Sleep we know it’s important, we probably feel guilty because we aren’t getting enough. We think we should be more disciplined or scheduled or committed to self-care or it must be our fault somehow. This week I did a session with someone who has trouble sleeping. I looked for the handout I thought I wrote on sleep basics, but found none. Now it is time, this was reinforced by two different email links to sleep articles in next three days. One is a good piece linking vitamin D levels for good sleep. I am making the link available to you, right here. My favorite part is the view that; you can’t do it wrong nor can you do it perfect, sleep is an involuntary process. The nature of involuntary is we don’t consciously control it. Sleep is involuntary, you sleep, you wake it, happens to you.
What goes on during sleep? Most of our body becomes paralyzed, but our lungs, heart etc. keep awake to keep us alive. Put simply we shut most everything down for repair. Repair, replenish, reorganize, re-balance, consolidating learning, memory and emotion. Sleep is actually a busy time for our autonomic processes. Some critters (dolphins) sleep with only half their brain at a time, one side of the brain stays awake to keep an eye (just one) on things. Then they switch sides to get a full brain sleep.
Sleep comes in stages. Light sleep is when we check out if it’s safe enough to check out. In this phase we wake up easily, just to make sure no predators are close at hand. A bit of movement might be going on, the full switch to mini hibernation hasn’t happened yet. Deep sleep, has both slow wave (more than one type) and the famous REM sleep. And finally light sleep again as we begin to anticipate waking up, and more parts are orienting to an alert state. All of these different phases come in rhythms though out the night and each have different specialties. REM consolidates emotional information, deep sleep consolidates motor tasks and a combination of both gives better retention of perceptual information. If that’s not enough for you there is the restoring of energy through glycogen increase, the beta amyloid (and other toxic proteins) clean up, turning off stress hormones and probably more that we haven’t discovered yet.
What helps nudge that involuntary process called sleep? The most off repeated advice is routine, routine, routine.
Routine could be:
- Establish a set sleep time and wake time and stick with it even when you don’t feel like it.
- Create a sleep ritual, something that tells your brain it’s time to go to sleep. We often do that for our children, brush teeth, read a story, hug a particular toy, finally a scripted goodnight conversation. “Goodnight snuggle buns I love you, I love you too papa bear, kiss, kiss kiss” or something like that. Seems silly but it works, we know what is coming and our body/mind submits.
- Get proprioceptive input. Proprioception is the firm, deep, pressure that registers in our joints and muscles. It tells us to relax. A good massage can make you feel sleepy but so can bouncing on a trampoline for a child who needs lots of proprioception before they can let go.
- At least 30 minutes before sleep turn off the computer. The light emitted from screens is especially stimulating. Remember our eyes take in a high percentage of overall sensory input.
Be patient and loving:
- It can take up to two weeks to reestablish a disrupted sleep rhythm.
- You haven’t done so well lately? Then be more gentle, loving and kind to yourself, pressure creates stress which reduces sleep, which creates stress…… Interrupt the cycle.
- Create some sleep affirmations. Our brains really do believe what we say. If you find a negative response pops up after you have said “I am going to fall asleep easily and rest deeply until morning”. Come back with “thank you very much I hear you and I am still going to sleep really well.”
- Warm beverages are soothing, again can you make it into a comforting ritual?
- Hot bath can relax muscles and make you more receptive to sleep. What helps you flip the switch?
- The worrying brain. Before sleep some people write down all their concerns and then say I will handle this in the morning but now I’m going to sleep. We really do believe what we tell ourselves.
- Supplements: vitamin D, melatonin, tryptophan are all produced in our bodies to trip the sleep switch. Check with a naturopath about supplements and dosage.
- Exercise, your body needs to feel (not just think) the reasons to sleep. Exercise alerts us and gets our blood flowing but later our body will need to replenish, the best reason to sleep