Baby it’s dark outside. That feeling of wanting to lie down for a long winter’s nap kicks in when our daylight hours dwindle and mostly dark hours or gray sky predominate. The lucky ones who can fall asleep and stay asleep with little effort love to sleep. But what if you are so tired or so wired that you miss out on your forty winks. Is it detrimental to your health to sleep less than 8 hours? As it turns out, sleep, while still not fully understood, is vital for your vitality.
If you have opened your eyes in the morning after a good night of sleep and noticed increased energy, a sparkle in your eyes and better mood, you have experienced the profound effect that sleep has on your body. Reduced inflammation, decreased production of stress hormones, lowered risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and weight loss are benefits of that wonderful night of shut eye. You can thank your production of melatonin and prolactin which act as powerful antioxidants and immune system modulators, as well as giving your adrenals a rest.
The delicate balance of those same hormones along with cortisol, leptin, insulin and neurotransmitters can be disturbed if you allow yourself to stay up past 11 PM or stare at TV, laptops, tablets or smart phones late into the night. The blue light can be blocked with special screens or glasses, but better yet, make your bedroom that sleep sanctuary. Spend the next weekend taking out clutter, removing the TV, blocking the windows or other light sources, bringing in wonderful pillows, bedcoverings and essential oils, then feel the power of what happens when you sleep in a cool, dark comfortable room.
What if you have trouble falling asleep even after you have prepared your room. There are triggers that can hinder your ability to sleep well, and they are easily avoided. Nix the caffeine, nicotine and alcohol as they all can cause stimulation later during the night. Restrict what you eat and drink 3 to 4 hours before bedtime by eating a smaller dinner that avoids spicy and difficult to digest foods. A small amount of fat, like MCT oil at dinner or before bed as brain fuel has been suggested to help tide you over until morning. Exercise early in the day and save yoga and stretching for the evening hours just before a warm Epsom salt bath. Establish your bedtime routine and include meditation or journaling to set your intension to clear your mind and relax.
If you have practiced and completed all of thet practices for best slumber rituals and still have problems with sleep, there are answers beyond “sleeping pills”. Most over the counter sleep aids are no more than antihistamines that will cause drowsiness and can help, but you will experience side effects. There are herbal preparations or botanicals that contain passion flower, hops, valerian root and lemon balm that are effective without the hang-over effect that some prescription medications create. A very safe and effective aid for inducing relaxation is magnesium and it is in Epsom salt.
Magnesium can also be taken orally and the form you select is very important. Choose a magnesium chelate for better absorption and less gastrointestinal side effects like loose stool; and, as a bonus, it can alleviate painful leg cramps. Magnesium L-threonate helps with racing thoughts and should be taken 30 minutes before bedtime, magnesium malate for pain of fibromyalgia and magnesium citrate for constipation. Products that combine magnesium with botanicals, GABA and L-theonine can be beneficial as well.
The quality of your sleep is most important and there are apps that track your sleep and teach you how to sleep better and wake you softly when you are at the lightest cycle of your sleep state. One such biohacking app is called Sleep Cycle, and it has many features to help you get a great night of sleep bliss.
Regenerate and repair your body during this lovely winter and improve your mental and physical health.