We’ve all been told all of our lives to get at least 8 hours of sleep. But where exactly did this 8-hour time frame come from? And is it true that not everybody needs the same amount of sleep? Let’s dive into the different sleep-related myths and the science behind why we need so much sleep and why oftentimes it is the quality of the rest that may actually be more important than the amount itself.
How Sleep Repairs the Body
Although it may feel like the body is shutting down when we are preparing to doze off, the body is actually going into a deep healing state. Blood pressure and the heart rate drops, and because the conscious mind is taking its longest break for the day, the subconscious mind is shining through to help assist the body in healing. If there are infections or illnesses within the body, the brain uses this period to trigger different hormones that allow tissue growth to repair damaged blood vessels. Wounds are able to heal more quickly, damaged muscles are given the time they need to restore themselves, and the immune system is given a boost. That is because when the body is sleeping more white blood cells are made that can ward off viruses and other bacteria that slow down the healing process. Who would’ve thought that as soon as we are peacefully going off into the dreamworld, there is a silent war going on within our cells!
The Body’s Break
Alongside all of the healing properties that arise from a good night’s sleep, much of the importance should be placed on the reality that it is usually the body’s only time to truly rest. We spend the majority of our waking hours doing several tasks throughout the day (often at the same time) and jumping from one activity to the next without pauses. While it is practically second nature to most working people to stay busy during the day, few of us remember to take pauses to allow the brain and body the chance to reset. Many meditation-enthusiasts encourage more daily breaks, even if just once a day in the form of a brief 5-15 minute span. We’ve all heard these friends tell us over and over again how meditation just has so many benefits from improving focus to reducing stress. But a profound realization I’ve had recently is that if only 5-15 minutes of taking a break throughout the day offers so many benefits, I can only imagine all the healing advantages from a good night’s sleep! It’s the long break we’ve been seeking!
Quality Sleep Matters
Admit it, we’ve all been guilty of being the person who believes they are not an entirely functioning human being until they’d had their cup of morning coffee. But do we ever question why we need such an energy boost if we just woke up from hours of sleep? The answer is most likely in the quality of sleep which can be affected by several factors. According to this National Center for Biotechnology Information article, stress amongst quite a few others, was one of the most common factors poorly affecting people’s sleeping experiences. Thus, even if we are getting enough hours of rest, if we are in an anxious or stressed state, the sleep itself won’t give us the restorative effect to have a productive and cheerful morning. The truth is whether it is finding ways to manage our stress levels or using black-out curtains that limit the sun’s exposure through the windows, there are tons of little measures we can take that may lead to an improved sleeping period. Some tips for better sleep quality include:
Maintaining a routine
Building a sleep routine, as with building any routine is usually easier said than done, I know. But this one really is more simple than you may think and it can be implemented with little thought. Simply try to go to bed and wake up around the same hour everyday. Both the body and brain thrive off of routines, and being that we function according to our circadian rhythm (the internal process that regulates the sleep-wake up cycle,) developing a harmonious routine with the natural rhythm of our body is one of the easiest and most effective approaches to increase the amount of quality rest.
Avoiding caffeine in the evening
Some morning caffeine to get the day started is one thing, but to continue to drink heavily caffeinated drinks beyond noon risks throwing off the natural rhythm that makes us fall asleep at night. Before reaching for another cup of tea or coffee in the late afternoon, try drinking a couple glasses of water, as the mid-day fog may actually just be a sign of dehydration. Some other quick-fix energy-bursting activities can include a cold shower, meditation session, or a 10-15 minute nap.
Optimizing your bedroom
This will look different from person to person depending on your sleeping environment. If you live in the heart of a noisy city for example, you may want to use noise-reduction earbuds to limit the outside sounds which may be affecting your sleep. If you receive a lot of direct sunlight in the mornings before you are set to wake up, light-reducing or blocking curtains is also an option worth exploring.
Consuming foods that improve rest
Did you know that certain foods contain small amounts of melatonin and other sleep-promoting chemicals?. Making sure your daily diet includes foods like oranges, kale, avocados, and tomatoes may help prepare your body for a better night’s rest. And if your day is too busy to head out to the grocery store to stock up on these foods, try out a service like Farmbox Direct which is a fresh produce delivery service. You can order your groceries to be delivered right to your doorstep as one way of making sure you are eating the fruits and vegetables that contribute to deep, restorative sleep.
All in all, adopting the best practices for our individual sleep cycles will be one of exploration. Try out a few of the methods described in this article, and run an experiment on yourself to see what works and what doesn’t. One thing is for sure, life is to be lived and felt to the fullest, but we’ll need to be awake to experience it all. So make sure that you are getting quality sleep daily!