What if your New Year's resolution was to get more sleep?
Our culture is quite focused on diet and exercise as a way to improve health at this time of year. Eat less food. Lose weight. Restrict. Push yourself harder. Burn more calories. Lose weight.
Really though, there's no reason that our New Year's resolutions can't be healing. The fact is we need to nurture ourselves to stay healthy. And our culture isn't all that focused on nurturing. Or sleep.
Which brings us to a bunch of questions. Are you sleep deprived? Do you have sleep problems? A sleep disorder? Sleep apnea? Do you need sleeping aides? Do you have trouble falling asleep? Staying asleep? It seems we live in a culture of chronic sleep deprivation. Oy vey! Did you ever stop to wonder why this is? I believe that the advent of the electric light over a century ago has lead to this. When it was dark at night it was a challenge to stay up late. Darkness makes us sleepy. Darkness is a trigger for the secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin. What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland in the brain that helps to control sleep and wake cycles. Normally, melatonin levels rise in the evening, remain high for most of the night, and then drop in the early morning hours. However, artificial light can interfere with the secretion of melatonin, which can lead to the aforementioned insomnia, sleep disorders, and sleep deprivation.
The trouble with the use of artificial light is that it allows us to access “daytime” in the middle of the night. Now, with the advent of screens such as television, computers, e-readers, and cellular telephones, we have ubiquitous little sources of powerful light constantly available around the clock.
Common sense tells us that artificial light is tremendously disruptive to our sleep cycles and confusing to our brains and bodies. With an increase in physiological distractions from a good night's sleep, we have all the more reason to be disciplined about turning off devices (and lights) and turning in for the night. The simple tricks below, such as sleeping in a darkened room, can help you both fall asleep and stay asleep. Here are my own personal, tried and true tips for getting a good, long night of rest.
Engage in a quiet activity such as making a cup of tea, meditating or very gentle stretching in order to prepare your mind and body for bedtime.
Give yourself enough time to digest your evening meal, though not enough time to get involved in projects that are best saved for the following day.
Unplug from electronic screens and devices that trick your inner clock into thinking it is mid-day and disrupt the melatonin production needed to make us sleepy.
I've been sleeping in a dark room for almost a decade, and began when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (we taped tin foil on the windows to block out light). I believe that sufficient sleep is one of the primary holistic treatments for MS.
If you must stare at a screen after the sun goes down, use glasses that block out blue light. The light that comes from your computer and other electronic devices is similar to the light of the bright mid-day sky –a time that your body is wide awake, not asleep.
Over a decade ago, when my boys were little we used to have an evening or two each winter where we would forgo the use of artificial light. We would eat dinner by candlelight and read bedtime stories using the same. On those nights we fell asleep earlier and more easily. It's a fun experiment and my children and I enjoyed it immensely; we felt very cozy on those dark mid-winter nights.
What do you do to get more sleep and improve your sleep quality? Leave a comment below and let us know what you do to catch more zzzz's.
Remember, when it comes to your health, sleep is every bit as important as what you are eating and proper exercise! And if that isn't enough to motivate you, check out my recent post called Can Sleep Loss Add to Weight Gain?