We humans are regulated by the cycles of nature – whether we like it or not. The yearly, seasonal cycles; the monthly, lunar cycles; and even daily cycles.
The hormones that determine our daily sleep and wake cycles are cortisol and melatonin. Cortisol levels increase during the day and keep us awake and melatonin levels increase into the evening helping us sleep. When this delicate balance gets thrown off, so does our sleep, and if this continues, we notice a decrease in our health and wellbeing.
We need sleep daily. When we are sleep deprived, we can feel slow and foggy, we can be moody and irritable, and things just don’t go the way we would like them to go. Why is sleep so important to us?
Sleep is a natural and necessary state that helps improve the function of the brain, supports the immune system, balances hormones, and increases energy and metabolism.
When we sleep, our body and our mind goes through a period of repair and rejuvenation, and we need this vital process daily.
Some symptoms of sleep deprivation are: memory loss, poor concentration, depression, headache, irritability, high blood pressure, lowered immune function, decreased libido, and weight gain.
These are some pretty serious symptoms. The good news is if the reason you are having these symptoms is because you are sleep deprived, working on improving sleep habits and increasing the quality of sleep will help you to reduce them.
I have found that in our culture, at this moment in time, it seems as though being too busy to relax and getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night is a brag, and those who decide that sleep and relaxation are important to them are almost seen as failures or at least weirdos.
Below is a list of a few things you may want to try to work on to improve your sleep. Start with what is easy for you and then slowly add more as you get comfortable. Even changing a few will make a difference.
Tips for Better Sleep
- Turn Off Screens
Do this 30 minutes to 1 hour before bed (at least.) Our body is very sensitive to light, and our sleep hormone, melatonin, can be depressed if our body senses light – natural or unnatural. Cortisol levels may stay raised if screen time gets too close to bed time, and this will make it hard to get to sleep when we are ready.
Turning screens off before bed helps the body receive the signal that it is ready for sleep. The darkness will be picked up by the pineal gland and melatonin will be released helping us get to sleep and stay asleep.
Any light that the skin senses will be read as daylight and melatonin will not be released in the quantities needed for sleep.
To help the body out, work on getting your room as dark as possible. Purchase black out blinds and then test them out. Turn out the lights in your room and wait 5 – 10 minutes for your eyes to adjust. As you start to see light leaks in your room, make a note of what you’ll need to change. This can be lights from electronics, light getting through the cracks in your curtains, or from under the bedroom door.
Do this for a few nights in a row to get all of the light pollution out of your room.
When we exercise, our body naturally produces cortisol. From the information above, we know that cortisol is not good in high amounts at night. If you exercise late in the day and have a hard time sleeping, work on changing your routine to include your workout earlier in the day.
Daily exercise also helps with sleep, so if you do not exercise regularly right now, try upping it. Going for walks counts!
There are so many ways to increase sleep quality, these are just a few. Start working on the tips that are easy for you and slowly add more once you get used to them. You will notice a difference in everything from your mood, memory, concentration, to your menstrual cycle and immune function.
If you are one of those people that believe they can trade sleep for waking hours and there are no repercussions, I urge you to work on this. Sleep is important for all aspects of our lives and our health, and you will be doing yourself a great service if you start to work on this now.
If you already have good sleep but do have some symptoms listed at the top, I would still recommend working through some of the tips. There is always room for improvement and what have you got to lose?
Sleep is a great aspect of life to work on no matter how you are feeling. What are some of your favourite nighttime rituals or routines? I would love to hear about them. Join my new Facebook group – Vivacious Vegan Women – and share your tips with us. It is also a great place to ask questions and share your story.
Yours in plant love,
Holford, Patrick. “New Optimum Nutrition For The Mind.” London: Piatkus Books Ltd., 2004. 184-196.
Phyllis A. Balch, CNC. “Prescription for Nutritional Healing Fifth Edition.” London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2010. 538-542.
Sherry Torkos, BSc Phm. “The Canadian Encyclodedia Of Natural Medicine Second Edition.” Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2013. 313-316.