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How's Your Sleep?



Two weeks in to this new calendar year and I’m feeling like I’ve finally got a handle on my daily routine again. As much as I love a good holiday, I’m not yet adept at sticking to the simple practices that keep me on top of my game when festivities are in full swing. Although, I certainly am getting better at noticing how every little decision I make to either skip or avoid what I know to be in my best interest affects my mood, energy and overall wellbeing.


To be clear, I’m talking about some rather minor decisions. Like whether to eat toast and jam for breakfast, which is delicious but always leaves me ‘snacky’ by 10am. Or to instead enjoy a bowl of warm whole cooked oats with dates, pecans and a drop of maple syrup which keeps my belly feeling full and my energy levels topped up until noon. Minor decisions yes, but each has quite the impact on how my day, and mood, unfolds.


But the biggest decision I make for myself each day is whether I decide to go to bed at a decent hour or not. I’ve talked about this before and I can’t emphasize enough how important this decision is and the implication it has one’s health and wellbeing. Yes, diet and exercise choices are absolutely important, but so is a good night’s sleep. If I’m short on sleep, aside from being a little ornery that day, I’m much more likely to reach for unhealthy carbs and sugary foods to give me that energy boost and mental stamina I feel lacking. And there’s good reason for this. Modern science is continuously working to prove how sleep impacts our choices based on the biological functions that are affected when sleep and sleep patterns are disrupted.


The sleep-wake cycle is a circadian rhythm, one of many circadian rhythms that basically keeps us alive and functioning. Research around the globe acknowledges that the sleep-wake cycle is one the most important 24-hr clocks to acknowledge and learn to work with. This internal regulatory system is responsible for a myriad of functions in the body including the your capacity to sleep (no brainer there), your alertness throughout the day, your overall mental health, your metabolism, appetite, and blood sugar levels, your body’s temperature, your immunity, your ability to ward off sickness, and the overall level of oxygen in your blood stream. Research also suggests that proper sleep-wake cycles decrease the risk of dis-ease(s) including depression, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel, thyroid dysfunctions, psoriasis, and lack of sleep has even been linked to the onset of dementia and even cancer.


There are many things that can affect your sleep-wake cycle including things you have control : what you eat, your exercise and daily activity, the amount of sunlight you get, any stimulants like caffeine, chocolate and alcohol you might consume, and what time you wake up in the morning, or if you nap throughout the day.


And then there are some things you may not have control over including your sleep habitat (your bed, your bedroom and your bed company), children or pets waking you up through the night, bodily functions, travel and the jet lag of time changes, or shift work responsibilities. All of these factors can and do affect this vital internal rhythm. But it’s not like you can just up and quit your job, or put your bed, or bedmate, in a different location in your house. Learn to adopt necessary practices that support your best opportunity for sleep is key - or at least learn to manage the affects that disrupted sleep inevitably brings about.


In Ayurveda, the daily practice of what we do to best support our health, happiness and fulfillment in life, is called dinacharya. Translated as daily regime (dina = day, charya = behaviour or regime), this is when one actively engages in making the best decisions possible to feel good and thrive in each day. Although there are a few daily habits to consider, cultivating a consistent sleep-wake cycle is at the top of this decision-making process.


To best support your sleep-wake cycle, ideally we look to follow the rhythm of the sun and wake just before sunrise, and sleep at sun down. Now depending on where you live in the world, these times can change rather drastically in the run of a 24 hr period. So instead of adjusting your schedule on a daily basis, Ayurveda suggests consistency and to do your best to get to sleep and wake up at the same times each day. The recommended guidelines to cultivate for are to be asleep by 10:00pm, and to wake by 6:00am.


Simple, right?


Ha! Tell that to a crying baby, snoring partner or a night shift manager.


Simple is not always easy. In fact in our modern day world, sticking to the simple things can be a rather challenging task. But at the end of the day, you have to decide what you are going to do to support your health and wellbeing. And giving yourself an appropriate amount of rest each day is truly a gift I encourage you to give yourself.


Here are some things I try and stick to in order to help me get to sleep on time and to have to capacity to wake up the next morning. I say try because shit happens and things don’t always go as planned. But I do my best to ensure that 99% of the time, I commit to these actions. Why? Well because I want to wake up feeling good each day and that for me is reason enough.


• Eliminate screen time 30-60 minutes before bed. Instead of scrolling through reels or watching Netflix, I try to coerce myself into reading a book, drawing or crafting something. Many evening I use this time to move through some simple yin-like postures to help release any lingering tension in my body. Or I practice simple breathing techniques to calm and sooth my mind.


• Journal. Write shit down and get it off your chest and out of your head. This is one of the best ways to get rid of some mental clutter that can creep into bed with you.


• Meditate. There are a myriad of ways to practice meditation and so many benefits to it. Whether you sit in a quiet place focusing on your breath for a few minutes before bed, or while lying in bed and offering yourself a guided relaxation practice. Try a few different technics and decide what options feel right for you. As little as five minutes can be incredibly calming and soothing to the body and the mind.


• Avoid caffeine, or at least start to limit it. If you do find yourself needing a jumpstart in your day, try to keep your caffeine consumption to the morning so that your body has ample time to process and eliminate it.


• Eat your largest meal around the noon hour. This is when the sun is at its peak in the sky and when your internal sun, your digestive power, is functioning at its highest.


• Eat your last meal of the day no later than 7pm. Eating later in the evening can impact your quality of sleep and rest because your body will be working to digest the food you consumed instead of resting and recuperating from the stresses of the day.


• Get up and out of bed around 6am. Now this doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym at 6am, but it does mean pulling yourself out of bed and start easing yourself into your day. I make room for meditation and gentle asana practice most mornings of the week, or when I’m feeling like I need an even gentler start to my day, I practice abhyanga.


I could go on here, but I think I’ll conclude with this…


At the end of the day, each of us has to make the decision on whether we want to help ourselves get the sleep and rest we need or not. Once the decision is made, then its a matter of taking action. You’ll know when you are properly rested and your sleep cycle is in check because you will wake up feeling rested and refreshed. And from there, a myriad of physical, mental and emotional health aspects will systematically find their cadence.


As you look to cultivate a deeply nourishing sleep routine, go easy on yourself. If it takes a few weeks, or even months, to slowly adjust and stick to it, let that be so. It might mean you have to look to alternatives to rest and relaxation especially if shift work or travel (or kids and pets) disrupts your sleep schedule.


So, what do you think? Are you ready to get some zzz’s and gain control of your sleep while enjoy the benefits that flow into the following day? What obstacles are in your way from getting to bed at a decent hour? And what are you ready to do to support this rhythm of your life?


Until next time, sleep well.

Michelle

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