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Why High-Quality Sleep is Crucial
Getting a good night’s sleep is at the core of our body’s inbuilt repair system. Studies show that higher quality sleep improves our memory, helps us lose or stabilize our weight (hormone regulation), and even prevents Alzheimer’s disease. Deep sleep is where our bodies and minds deal with excess energies and process the problems of the day allowing us to feel refreshed and ready to face a new day.
Getting Good Sleep in an Anxious Season of Life
When I asked my e-newsletter subscribers what their top health challenge is right now, their answer was ‘getting good sleep’. It’s no surprise with the recent coronavirus outbreak, the fears surrounding it, the isolation of the lockdown and the stress of lost income, that people are finding sleep escape them. It has caused even the bravest of us to have anxiety-ridden sleep.
Why do Sleep Problems Happen?
Anxiety and worry are thought to be the number one issue where it comes to losing sleep. Sleep and circadian rhythm expert Dylan Petkus shares that “70-90% of all sleep problems are rooted in anxiety.” Other causes I’ve discovered from my research range from diet to exercise to circadian rhythms being off-kilter or too much electromagnetic radiation.
I’m not immune to this issue. Even though I am normally quite a good sleeper, I too found that sleep eluded me during the lockdown. I stayed up late watching YouTube videos on vaccines, debates on masks, debates on lockdowns, etc. Never before in my lifetime, have personal freedoms been so impacted by health concerns over a virus. Stories of forceful testing and families being separated kept my anxiety levels high.
So, How Do I Get Me Some Good Night’s Sleep?
Here are the top recommendations I can share based on several sleep experts I’ve been dialed in to lately as well as my personal experience:
Tip 1: Reduce Anxiety
- Fear and anxieties, whether large or small, are often the culprits for missing sleep. Think about what the biggest anxieties in your life are and address them as best as you can.
- Remember and review Scriptures that relate to that specific anxiety. Our Father knows what we struggling with and wants to carry our heavy burdens for us.
- Avoid spending too much time watching the news or listening to negative news sources.
- Finally, combine body relaxation through stretching with mind relaxation through meditation. Body relaxation practices such as yoga and qigong are fantastic for reducing anxiety. (See tips 6 and 7 below).
“Avoid spending too much time watching the news or listening to negative news sources.”
Tip 2: Monitor your LIGHT intake
- “Light – specifically, bright sunlight – is now known to be the most powerful influence on the sleep-wake system,” shares J Caldwell MD of the book “Sleep”. Dan Pardi, a sleep researcher at Stanford and Leiden University in the Netherlands, explains that getting enough bright daylight during the day and reducing light at night is a critical part of inducing the melatonin (sleep hormone) your body needs to fall asleep well.
- He recommends getting at least thirty minutes of sunlight per day, preferably during mid-day when the sun is brightest.
- At night, follow the sun’s cue by switching off harsh day-time lights, and installing amber-toned night time lamps. Harsh blue light from computers and cell phones send a ‘daylight’ signal to your brain and prevents precious melatonin from being produced.
- If you have to work at night or use cell phones (most of us!)two great ways to stop this ‘daylight’ signal are to use a blue light blocker app or orange-colored glasses.
“Light… bright sunlight – is now known to be the most powerful influence on the sleep-wake system.”J Caldwell MD of “Sleep”
Tip 3: Slow Down! Quiet your Mind and Body Before Bed
- What I’ve found is that even if I’ve had to work in the evening, if I slow down and quiet my mind and body before bed, I can fall asleep MUCH easier. Reading books can go either way, but I’ve found that it’s best to stay away from motivational books or books that require a lot of thinking.
- It’s also better to leave tough conversations for another time of day. (Make sure they get talked about, just not right before bed!)
- For me, putting on quiet instrumental music or doing a meditation are the best ways to quiet my mind down. This is a fantastic way to get your heart on the Lord right before sleeping as well.
- I quiet my body down by turning on the dim amber lights, lying down comfortably and closing my eyes. I then listen to the music or meditation and I feel myself getting sleepy right away!
Tip 4: Reduce Exposure to WiFi
- Wireless internet gives off radiation called EMF’s and can cause sleeplessness, fatigue, headaches, and brain fog. My husband and I noticed a significant decrease in brain-fog after wiring our home’s internet in. He said, “I thought it was just normal until we turned the wifi off and now I can think again!”
- ‘Wiring in’ just means using CAT5 or CAT6 cable from the router to your computer instead of using wifi.
- If you’re not quite ready to wire your house in, a good first step is to turn off your wireless router at night.
Another way to reduce wifi exposure is by turning your cell phone onto ‘Airplane mode‘ at night. This stops both cell phone and internet reception/wireless transmissions. You can still set an alarm on your phone, and upon waking, turn the phone back on.
Tip 5: Grounding
- Grounding can make a big difference to sleep quality. Sitting/standing/walking barefoot with feet touching the ground for 10-15 minutes a day can bring your body into electric stability by equalizing the charge in your body.
- Dr. Laura Koniver shares that, “Grounding directly links your central nervous system activity to the calming, healing benefits of the earth’s electrons,” and shares a study where after two months of sleeping grounded twenty participants had improved sleep markers as well as several other improved health results, including reduced pain.
