How many hours of sleep did you get on average this summer? If your answer is 7 or less, keep reading to find out why getting enough sleep is critical to your health and well-being. And if you love your sleep — and average 8+ hours (like me!) — I think you’ll enjoy this blog post too. So pour yourself a cup of herbal tea and read on...
With back to school just around the corner, now is the time to really get to know your sleep patterns, understand your stress levels, and consider the upcoming seasonal changes (I’m looking at you, Daylight Savings Time!), and how they affect your sleep. I don’t know about you, but this year, I’ve got a little bit of anxiety about sending the kids to school — in the middle of a global pandemic.
And when we’re stressed, it’s easy to get off track when it comes to our sleep. We live in a busy, fast-paced world, and our never ending to-do lists often mean staying up just “another 30 minutes” to get something else done. Or maybe we’re simply exhausted after a long, hard day of working… or parenting… or both! And all we want to do is relax on the couch in front of our favourite TV show. (But thanks to Netflix, “just one more” turns into “just three more” and before we know it, it’s well after midnight.) Sound familiar?
In my case, my well-being is compromised when I don’t get enough sleep. Suddenly, I’m less patient with my kids. I’m walking around grumpy, depleted of energy. That’s when it hits: I’m just not getting the sleep that I need to function at my best. Time for a reset! On one such sleepless night, I happened to find this TED Talk, Why sleep matters more now than ever, by Matt Walker. (It must have been a sign!). Everything he said made so much sense. It was like he took all the things I knew about the importance of sleep and explained it in a way that was both clear and logical. It felt like a gift — one that I’m re-gifting to you with these eye-opening takeaways. Enjoy!
TED Talk Takeaways
→ Immune health
In his talk, Matt shares the importance of getting enough sleep one week prior to getting a vaccine. When you don't get enough sleep (7 hours or less), 50% fewer antibodies are produced, rendering the vaccine 50% less effective. Further reading: Sleep Helps Vaccines Work: Study (WebMD)
Matt tells us that we can start to gain weight if we are not sleeping well. Why? Because lack of sleep changes how our brains operate in response to food. It changes our food group preferences (i.e., we reach for unhealthy snacks!), and it makes us believe we are hungry when we aren’t.
Further reading: The Science of the Midnight Snack (The Atlantic) → Stress
In order to fall asleep, Matt explains, our cortisol levels (a.k.a., the stress hormone) need to gradually decrease. It probably goes without saying that if we’re stressed, this isn’t going to happen. Instead, our bodies will move towards ‘flight or fight’ mode instead of the more calming ‘rest and digest’ mode. And it can be a vicious cycle! A good night’s sleep can help calm our emotions, while insufficient sleep does just the opposite.
Matt reveals that 20-30 minutes of physical activity each day helps improve our sleep at night. And when you start to sleep well, you’ll have more motivation to go out and exercise. It’s win-win! (Just don’t exercise right before bed, or you may be tossing and turning instead.)
Further reading: Exercising for Better Sleep (John Hopkins Medicine) → Other ways that sleep is helpful
A good night’s sleep benefits every major organ system in the body, as well as any of the operations of the mind, including learning, memory, and creativity.
Sleep helps us integrate and associate new memories with existing stores of information. "You’ve never been told to stay awake on a problem, but instead you are told to sleep on a problem" - Matt Walker
Getting enough sleep on a regular basis can improve our mood.
→ Tips for getting a good night’s sleep
Incorporate exercise into your daily routine — something as simple as going for a 30-minute walk each day is enough to help you fall asleep moments after your head hits the pillow.
Be mindful of your caffeine intake, and stop drinking caffeinated beverages at least 6 hours before bed.
Dim the lights in the evenings, and avoid the blue light from your devices for at least 30 minutes before you close your eyes for the night.
Adjust the temperature in your room so that it is cooler — yes, even in the winter!
Include a calming activity in your bedtime routine: read a chapter of your favourite book, soak in a hot bath, meditate, or practice Reiki!
→ What NOT to do when you've had a bad night’s sleep
Try not to sleep in the next day. Wake up at your normal time if you can. "Your body has a 24-hour clock, and it expects regularity and it thrives best on regularity." - Matt Walker
As tired as you may be, don't go to bed earlier than usual.
Resist the urge to nap during the day — it's like snacking before a meal!
Avoid drinking too much alcohol — while a few drinks can make us feel sleepy, alcohol actually numbs the cortex and sedates us (which is not the same as sleep). Alcohol also leads to more night wake-ups and a fragmented, poor-quality night’s sleep.
→ If you are struggling with sleep...
On those nights when you are lying in bed, unable to sleep, give yourself a break — yes, a break — from trying. Read a book, write in your journal, or do some relaxing stretches. Then try again in 20 minutes.
"You would never sit at the dinner table waiting to get hungry, so why would you lie in bed waiting to get sleepy?" - Matt Walker
Create a winddown routine and follow it — sleep is not a light switch that we can turn on and off.
Remove all clocks from your bedroom, and be sure to put your phone on airplane mode.
→ Technology and sleep
Matt explains that the blue light from our screens has a halting effect on release of melatonin, the “sleep hormone” that signals to your body it is time to sleep. Devices also trigger a physiological activation which causes “sleep procrastination.”
During the TED Talk, host Chris Anderson reiterated: "If you are going to make this time [in your life] about learning and focusing on yourself, don't forget to make sleep a key part of that program." Seriously, the simplest therapy of all is to get enough sleep. Good quality sleep.
And guess what, Reiki can help you fall asleep faster and achieve a better night’s sleep. It’s your key to falling into a meditative state without really making an effort. (If you find regular meditation just isn’t for you, Reiki may be the perfect alternative!)
Need I say more? If you’d like to improve the quality of your sleep, why not schedule a free Wellness Call with me to learn more about the powers of Reiki? Or go ahead and book a Virtual Reiki session now. Let’s make today wonderful, Nasreen