Why Sleep Trumps Everything

Sleep: Your Body’s Repair Shop

You may exercise and consider yourself physically fit, but I bet you still wonder why you never feel fully recharged, get sick every now and then, or never make the muscle gains or fat loss goals that you think you should be achieving. Here’s a shocker: Along with lacking proper nutrients from foods, you are most likely deficient on sleep as well. We all want to be super productive and handle all that we can during the day, but few realize how essential seven hours of sleep is to our body.

What is REM sleep?

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is characterized by eye movement, increased respiration rate and increased brain activity. Dreaming occurs because of increased brain activity, but voluntary muscles become paralyzed. Voluntary muscles are those that you need to move by choice, for example, your arms and legs. Involuntary muscles are those that include your heart and gut. They move on their own.

This is when you enter your dream state. We typically enter REM approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep. The first cycle of REM often lasts only a short amount of time, but each cycle becomes longer. This is why we need long periods of sleep each night. If we get short periods of sleep, we can’t really get through the stages we need to heal and stay healthy. One reason why you may not be getting a proper, quality sleep is a circadian rhythm gone haywire.

What is my circadian rhythm?

Your internal 24–hour sleep–wake cycle, otherwise known as your biological clock or circadian rhythm, is regulated by processes in the brain that respond to how long you’ve been awake and the changes between light and dark. At night, your body responds to the loss of daylight by producing melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy. During the day, sunlight triggers the brain to inhibit melatonin production so you feel awake and alert. I’m sure you’ve seen those melatonin supplements at a vitamin shop? Take one of these and you will trick your brain into thinking it’s bedtime.

Your internal clock can go haywire from things like nightshift work, traveling across time zones, or irregular sleeping patterns—leaving you feeling groggy, disoriented, and sleepy at inconvenient times. The production of melatonin can also be thrown off when you’re deprived of sunlight during the day or exposed to too much artificial light at night—especially the light from electronic devices, including TVs, iPads, tablets, and mobile phones.

I’m a busy person, so what can I do to get a better sleep?

Artificial light

Minimize the use of artificial light during the evenings. Put a candle on instead of using a bright ceiling light, or at least use a dimmer; use a desk lamp; turn off the TV a few hours before bedtime; brainstorm ideas on a paper notebook and transfer them to a laptop during the day instead of staring at a highly illuminated computer screen all evening.

Reading a fiction book

Even if you insist on working late into the night on your laptop with all the lights on in your house, you still can improve your sleep through one simple technique: let your mind wander.

When you lay down in bed for the night turn on a low intensity bedside lamp or light a candle, and pick up your favorite fiction book and let your mind drift into a fantasy land. By allowing your brain to switch off you will forget about the pressures of your job, your life, and other stress-inducing commitments. Just try to let go for that last piece of the night and drift off into a fictional world of dragons, romance, and fantastic adventures. You will end up increasing your amount of REM sleep and fall asleep much quicker than if you lie there worrying about tomorrow’s events. Save the worrying for tomorrow morning!

Stretching & Breathing

A simple pre-bedtime exercise sometimes can be so effective that you wonder how you did without it.

Stretching is a natural stress reliever and we often forget to loosen our tightly bound muscles by stretching and relaxing for a few minutes during the day! Simply stretch your body and hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat until you feel relaxed.

After your stretching, as you lie in bed and close your eyes preparing to go to sleep, take a DEEP breath, hold it, and exhale. Repeat this five times. Fantastic sleep awaits … zzzzzzz.

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