Tip 6: Meditation
- Meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety, which in turn, improves sleep quality. Gayatari Maya, M.D. in her book ‘A Calm Brain‘ shares, “deep breathing and meditation promote relaxation and a sense of inner calm…[…] by ramping up the activity of the vagus nerve […] resulting in slower breaths, slower heart rate, reduced bowel irritability and better synchronization of heart rate with respiration…[…]resulting in optimal body state.”
- Jon Kobatt Zinn gave an excellent talk at Google to explain meditation in the medical context. Here’s a free online course based on Jon’s program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. It offers the basics of secular meditation from a health point of view.
- From a Christian perspective, I love what Mark Virkler teaches about Biblical meditation. He has a litany of blog posts explaining meditation through Scripture, which I highly recommend! I personally love simple and slow Scripture readings or Lectio Divina (Divine readings) for meditation. I also use meditation time as a time to review my identity in Christ.
Tip 7: Yoga or Qigong
- Yoga and qigong are ways to further calm your body and mind. It’s like the best of meditation and body relaxation all in one! Tai Chi (another form of qigong) reduces pain in the back, neck and shoulders. “Tai chi unbinds the connective tissues of the neck and shoulders.” (Tai Chi for Health, Bruce Frantzis) The emphasis on flowing relaxation is especially helpful for softening muscles that become stiff. It also helps by releasing any sense of tension stored in the nerves. It’s like a full back, shoulder and neck massage! No wonder it’s so relaxing!
Tip 8: Grass-fed Protein and Grass-Ged Animal Fat
- It doesn’t have to be a lot, but protein and fat provide the body with hormones needed for sleep. I sometimes drink a glass of raw milk before bed, for example. See Amy Myer MD’s article on including grass-fed beef for hormone balance.
- Sally Fallon of “Nourishing Fats” shares, “Arachidonic acid – that magical omega-6 fatty acid we get from animal fats – is the direct precursor to the endocannabinoids.” Endocannabinoids are involved in modulating the stress response. According to her animal fats also affect our production and use of serotonin through cholesterol. “Serotonin receptors need adequate cholesterol to work properly.” Serotonin is produced in the intestinal tract and regulates our sleep, amongst other important body functions such as mood, appetite, memory and learning.
Tip 9: No Caffeine after Noon!
- Tea or coffee in the afternoon or evening can be a culprit! I know for me, if I drink green tea in the afternoon, I’m going to struggle to sleep that night. Other types of hot drinks such as Dandy-blend (dandelion/chicory root coffee substitute) or rooibos tea are great caffeine-free options!
Know Your Own Body and Set Your Intention
Everyone’s body is going to need varying amounts of sleep, and it’s important to tune in to your own body’s needs. One way to do that is to track your sleep to see how many hours of sleep you are actually getting each night. Then, notice how many hours of sleep you feel you’re operating your best at. It will be somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Third, set your intention to sleep for the number of hours you feel your best at! Setting your intention purposefully is a powerful tool used by the top performers in the world. You could say something like, “I’m going to get a good eight hours of sleep every night this week!”
What’s In Your Pillow?
- Do you have a toxic pillow? If your pillow is commercially made, it’s likely you’re breathing in toxic fumes at night. It’s not only the contents of the pillow but also how it’s made! Harsh chemical solvents are used to make pillows containing toxic polyurethane ingredients.
- Considering that your mouth is situated in close proximity to your pillow, anything in your pillow is being breathed in all. night.long. Do yourself a favor and switch to a non-toxic pillow made with organic cotton, wool, or natural rubber latex!
Why Wool is a Great all Natural Choice for your Pillow!
- Bedding (including pillows) is often sprayed with chemical fire retardants in case of a fire. Breathing in toxic fire retardants is a sad solution to the ‘potential fire’ possibility. These toxic fire retardants have been definitively found to bound to harm the body in the long term! Fortunately wool is naturally fire-resistant!
- A wonderful book I read years back that really opened my eyes to the toxins in our bedding is Toxic Bedrooms (now Sleep Safe in a Toxic World) by Walter Bader. Ideally, you would switch out all your bedding including your mattress for a non-toxic, all-natural mattress. But if that’s not in the budget, consider at least switching out your and your children’s pillows for a non-toxic, organic cotton or wool pillow covered in a natural fiber such as organic or Okeo-TEX certified cotton.
Best Pillow Positioning to Support the Spine
- Dr. Peter Martoni, a chiropractor, recommends using a 650 down pillow turned on its side to support the curvature of your neck and upper spine while sleeping. This is to offset the strain we put on our spinal bones close to the neck through technology use and modern living.
- There are many varied opinions when considering pillow and sleeping positions, so I’d encourage you to experiment with what feels best in your body.
The Last Thing You Need to Know About Sleep Issues
The most important thing to take care of in relation to sleep is anxiety! Whether that’s just consciously dealing with anxiety through practical solutions or airing your problems with a friend or the Lord, getting to the root of anxiety is key. Most of these tips are related in some way or another with helping you deal with anxiety. Meditation, qigong, grounding and diet are all fantastic tools to help your body deal with anxiety. Getting your circadian rhythms on point is also significant for both your sleep and your overall health. I hope you get really proactive about some or all of these sleep tips. Let me know which one was new for you and which one might help you the most! Leave your comments below and I look forward to hearing from you! If you know a friend who is struggling with sleep, please pass this on!