Sleeping is one of the best things we can do for our bodies. Getting good sleep every night has been shown to increase focus, maximize performance, aid in immune function, and countless other positive outcomes. Our sleep cycle controls our hormones and our bodies' natural cycles. It is essential that we allow our minds and bodies the time to be able to recharge. Our bodies operate on a 24-hour cycle, known as the circadian rhythm. This ‘body clock’ regulates the amount of hormones that are released in the body throughout the day to regulate energy levels. Our sleep cycle is divided into 4 stages that repeat cyclically throughout the night and each last for about 90-120 minutes. Each stage plays an important role in getting a restful night's sleep:
Stage 1: NREM
- The transition between being awake and asleep; light sleep. Relaxed muscles and slowed heart rate, breathing, eye movements and brain waves.
Stage 2: NREM
- Deeper sleep. More relaxed and slower movements, with brief moments of higher frequency electrical activity.
Stage 3: NREM
- Heartbeat, breathing, and brain waves all reach the lowest level and muscles are as relaxed as possible.
Stage 4: REM
- Rapid eye movements. Increased breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. Temporary paralysis in arms and legs. Typically the stage in which dreaming occurs. Linked to memory consolidation.
The average adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep per day. To get a full night's sleep, you will go through each of these stages multiple times. Without enough healthy sleep, our bodies cannot function properly, which leads to inability to concentrate, think clearly, and process information. It has also been shown to lower mental health and increase risk for Type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Making sure we get enough healthy sleep every night will prevent harmful diseases and lead to more energized and fulfilling days. Let’s explore some methods we can follow to get our best night’s sleep, every night…
Light has a huge influence on our bodies' circadian rhythm. The hypothalamus, or the part of our brain that processes light, tells our brain whether it is day or night. Exposing ourselves to as much natural sunlight during the day and as little artificial light as possible in the evening can help regulate our ‘body clocks’. If your room is very bright from light pollution outside, try out black out blinds or an eye mask while sleeping to keep it as dark as it will get. Whenever possible, use softer lights in your home, like candles. It may also be a good idea to invest in a sunset lamp or color changing light bulbs, so you can set it to a color that is more soothing to the brain, like red or yellow.
Turn off Electronics
We know how sensitive our bodies are to light before bed… Imagine the effect artificial light is having on us! Turn off all screens at least 1-hour before bedtime and leave your devices out of your reach, ideally outside of your bedroom. When you reach for them out of impulse, you will have created greater distance and therefore more of a challenge, which offers you a moment to consider whether you really want it or if you are acting out of habit. With this time that would normally be spent scrolling or watching TV, try journaling, reading, or meditating.
Sounds of Nature
A previous blog post of ours talks about how artificial sound has a huge effect on our health. If you live in a very natural area, open your window while you sleep and pay attention to the way the world sounds. If you live in a city that never sleeps, like us, we recommend using a sound machine or a playlist of natural sounds while sleeping. Drowning out the sounds of the artificial world is one way we can promote more restful sleep. Check out last week's blog post for more ways to incorporate natural sounds in your life!
One way to help aid your body to relax and prepare for sleep is by having a bedtime ritual. By having something that you do to anticipate sleep everyday, your body will begin to relax with this ritual. A few things we suggest involving in this routine is drinking a hot cup of tea, taking a warm bath or shower, reading a chapter of a book, and playing calming music while doing all of this. You can also add a specific scented candle or incense to your routine, so every time you smell it it will relax you. This ritual can be as simple or as complicated as you desire!
Dedicate Bed to Sleep
If you’re one of those people that likes to do everything from the comfort of your bed, it may be time to reconsider where you spend your time. By taking phone calls, answering emails, and doing really anything but sleeping in bed, we condition our brains to believe that the bed is a place for anything. When trying to sleep, this can cause stress on our bodies because it is confused about when or where it should allow itself to rest. Attempt for one week to only use your bed for sleeping and relaxing and see how much easier it is to fall asleep!
Exercise increases our bodies production of natural hormones. Melatonin, the hormone that is released to make us tired, has been shown to be boosted with exercise. Exercise can include anything from a brisk walk to an Olympic lifting session. Along with a heart rate rising exercise, it is also beneficial to add a stretching routine into your life to aid in relaxing your muscles. You don’t have to be in the greatest shape to add more physical movement to your day. Start small and see what effect it has on your sleep and overall well-being!
Create a Relaxation Sanctuary
Similarly to only using your bed for sleep, your bedroom should also be a sanctuary for relaxation. Fill your bedroom with whatever it is that puts you at peace, whether that means covering a wall in pictures of your loved ones, removing everything from your room but a bed and blanket, or drowning your bed in stuffed animals. Create a space that allows you to be in the most comfortable mindset possible. This will show your body that your bedroom is a safe space to relax and aid in falling asleep.
Eating for Sleep
Eating in tune with your body is an excellent step in getting a good night's sleep. Even if we do eat right, there may be some methods that are having an effect on our sleep cycle. Make sure to eat enough, so that you are not hungry while falling asleep. Be careful not to eat too much before bed as it is just as uncomfortable to fall asleep being too full as it is to be hungry. Next time you get a late night craving reach for something that contains sleep promoting nutrients, like flower tea!
It may seem pretty obvious to avoid drinking caffeine before bed, but it is worth noting regardless. Caffeine is a stimulant that increases energy, mental functioning, and can speed up reaction times. As wonderful as it is to be able to get all of this from your cup of coffee every morning, caffeine can also cause irritability and anxiety, as well as, delaying the timing of your body clock and messing with your sleep schedule. Make sure you are not drinking caffeinated drinks, like coffee, caffeinated teas, or energy drinks, later in the day. And be careful about eating chocolate as it is also a stimulant!
Stick to a Routine
By following our bodies circadian rhythm, we put our bodies on a loop. Consistency in sleep and waking times can be extremely beneficial for quality of sleep. By following a set time of sleeping and waking, you train your body to follow that rhythm, you will be able to fall more easily into each stage of the sleep cycle and wake up feeling more energized and refreshed.
7-day Reset with Rose Tea
Flower tea/herbal tea (naturally caffeine free) is the perfect drink for bedtime because it contains nutrients that aid our bodies in relaxation, and the ritual of making tea can be very calming in itself. Here at The Qi, we have noticed a huge shift in our quality of sleep since adding this ritual to our bedtime routine… We’d love for you to try it HERE! Plan to enjoy a cup of rose tea with a touch of raw honey every evening for 7 days. Sip on this tea 30 minutes to 1 hour before bedtime. We believe strongly in this method, so if it doesn’t help you get better, more restful sleep, let us know and your box of rose tea is on us!
Having a healthy sleep pattern is essential for our bodies to function successfully everyday. Allowing our bodies to get the right amount of restful sleep reduces our risk of developing harmful disease and increases our ability to take on the world. By following these tips and figuring out what works best for you, we hope you will be counting sheep in no time!