In our book, Unexpected Wellness, we discuss the importance of getting good quality and quantity of sleep. Sleep is crucial for every function of our body, we need it to metabolize hormones, to allow our memories to be created and as a way for every organ system to get to reset for the next waking period.
One of the most common complaints from 30 - 60 year old patients is the lack of sleep or the inability to stay asleep. Recent studies suggest we have created a sleep cycle based on our current work schedule and is not in line with our natural sleep rhythms. These studies show that waking for a couple of hours between 2-4 am is actually more in alignment with our natural biorhythms. If this seems to be your pattern, work with it instead of resisting it. When we resist we create more discord in the body and will create more problems than it will solve. Find something productive or enjoyable to do at this time. We have found that when people are in a heightened creative mode or constantly planning things they tend to have periods of days or weeks when sleep seems elusive. During those early morning hours, use that time to get your ideas written down, then move into a visualization meditation with deep, slow breathing. Not only will you begin to calm the body, you will also move closer to your goals. Most people find, doing this for an hour or two is enough to be able to return to a deep, restorative sleep. If you are still wide awake, try drinking some calming tea that has herbs such as chamomile, lavender, passionflower or valerian root in them. Another way to get more from herbs is to use the essential oils on the soles of feet and inhaling via a slow deep inhale the oils. Essential oils that help are lavender, cedarwood and vetiver, among others. A couple drops of each in a carrier oil, such as coconut, olive or jojoba oil, rubbed on the bottom of the feet and tops of shoulders before bed is a great way to find restful sleep.
Other factors, are the environment. Are you getting outside everyday? I don't mean walking to your car from your office or house. Exposure to artificial light, whether from over head lights in offices or computers and phones, disrupts our natural biorhythms. A great way to begin to reset this, is to go outside as the sun is rising and just watch it for 5 minutes, then do this at night with the moon light as well. Phones, computers, televisions and video games should be turned off at least three hours before the time you would like to be in bed; as they keep the brain in a hyper-alert state and make sleep elusive.
And, then there is food. We know caffeine might keep us awake at night if we drink it too late in the day, however, sugar is even more dangerous to our sleep cycles. Sugar is stressful to the body and will increase the release of cortisol (the stress hormone, the fat-storing hormone). Cortisol will put the nervous system into its fight or flight mode. This response to sugar will begin to depress our feel good hormones and our sleep hormones. Cortisol will decrease release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, as well as damage the hippocampus. The hippocampus is an important area of the brain for smell, memories and learning. This is why when you are sleep-deprived, stressed or eating too much sugar, your brain seems foggy, you forget where you left your keys and you can't fall asleep. Cut back on sugar, add in green juice and watch your sleep improve. When you have those "sugar crashes", it is better for you to listen to the "I need sleep" message from the body. Sleep is one of the ways our body metabolizes those stress hormones. If you can't go to sleep, take a walk. Exercise is another fantastic way to metabolize stress hormones. When you find yourself reaching for sugar, you are really in a vicious cycle. Sugar will temporarily boost release of dopamine and serotonin, so you feel good and energized,but it doesn't last. In a few minutes, you will find yourself crashing and reaching for more sugar. Break the cycle with exercise, deep breathing and good food choices.
Unexpected Wellness is available for purchase on Amazon.com