Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Importance of Sleep for Health

One of the most slept on gifts of this world is SLEEP. For my purposes, some good REM sleep is hands down the best thing I can do for my body. Without it everything else in my life lacks. I learned this the hard way when almost five years ago my life spiraled out of control after I had a major bout of insomnia. The insomnia quickly manifested into a weakened immune system, inability to manage the huge stress load I was under, a 25lb weight gain in 6 months and severe depression. The depression was so intense I eventually took time from work to seek treatment. After trying different medicines for close to a month I finally decided to take a holistic approach. Although I lacked the energy initially, I exercised, only drank water and changed to a raw vegan diet but most importantly I realized my sleep patterns returned to normal when I wasn't working crazy hours anymore. The diet and exercise helped but the significant changes in my mood happened once I SLEPT.

I can recall one morning in particular, waking up naturally to the rise of the sun and not an alarm clock. This morning I awoke to this lightness which reminded me of my old self. In that instance my mind was clear, I felt energetic, I smiled. To this day I NEVER play when it comes to my sleep. It is my body's time to heal, recuperate and rest. Below I've detailed how I keep my sleeping habits in check.

But first, the stages of sleep....

Stage 5-REM Sleep

Most dreaming occurs during the fifth stage of sleep, known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is characterized by eye movement, increased respiration rate, increased brain activity. REM sleep is also referred to as paradoxical sleep because while the brain and other body systems become more active muscles become more relaxed. Dreaming occurs due because of increased brain activity, but voluntary muscles become paralyzed.

Sleep does not progress through these stages in sequence, however. Sleep begins in stage 1 and progresses into stages 2, 3 and 4. After stage 4 sleep, stage 3 and then stage 2 sleep are repeated before entering REM sleep. Once REM sleep is over, the body usually returns to stage 2 sleep. Sleep cycles through these stages approximately 4 or 5 times throughout the night.

On average, we enter the REM stage approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep. The first cycle of REM sleep might last only a short amount of time, but each cycle becomes longer, so REM sleep can last up to an hour as sleep progresses.


My Top 5 Sleepy Time MUST:

1.My bedroom is only used for sleeping and baby making (or practicing in my case LOL)
I have strict rules about what can and can't get into my bedroom. NO bills/paperwork, NO T.V., NO Computer, NO kiddie stuff and I'm sorry but NO family photos! Seriously, I treat and decorate my room like a sanctuary. When you walk into your room you are no longer daughter, Mom, accountant, president, soror or whatever title(s) you hold. This is your time to read your bible, meditate, stretch, read a calming book, pray, envision your dreams, study your vision board..whatever relaxes and edifys you.

2.Turn the heat down
Especially now in the winter it feels good to be nice and toasty under the covers but ultimately this can keep you from resting deeply. I try to keep my bedroom temperature between 65 and 70. It is a little chilly when I pull the covers back in the morning but I sleep so much better.

3.No excessive drinking, heavy meals or stimulants before bed
Basically don't go for a 3 mile run, eat dinner, drink soda or chug down a frozen margarita right before going to bed. Ok, the margarita part sounds fun but trust me your body will thank you for passing.

4.White noise
I absolutely LOVE using my fan for white noise. The fan is on year round and I have yet to catch a cold from having it on :) However,this is tricky only because you may not be able to fall asleep if you don't have the source of the white noise available (think vacation). As a solution I've found my phone (iPhone) has apps that actually sounds like a fan or my second favorite white noise-rain- that I use when I'm traveling. By the way, the app is called "Sleep Stream" and there is a free version.

5.Stay consistent!
I generally do the same things in the same order leading up to bed time each night. This includes going to bed at the same time. Since I've implemented these "rituals" my body starts to instantly relax and prepare for sleep.

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