stressed and sleep is one of the best ways to alleviate it. But by not giving our bodies the time needed to reduce the stress hormones and do repair work, we set ourselves up for reduced immune system function. We get sick because our bodies finally say, “Enough is enough! I’m going to force you to rest by making you unable to stand vertically.” We’ve all been there.

The first thing we need to do as a culture is have a much needed attitude adjustment making sleep paramount in importance. In America, we have almost a perverse reverence for our ability to function with very little sleep (this is not the case in other countries). We seem, as a culture, to admire people who regularly get 4 hours of sleep and are still able to perform effectively. I don’t care who you are, if you are human, this kind of sleep deprivation cannot be sustained for long without serious health ramifications.

In her fantastic book, Thrive, Arianna Huffington comments on this cultural admiration for the sleep deprived. She points out that the fact of the matter is, the cognitive function of someone with 4 hours of sleep is equivalent to someone who is drunk. Yet we would never praise someone for coming to work drunk. Why do we admire people who show up to work overly tired?

Here are some tips for getting a good night’s sleep. I hope you all implement these practices and feel the bliss of waking refreshed and energized after a good night’s sleep.

  • Make sleeping 8 hours a night a priority. Make it feel like a matter of life or death. This brings up thoughts about why we don’t already put our self-care as a top priority but that’s a topic for its own blog post.
  • Finish your evening meal at least 3 hours before you want to hit the hay. If you eat right before bedtime, your body is working on digesting, putting off the repair work that every body needs on a daily basis.
  • Turn off all screens (smart phones, tablets, TV’s, computers) an hour before you’d like to sleep. I know this is hard for people, but studies show that the light from these devices stimulates your brain and disrupts its ability to shut down.
  • Make your bedroom a cave. Your bedroom should be a sanctuary devoted to sleep. It should be dark, quiet, and comfortable. Even the light from electric clocks has been shown to disrupt sleep.
  • Have a bedtime ritual that winds you down. For some people this might be taking a nice warm bath scented with relaxing lavender essential oil. For others, it might be a cup of Sleepy Time tea or reading a few chapters from a good book.
  • Try to go to bed at the same time as your partner. I have some trouble with this one because my husband has been going to bed at 9:00 pm lately and my teenage kids aren’t even in bed at that hour. But studies show that snuggling/cuddling boosts the immune system and I’m all for that. Besides, snuggling is one of my favorite past times 🙂
  • Listen to your breath. If you have trouble falling asleep, I recommend a meditative practice that always quiets my mind and allows me to drift off to sleep: listen to your breathing. Focus on your breath going in and out. If you have a thought, put it aside to remember when you wake up (I put it in a little red mental Thought Box), and go back to paying attention to your breath. If your brain needs something to do, say the words “in” and “out” for each inhale and exhale.

If these practices don’t help you get a good night’s sleep, I recommend looking at how much exercise you’re getting during the day. Exercise has been shown to aid quality sleep even if you exercise in the morning.

Bonne nuit and sweet dreams everyone!

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