Sleep: 40 Winks of Good Health

It’s been several years since I’ve had the daily, glazed-over look of a sleep-deprived new parent. But I can still recognize—and sympathize—with other new moms and dads from a mile away. You see them now and then out in the world. In the grocery store, they may ask where the bananas are, even if they’re standing in front of a banana display five-feet high. At least, this is what I did when I found myself in that state of mind, and I was extremely grateful to the kind woman who pointed those bananas out to me. Thankfully, nowadays I just have occasional puffy eyes from staying up too late reading a book or letting my boys watch a creepy movie promo during the football game. But when it happens, it still takes its toll.

Humans need sleep. Humans even love sleep—or at least they should. It’s such a big deal that the National Sleep Foundation is dedicated to convincing us all how important it is. We know we feel better after a good, solid sleep, but what exactly happens during the night that makes it so beneficial? I did some digging. These two articles explain the benefits associated with the different stages of sleep in a straightforward way: “What Happens When You Sleep?” from the National Sleep Foundation and “Get Some Sleep: Why Do We Have REM?” by sleep expert Lisa Shives, MD. Here’s the rundown:

  • Stage 1 and 2: Our bodies gradually slow down, allowing us to doze off.
  • Stage 3 and 4: Our most restorative sleep, a time of tissue growth and repair. There’s a drop in our blood pressure, and our bodies release hormones, including growth hormones to stimulate our development.
  • REM sleep: This is when our minds are at their most active, when we dream our most vivid dreams. Our body temperature fluctuates with the air around us—and at the same time it becomes completely relaxed. In essence, our muscles turn off. Dr. Shives offers up a couple of theories to explain this aspect of REM sleep, one of which is so we don’t fall off our beds trying to escape from the wild animal chasing us in our dreams. I think that’s pretty incredible.
  • A good sleep also plays a role in the health of our immune system, allowing our cortisol levels to decrease early in the process. As we sleep, our cortisol slowly increases again so by the time we wake up, we’re mentally prepared to tackle whatever challenges the day may bring.

In short, sleep is good. When we get enough of it, we make better decisions about pretty much everything—including food and nutrition. Think about it. The average sleep-deprived person is less likely to reach for a cup of warm water with a squeeze of lemon than chug their favorite caffeinated beverage. And they’ll probably avoid a natural pick-me-up like a handful of almonds in favor of the short-lived instant gratification provided by a sugary snack from the vending machine. Like most of us, I’ve chosen the less nutritious option on occasion. But on those days when we need a little extra energy, we should always remember there are good choices out there. This slideshow on WebMD offers some fine ideas, though I don’t agree with all of them. For those foods that require some preparation, a traditional cooking approach will only add to their nutritional benefit. But the following recommendations are easy to fit into any day, no matter how busy:

  • Water—believe it or not, simply getting enough water throughout the day plays a big role in keeping your energy level up.
  • Breakfast—starting your day with a simple omelet that includes vegetables sautéed in coconut oil will get you heading in the right direction on those sleepy mornings.
  • Fiber—this is one of the best ways to keep your blood sugar levels even throughout the day, avoiding those extreme highs and lows that tempt us to grab a quick fix. Think whole fruits and veggies instead of gummy fruit snacks.

The truth is, we probably won’t get an ideal night’s sleep every time we lay our heads down. But the way we choose to compensate the next day has a big impact on our overall health. Making good choices helps us accomplish what needs to be accomplished. These choices even influence the quality of sleep we get the following night, which can lead to a vicious circle of exhaustion and poor nutrition. For example, if you drink caffeine too close to bedtime, you may stay awake longer than you wish and wake up tired the following day. So instead of reaching for the sugar or caffeine, check out the MediHerb line from Standard Process. You’ll find supplement options like Adrenal Complex and Rhodiola Ginseng that will give your body what it actually needs—plus a long-lasting, natural energy boost. I also like to go for a quick walk around the neighborhood or reach for some raw veggies and hummus that I mentioned in a recent post. Even just lying down for 10 or 20 minutes during the day can give me the boost I need without interfering with that night’s sleep.

If you’re someone who deals with insomnia on a regular basis, you owe it to your health to find a solution. The Mayo Clinic’s advice on “7 Steps to Better Sleep” may give you some ideas that will lead to a restful sleep. You can also try an Internet search for evening routines that promote good sleep and choose one that fits your lifestyle. Another strategy that may work for you is looking into the Standard Process line of whole food supplements classified as calmatives. St. John’s Wort-IMT, Min-Tran, or simply some Calcium Lactate may help you get the sleep you need. And don’t forget to talk with your healthcare provider about ways to improve your sleep, or lack-of-sleep, situation.

How do you deal with those occasions when you have trouble sleeping well at night? Do you have any tips for making it through the next day?

Photo from iStock/egorr

Paula Widish

Paula Widish, author of Trophia: Simple Steps to Everyday Self-Health, is a freelance writer and self-healther. She loves nothing more than sharing tidbits of information she discovers with others. (Actually, she loves her family more than that—and probably bacon too.) Paula has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Public Relations and is a Certified Professional Life Coach through International Coach Academy.

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