Sleep and Rest

Did you know?

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As we age we require less sleep, but we need more “deep sleep” or “slow wave sleep” to discharge stress and recharge our brain cells.

 

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Try GABARest®, containing key herbal extracts for restorative sleep.

Knitting Ourselves Back Together

Shakespeare knew all about the importance of sleep. He called it “nature’s soft nurse”—and noted its effectiveness in raveling up the “sleeve of care”—repairing and rejuvenating us after a stressful and demanding day. We all know the consequences of too little sleep—mental fog, irritability, slower reaction times, increased risk of headaches, and more. Deprived of sleep long enough, we will simply die.

 

In addition to muscle repair and release of hormones, sleep helps us to consolidate the days events and process and integrate new information. But, even more important, sleep affects the formation of myelin, which is critical to brain growth and repair. Myelin is an insulator and a conductor that covers our brain and spinal cord nerve cell projections, a bit like the insulation around an electrical wire. It is integral to the fast and efficient movement of electrical impulses from cell to cell. Studies have revealed that sleep seems to turn on the genes known to play a part in the formation of myelin. Read more on myelin and brain health

 

So . . . sleep isn’t just empty hours of space where nothing happens. It is a busy regenerative time that is linked to how well and how long we live. People who sleep too little (6 hours or less) or too much (9 hours or more) have a 30 percent higher death rate.

 

How Much is Right?

 

For most adults, 7 to 8 hours of sleep (night after night!) is the happy medium. Remember, you can’t “make up” for lost sleep. Eventually, you will have to pay back your sleep debt—and you’ll see firsthand the terrible price it exacts—in the mirror— and in how your brain performs thoughout the day. 

 

Why Sleep Matters

 

New research reveals that problems with getting enough sleep may raise the risk of life changing cognitive issues, which currently afflict more than 5 million Americans. According to this research, sleep allows the body to cleanse itself of harmful compounds and toxic waste products that our cells produce with daily use.

 

In fact, brain cells actually shrink when we sleep, which allows cerebrospinal fluid to flush through the brain more quickly. Scientists have dubbed this the “glymphatic” system, a system that circulates cerebrospinal fluid through out the brain tissue and then drains the resulting waste into the bloodstream, which then carries it to the liver for detoxification.
 

How to Get to Sleep, Stay Asleep, and Sleep Extremely Well

• Create a sleep sanctuary. Your bedroom should be a kind of refuge—reserve it for sleeping, not work or entertainment. Remove the television, turn off the computer, and reduce or eliminate any light sources. Extremes in temperature should be avoided, and a comfortable, slightly cooler climate is generally most conducive to restful sleep. Some people prefer soft, organic bedding and candles or incense to help create a soothing sleep atmosphere. Clutter is a distraction for most people, so make sure your bedroom is reasonably tidy and clean.

 

• Turn off the chatter. After a busy day, it can be challenging to wind down and stop our minds from racing. Some find it helpful to write out a list of things they need to do the next day so they won’t forget it in the morning and won’t dwell on it at night.

 

Prepare for sleep mode. Transitioning from daytime to nighttime mode doesn’t happen automatically, as it used to when people rose with the rising sun and retired with the setting sun. Urban noise and perpetual artificial lighting confuses the body into believing it is still daytime. Find ways to relax the body and mind. A warm bath, some gentle music or light reading are all very helpful in creating just the right sleep attitude. A little easy stretching or a casual stroll a couple of hours before bed are also quite relaxing.

 

• Steer clear of stimulants. These aren’t just the obvious ones like coffee, sugar or drugs. Other stimulants can keep us awake—volatile TV shows, working right up to bedtime, intense or conflictual conversations, pain relievers, rigorous exercise, and nicotine—have a negative impact on not only getting to sleep, but sleeping restoratively. Although they may make you drowsy initially, alcohol and even most conventional sleep aids will rob you of deep sleep, as well as dream (REM sleep), the stages of sleep that are the most restorative.

 

• Avoid late and heavy dinners. These stimulate your digestive and metabolic processes, but they also make you feel bloated and uncomfortable before bed.

 

• Drink a sleep-inducing tea. Valerian and Chamomile are quite good, but don’t drink them too close to bedtime or you’ll be making frequent trips to the bathroom all night. Half a banana before bed can help to raise the neurotransmitter serotonin, as will a vegetable carb or low-glycemic grain like quinoa in your final meal before bedtime.

 

• Establish a regular sleeping and waking routine. Try to go to sleep at the same time every night and for the same number of hours. Waking with the sunlight can help to reset your internal biological clock (circadian rhythms).

 

Neural Chatter—Give Your Brain a Break

Many things cause brain fatigue—lack of sleep, junk food, sedentary habits, medications, and too much alcohol, to name a few. But one of the main reasons our brains start to fire blanks is because they are overtaxed. Rather like our besieged livers, our brains can become overwhelmed from too much data and not enough down time. The liver becomes stressed by incoming toxins it wasn’t designed to process. In the same way, our brains will have a reaction to too much of the wrong (overly stimulating, stressful or negative) input.

 

The Multitasking Myth

In Western cultures the ability to multi-task is seen as a virtue. In fact, it becomes more like a multi-tax than a multi-task. The reality is that it is far better to do one thing very well vs. several things poorly. But being in the moment and focusing all your attention on one task at a time can go against the grain, and it requires a tremendous amount of mental energy. When it’s done right, however, it can be very creatively and professionally fulfilling, and offers us health benefits we can’t see at first glance.

 

What Creates Neural Noise?

 

  • Thinking too much about the future
  • Dwelling too much on the past
  • Cognitive distortions
  • Emotional wallowing and worrying
  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor diet
  • Large amounts of stress

 

Tune Out

As we age, both external and internal distractions become more frequent. This interferes with concentration, attentiveness, and learning capacity and retention.

 

Most of us spend an exorbitant amount of time and effort on activities that dissipate our energy, from too much TV to too many fast foods to fretting about things we can’t control. Then, when we try to find the energy to rise to a more challenging task that confronts us, we have little to draw on physically or mentally.

It’s important to take a few moments each day to recharge and decompress.

 

This might mean taking a leisurely stroll at lunch or sitting in a quiet place, like a garden or a sanctuary, for 30 minutes. It might mean talking to a supportive friend, meditating, or listening to calming music. Creating the space to be good to ourselves is not self-indulgence. It’s just good brain sense.

 

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Still feeling tense? Check out one of these body relaxation techniques.