Sleep – we all love it, seek it, and wish we could get more of it. There is no better feeling than waking up well-rested and refreshed. Sleep is vital to your health for reasons that go far beyond rest and rejuvenation. Sleep restores you mentally, physically, and improves your quality of life.
Beyond the extraordinary times of life where sleep is elusive (new babies, travel etc.), getting a little less than optimal sleep per night can add up to more than irritation into chronic health problems. Studies show sleep deficiency alters activity levels in the brain. If you don’t get your required rest, you will experience trouble with making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change.
Your Brain Needs Sleep
Did you know that a dolphin literally sleeps with one eye open? They shut down only one side of their brain to sleep and the other side allows them to stay alert, to remember to breathe, and watch for predators. Dolphins – like us – need 8-9 hours of sleep a night though to stay sharp. Sleep allows the brain to work properly. While you’re snoozing, your brain is hard at work getting ready for the day ahead by forming new pathways that help you retain new information.
Your Body Needs Sleep
Sleep is also a vital part of your body healing and repairing itself. While you sleep your body is hard at work repairing heart and blood vessels. It’s easy to understand why chronic sleep deprivation increases your risk of developing heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even stroke.
Sleep is a factor in hormone production. Proper sleep allows for maintaining hormone levels that control everything from insulin production and muscle growth to fertility. Sleep deficiency can also lead to weight gain. Two important hormones control appetite: ghrelin makes you feel hungry while leptin makes you feel full. A lack of sleep increases your level of ghrelin and decreases leptin. Thus, you’re more likely to overeat when sleep deprived.
A recent study published in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that sleep deprived people consumed more calories the next day.
How to Encourage Better Sleep
For many of us the hardest part of falling asleep is learning to turn our brain off so our body can relax. Yoga can be a great tool to ease your body into a state of relaxation.
Viparita karani is used in restorative yoga. Sit facing a wall with your butt about 6 inches away from it. Lie back and extend your legs up the wall. If this causes pain in your hamstrings, slide your butt farther away from the wall. If you’re not feeling anything, scoot closer. Rest your arms by your sides, palms facing up, and breathe gently raising your belly with each in-breath for a few minutes.
The reclining bound angle pose is excellent for restoration. Lie on your back with knees bent. Place soles of feet together, let knees fall open, forming a diamond shape with your legs. Rest arms beside you and breathe deeply. If this is too much on your lower back or inner thighs, use folded up blankets under your knees for support.
Finally, a classic pose that anyone can try for relaxation – the child’s pose. Sit with your bottom on your heels. Roll your torso forward, bringing your forehead to rest on the ground in front of you. Lower your chest as close to your knees as you comfortably can, extending your arms in front of you. Hold the pose and breathe for two minutes.
Acupressure can also be used to help induce sleep. The Anmian is the only sleep-related pressure point on the head. It’s easy to find located just behind the ear, along the soft section before your neck muscles connect with your jaw line. Use your index and middle finger to create a circular motion slightly under the skull circling about 100 times. You should begin to feel relaxed, calm and sleepy.
Dawn Blais and her bodywork can also get you on the road to better zzz’s. Using self-care tips, massage, acupressure and yoga – you’ll quickly be on your way to getting your full 8 hours of sleep after working with Dawn!
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