Sleep is a subject that is near and dear to my heart because I’ve had bouts of insomnia my whole life. I remember at 7 years old being awake all night watching Nick At Nite, and when The Dick Van Dyke Show came on it meant it was 4am and I still hadn't slept.
Like the other 70 million people in the country that struggle with sleep these days, for me my issues with sleep usually stem from a combination of too much on my mind and a dysregulated nervous system.
There are dozens (maybe even hundreds of) reasons that you might also have trouble with falling asleep, staying asleep, and feeling rested when waking up in the morning.
It was no surprise to me that once becoming a parent, consistent sleep just wasn’t going to happen. It started with pregnancy; I swore my body was preparing me for newborn life by keeping me up all night!
It was actually around this time in my life that I tried reiki again as an intervention because stress was really affecting my sleep. More on this subject in upcoming articles!
Years back when I was working as a Clinical Health Coach in corporate wellness I was presented with opportunities to research this topic in depth, and design/implement programs around holistic approaches to address fatigue and to improve sleep.
Let me tell you something, I’m leaning HARD on these tools right now! As I write this, I have a teething 7 ½ year-old and a 4 ½ year-old, and our entire household is feeling the onset of cold/flu season. Basically, no one here is sleeping.
Knowing how many others are right there along with me, I’ve put together a mini training for you through these next few blog articles, and a sleep “challenge” to come to help you make some important shifts for your own sleep!
In true Professor Knapp fashion, let’s begin here with some basics before we dive into the tools...
Sleep and other symptoms (think anxiety, obesity, hormone imbalances, etc.) are often so interrelated that we don’t know what came first, the chicken or the egg. Given that, we need to look at sleep issues in a holistic way.
Not that I have to convince you that sleep is important, but let me remind you that good quality sleep benefits our physical (including medical) health, our emotional health, and our mental health.
Poor sleep can lead to the risk of chronic health issues, as well as affect the way you think, work, learn, react, and interact with others around you. Sleep deficiency has even been found to be linked to depression and suicide.
For me, it also makes me have less patience with my kids, be quicker to anger, over think about things that aren’t really important, the motivation for self-care goes down the drain, and (like right now!) my nervous system dysregulates.
Just to put things into perspective how much you need sleep to function, here’s a fun fact...
As you know in most states in the US, the legal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level in order to drive must be at .08 or lower. Any higher than this and a person is considered drunk driving.
Well, studies have shown that being awake for ~18 hours straight is equivalent to a BAC of .05. Being awake for 24 hours is equivalent to a BAC of .10.
The graph here shows how the length of time you’re awake compares to increasing levels of alcohol in the blood (Williamson, 2000).
Wild, right? No wonder things get difficult when you can’t sleep for days/months/years on end!
Now let’s explore the physiology a little more and look at how sleep affects your body:
Sympathetic Nervous System
Enables our stress or “fight or flight” response.
If we lack sleep, it stays activated, resulting in increased blood pressure (Queensland Health, 2020).
Lymphatic and Glymphatic Nervous System
Used to carry waste out of the brain and body via lymph and cerebrospinal fluid.
Produces waste when active and the body is awake.
Efficiently disposes of waste when body is at rest/unconscious (Bennington-Castro, 2013).
Made up of hormones and controls the body’s biological processes.
Lack of sleep can result in obesity, glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance (Martinez M.D. Hormone Health Network, 2019).
Pumps blood throughout body giving oxygen to all of the body’s organs.
Rest/sleep allow the body and heart to recharge and restore.
Sleep deprivation can cause blood pressure issues and increase risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and heart attack (Sleep Foundation, 2020).
Bottom line, lack of sleep has been shown to have direct effects on your body and the ability for its systems to function properly and thrive.
Let’s look at some common misconceptions around sleep:
MYTH: “Your body just gets used to less sleep over time.”
Lack of sleep has been shown by research not only to have short term effects on your health, but also long term. This means your body doesn’t have the ability to just “get used to” sleeping less than it needs to.
MYTH: “As long as you sleep enough hours that’s all that matters.”
While the duration of sleep is important, this is not the only factor of sleep that affects your body. The quality of sleep is also a very important aspect as this involves sleep disruptions and your ability to move through all of your sleep cycles.
MYTH: “As long as you sleep 7 hours per day, it doesn’t matter what time of day you sleep.”
As much as getting your 7 hours a day in is important, studies have shown sleeping at nighttime when it’s dark outside is an important factor in aligning your circadian rhythm. Our body’s internal clock is also affected by our environment, and ensuring our circadian rhythm is aligned is an essential part of your quality of sleep.
MYTH: “Napping is bad for your sleep.”
While this is not true, naps are something we must be careful with and do correctly in order for them to be of benefit to us. Research suggests that naps should be no longer than 30 minutes, or over 90 minutes.
The reason behind this has to do with getting through the stages of sleep cycles and not waking up during important parts of the cycle. While naps can be beneficial in this manner, it is important not to begin to rely on napping as a substitute for quality sleep at nighttime.
MYTH: “Caffeine doesn’t affect me, even if I have it right before I sleep.”
Unfortunately, as much as you might be convinced that the constant intake of caffeine doesn’t affect your body, research shows otherwise… Caffeine intake can lead to insomnia as well as anxiety and poor sleep quality.
How much sleep do I really need?
As we get older and our bodies change, the amount of sleep we need to function properly changes, too.
Newborns and infants require much more sleep per day than teenagers and adults. The main reason for this is due to the period of growth our bodies are in, and the efficiency of this growth is directly affected by the amount of rest we get. We’re going to be talking about this in more detail in the Conscious Parenting with Holistic Tools FB Group.
Generally speaking, adults between the ages of 18 and 60 years require 7-9 hours of sleep or per night. Our bodies operate on what’s called our circadian rhythm, or our body’s internal clock.
This means from the time we wake until the time we go back to sleep, our body becomes increasingly tired. When you push the limits of the signals your body is giving us to relax or wind down (ahem, this is why mindfulness is so important!) is when sleep deprivation comes into play, and our health starts to become affected.
Use my free grounding practice to begin your day grounded and with intention so that you may remain calm and peaceful when facing any challenges that arise.
Stay tuned for more in the next blog as we begin to build our toolshed for HOW to get better sleep!
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