“A good laugh and a good night’s sleep are the two best cures for anything.” ~ Irish proverb
Sleep is a sought-after commodity in this day and age, with many of us working overtime to get some. Although this superior natural remedy for the body and mind is free and readily accessible, it can be difficult to come by. The elusive “good night’s sleep” fuels the scientific field and feeds the commercial market. Business is booming in the sleep industry, from mattress stores to pharmaceutical remedies to holistic health solutions. There’s no lack of promises for solving this one simple challenge.
The Key to Good Health
Sleep studies have long been a focus of health research. A recent report from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) indicated that over a third of adults in the U.S. don’t get enough sleep. Most experts suggest that the average adult requires anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep per night to maintain good health, but just try and find someone who meets that criteria on a regular basis.
Sufficient sleep is critical for healthy brain functioning. The quality of sleep, not just the quantity, is an important factor. Long-term sleep deprivation can impact both mental and physical health, including chronic illnesses such as obesity, heart disease, and weakened immunity. It may also result in memory loss and other forms of cognitive decline. Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, are often a result of, or exacerbated by, insufficient sleep. For instance, the stress that comes as a result of a string of sleepless nights can often trigger anxiety, which in turn causes an inability to sleep, creating a never-ending cycle as one problem compounds another.
Lifestyle and Environmental Factors
Most people have experienced sleep disruption, the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Factors such as exercise, medications and diet, can all affect our quality of sleep. Most of us can relate to the struggle with sleep after an oversized late-night meal and a few glasses of wine, or one-too-many lattes in the late afternoon. “Why did I do that!?” is the common refrain as they toss and turn into the wee hours. Coffee and alcohol are guaranteed adversaries in the battle for sleep, but give up these daily comforts in order to ensure we get the rest we need? Not so fast. The morning cup of joe is a ritual that starts the day for many of us. And that glass of wine (or two) at night, well, we all know how important that is to make sure we end the day in a “relaxing” way.
Teenagers notoriously avoid the pillow at night and often pay the price during the day. Cell phones and social media have wreaked havoc on attempts to help our young ones manage their sleep schedule. Sleeplessness has reached epic proportions, likely contributing to a significant rise in depression and stress-related anxiety in all age groups. Studies have suggested that environmental factors such as extended periods exposed to unnatural light (fluorescent lights, blue light from electronic screens, etc.) and lack of silence (too much noise) can affect the circadian rhythms that naturally dictate cycles of sleep for adults as well.
Needless to say, a lack of sleep or long-term sleep deprivation can take a serious toll on our health. Taking control of the lifestyle factors that dictate whether we sleep well or not is key to ensuring long-term health. Quality of sleep is a good indicator of how our lifestyle influences our health. In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, over time, our personal habits can wreak havoc on our body’s natural ability to care for and heal itself.
Steps to Take for Better Zzzzs
The good news is there are simple actions that we can take to help us improve our sleep experience. First off, both the quantity and type of food and beverage we consume during the day should be evaluated when making changes to improve sleep. For example, eating late at night, drinking too much caffeine during the day or drinking alcohol can significantly alter the body’s natural digestion and rest cycles, ultimately affecting sleep. Increasing daily exercise is another very easy way to help Mr. Sandman stick around. Herbal remedies, such as chamomile and lavender, taken in the form of tea or used as aromatherapy an hour or so before bed, can aid sleep. Meditation or breathing exercises to relax the mind and body can also help one prepare for rest.
Emotional Freedom Technique
Another extremely effective natural sleep aid is EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), often referred to as tapping. This easy-to-learn technique helps calm the nervous system, quieting the thoughts that often keep the mind engaged when trying to get to sleep. Tapping is extremely helpful for dealing with stress and anxiety and has been shown to help with sleep disruption and induce a sleep state. Tapping uses the meridian or acupressure points that run through the body. By stimulating these points, we move the mind and body out of the sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight) into the parasympathetic nervous system (rest/digest), making it easier to sleep.
Taking small steps to help improve sleep can have significant return on investment. Making healthy choices when it comes to diet, exercise, lifestyle and environment can completely change the nighttime experience. Ensuring a solid period of rest for your body to refuel and regenerate every night will have a positive effect on overall health. You deserve a good night’s sleep every night. It’s that simple.