ESSENTIAL ELEMENT: Restorative Sleep
Critical Concept: Go to Bed
For thousands of generations, the cycles of the sun and daylight dictated the rhythm of our lives. When the sun went down – so did we. The world was a dangerous place in the dark, so our ancestors would grab their mate, head back to the cave, and call it a day – early. There was no modern appliance or electronic technology to keep them up – so nightfall signaled the end of the day. Very often in the modern world, sunset simply marks the beginning of the second half of the day.
Late night television, the internet, 24 hour drive-thrus, and 60-hour work weeks have created a cultural norm of nocturnal living that is unrecognizable to our ancient hard-wiring. If you are like most people, your body expects and requires more sleep than it gets.
In fact, Dr. John Medina author of Brain Rules says that 90% of Americans are chronically over-tired. Although this has noticeable implications in our day-to-day lives, like midday head bobbing and black circles under your eyes, the silent damage you’ll experience with sleep deprivation is a real killer – literally.
Our body uses sleep to rest and repair our tissues. Our brain requires sleep to process the information from the day. Critical sleep cycles involve hormone balancing that affects everything from your energy and moods to your metabolism and ability to regulate your body weight. Sleep deprivation is actually a predictor of obesity.
Healthy sleep patterns promote complete sleep cycles. Your brain goes through different sleep phases when you rest. REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) involves dreaming; non-REM sleep is the deepest and most critical phase of sleep. This is the time that your most vital repair and recharge takes place. The more complete sleep cycles you experience, the better. For most of us, that means getting back to the cave – earlier.
In order to ensure maximal complete sleep cycles, humans thrive best when we follow the Circadean Rhythm that is coiled deep inside your DNA. Dictated by the light of the sun, this rhythm is a physiological set point that has promoted early to bed, early to rise, for millennia. Getting to bed before 11 p.m. is a best practice followed by the healthiest, most energized people in the world. Tallying seven hours or more of quality sleep has been shown to increase longevity. And, lo and behold, the afternoon nap turns out to be one of the most effective and productive methods for increasing energy and improving cognitive skills and focus, while mitigating the adverse effects of chronic stress by lowering circulating stress hormones like cortisol.
Try going to bed fifteen minutes earlier for 21 days. Studies show that a new habit can be formed within 21 consecutive days. Repeat this every 21 days until your target “bed-time” is reached. This vital behavior is effective in conquering the late night habit that leaves you nodding off at the wheel.
Help nudge yourself into bed on time by creating a sleep sanctuary. Invest in a quality sleep surface, a high quality pillow, and comfortable pajamas. Practice an eFast (no electronics) 30 minutes before bed – in fact, keep the TV, Blackberry and computer out of the bedroom all together.
Avoid foods or drinks, such as caffeine or alcohol, that disturb healthy sleep patterns. Keep conversations relaxed and loving; discuss or focus on the things that went well that day; never argue before bed – emotional upset is the most common cause of “social insomnia.” Journal, pray or visualize a better tomorrow and be grateful for today.