There are so many things that contribute to wellness that it's no wonder more and more people are interested in Holistic approaches. Wellness includes the over all body, mind, and spirit. When one piece of the puzzle is missing, the whole picture is incomplete. So many people complain about ailments without looking a bit deeper into their habits. Sleep is considered to be cliché yet it is so important in our health that it is often overlooked. Consider this, over time in the long-term, sleep deprivation can lead to chronic health problems. Lack of sleep affects the immune system, respiratory system, digestive system, cardio vascular system, glucose and insulin abnormalities, deregulation of hormones that control apatite, and impairs cognitive function. With sleep effecting so many things it's important we take more responsibility for our sleep patterns. Of course, depending on your situation, there are inevitable things that effect the quality of your sleep. Children, traveling, hospitals, illness, etc. However on a day to day basis, in the comfort of your home, your sleep quality will definitely effect your health in the long term.
If you find yourself having a hard time going to sleep or having a less than functional day because you are tired, here are a few ways you can improve your snooze!
- Have a regular meditation practice
Taking the time every day, or as often as possible, to relax the mind is going to improve your sleep immensely. Meditation has been known to improve cognitive function, reduce stress, and quick bad habits. Meditation before sleep, even just 5 minutes of breath meditation, can drastically improve the amount of sleep you attain every night. Try it, and see if it starts to make a difference. When you set aside that time for your brain you are making the effort to improve your daily life. Not sure how to start? Do this: Lay down on your back and place your hands on your belly. Close your eyes and start to focus on your breath. Notice how your belly rises and falls against your hands with every breath. Keep your attention on this for 5-15 minutes, try not to get distracted with other things but if you do just come right back to the breath.
- Do Yoga 3-5 days a week (no, seriously!)
Yes the Yoga Teacher is asking you to practice Yoga, no surprise there, but I mention this for no other reason than it works! It has been proven that regular exercise and movement improves the quality of your sleep enormously. Yoga, a meditative and mindful practice, can increase the amount of cognitive function during the day and reduce your over all stress causing better sleep at night. This doesn't need to be incredibly complicated or expensive either. You can do a 15 minute morning stretch practice at home, a 45 minute vigorous mid day online practice, or a 75-90 minute yoga class at a studio. There are a lot of online videos to choose from that range from $0-20 a month and you can even get apps to help you on the go. If you love your Yoga Teacher you can also ask if they post videos online or can help you create a home practice.
- Watch what you eat and when
It can never be stressed often enough that caffeine should be avoided before bedtime! Did you also know that spicy foods before bed can cause sleep disruption? It takes 45 minutes for digestion of whole, clean, healthy foods but longer if you are eating meals dense in oils, fats, and animal product. On a regular basis you should be eating 3 hours before bed, no later. Its important to also take into consideration the amount of stimulants, such as caffeine or other mood/energy boosters, on a daily basis. The more stimulants present in the body the harder it is to naturally fall asleep. I noticed this first hand several years ago when I would drink a lot of coffee, soda, and energy drinks during the day and into the night, but then wonder why I was so exhausted and could't fall asleep until 2am. It got so bad that I had to start taking sleeping pills to get me to fall asleep, a habit a lot of people fall into out of pure frustration and a lack of health knowledge. What I know now is that you can get amazing sleep by cutting all the sugar, caffeine, and stimulants out of your diet. These days I can fall asleep with no assistance in under 20 minutes.
Drinking water seems like a duh but its very often forgotten, especially if you drink a lot of stimulants like stated above. Our bodies are made up of 70-80% water so it is extremely important that we retain as much hydration as possible. This will not only help you sleep better but it will ease digestion down and speed up the process at the same time, leaving your stomach contents ready for a good nights rest. It is also proven to improve the brains ability to process information, and as a result dream much more vividly! Increase the amount of water in your day to day to 8 cups, thats 68oz, daily.
- Turn on meditation music, have it on a sleep timer
I personally love this one, because it really relaxes all the tension from the body and induces the body into sleep preparation. When you are feeling tense or stressed and can't sleep turn on some flute or nature sounds. I use Pandora One because it also has a sleep timer function and is commercial free. If you don't have that option there are youtube videos that are 30min to an hour long that are specifically for sleep that can be very good and you don't have to get up and turn off. If you are doing this option, be sure to walk away from the screen and have it across the room for the next tip:
- Take away the tech
Cell phones are a big issue for most of us because they are so accessible. I myself have to remember this one from time to time because it can get really consuming! Its very important that you give the mind a rest from any visual stimulation, just as you would with ingestible stimulants. Get away from the TV and Youtube at least an hour if not more before sleep. Watching thought provoking or violent movies and TV shows can keep the mind up longer than it needs to be. Its also important not to allow children to do this either, as their cognitive function is still growing and needs to be nurtured. In Yogic philosophy this goes deeply into how the mind processes that information and creates it into reality. For example if you watch violence on TV you are much more likely to act it out in real life verbally or physically, according to this philosophy. For proper rest purposes, its much better to have a relaxed mind than a stimulated one.
- Shut the blinds, turn off all lights
Light is a really great way to be woken up naturally, therefor you must have total darkness or close to it to have better sleep. Whenever possible, get blinds that don't let in very much light if any at all. This will result in uninterrupted sleep because there will be no light disrupting the lids and causing you to wake up. This also means you should avoid "night lights" or leaving lamps on overnight. In the morning you simply open the blinds to be woken up and get ready for the day.
- Go to bed at the same time every night
This can be challenging but absolutely accomplished! Set up a pattern that the mind and body can get used to, this will help you get the most of your sleep. When you are in a habit of doing something the mind gets very smart and in tune with it, making it that much easier for yourself when its time to snooze. This will also make it easier to wake up in the mornings and not be tired, especially if you apply all of the above on a regular basis!
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