Sacred sleep… Are we getting enough? And how does sleep deprivation impact our daily lives, our sense of vitality and our overall health?
I’ve slept a lot recently. Having been stopped in my tracks by critical illness, I’ve transferred my energetic focus away from the mind, its thoughts and fancies, and towards the body and its needs. It seemed obvious that, following surgery, I would need to sleep. But in fact what I have noticed in prioritising sleep, is the mind’s ability to convince the whole body that what it thinks, fantasises about, fancies and fixates on, is actually more important than the needs of the organic organism which houses it. The mind can be like a child, who doesn’t see the importance of clearing up, washing up, putting things away, or taking care of things and instead just does whatever he or she pleases. The body has its own voice, which is led by feeling and being – this deeper more intuitive voice is often drowned out by the busy mind child, clanging away at some activity or other. It’s a dramatic shift in focus, to move away from the mind child and prioritise the needs of the intuitive body.
Here’s the thing. We’re all stuck in various and differing ruts of our own making. Perhaps we ‘always’ have a glass of wine when we get in from work. Perhaps we ‘always’ get a take away on a Friday night. ‘always’ go to the gym, ‘always’ go to bed at 10pm. Perhaps we do what we ‘think’ is good for us because we read it, heard it or our friends are doing it, but do we actually listen to our bodies? Or are our actions dictated by the patterns of our mind and society? On the whole, we don’t question these patterns, particularly if life seems to be working out for us. But the times when life throws us a curve ball we truly sit up and listen. This kind of perspective in daily life is pretty rare. But it can be cultivated. And it’s possible that we can become aware of the patterns of the mind in a way which enables us to choose between what we ‘think’ is the right thing (e.g. what we’ve been taught, practiced and told by the outside world) and what we ‘know’ to be the right thing (e.g. our inner perspective, how those actions feel emotionally and physically). Using the mind child analogy again, Children will often eat the sweets in favour of the wholesome food because they are colourful, sugary and the sensation of eating them pleases the brain. But as parents or responsible adults, we know those sweets have no nutritional value to the living body. In fact they actually work against the rhythms of the natural body, raising blood sugar, plaque acids and spoiling genuine appetite. So as responsible adults we intervene. We say no and we moderate. The work we do with our own inner mind child and body needs to be the same in order to manage and sustain vitality and good health.
So you get the idea of applying awareness and moderation to our own minds. But why? And why should sleep be a priority ?
According to the Sleep Foundation, adults require around 8 hours a night of quality sleep. Quality sleep contributes to a healthy immune system, and research at Harvard University has shown that poor sleep is associated with lower life expectancy.
“Treating sleep as a priority, rather than a luxury, may be an important step in preventing a number of chronic medical conditions.”
Aside from the benefits to immune function, quality sleep regulates hormones relating to appetite and fullness. Lack of sleep can lead to over-eating.
Getting a good nights sleep is vital for the physical repair of the body, whether that’s recovery from exercise, injury or surgery. It is also vital to the brains cognitive function, sleep consolidates memories and processes information taken in throughout the day. Allowing our bodies and brains these vital restorative functions is crucial to how we feel the following day. “The third of lives we spend sleep, far from being unproductive, plays a direct role in how full, energetic and successful the other two-thirds of our lives can be”.
It may be an effort initially to overcome the mental processes which prevent good sleep. We may ‘think’ (mind child) that a glass of red wine and a box set is good for us before bed, but to our bodies the physical stress of the raise in blood sugar and mental stimulation and light from the TV can actually set us up for a disturbed night, which can in turn lead to poor health choices the following day such as increased caffeine and carbohydrates, lack of exercise due to fatigue and another night repeating the patterns of the night before.
Let me state here, for the record – I love a good box set and a glass of wine! But… I am also aware of how sacred sleep is and how fundamental to good health. So start with 1 day a week which you dedicate to sleep. And notice whether any of these sleep protocols actually ease you in to a good nights sleep:
1-Day A Week Dedicated to Sleeping Well
- Avoid caffeine & alcohol after 12pm on your sleep day.
- Avoid screen time at least 2 hours before bedtime.
- Take a bath with magnesium salts . Most of us, due to poor diet (processed foods, alcohol, carbonated drinks) and high stress are magnesium deficient., and magnesium deficiency can lead to poor sleep (amongst other symptoms). Bathing in magnesium can be a more efficient way of replenishing your body’s supply than taking it orally, esecially if gut health is compromised.
- Breath well. Extending the outbreath until you feel muscles contract and shoulders release. Breath in through the nose for the count of 4. Hold for the count of 4 and exhale through pursed lips (like blowing through a straw) for the count of 6 or 8 (depending on breath length) then hold for a count of 2. Repeat 3 -5 times.
- If the mind is still whirring, use a guided Yoga Nidra exercise to focus the attention inwards, click link below:
Be mindful the next day,, notice whether you wake naturally. Notice your immediate thought process when you wake, is it conducive to a productive day? Or do you wake already overwhelmed? Start with just one day a week dedicated to sleeping well and see how it goes?! Let me know…
The Six Benefits of Yoga for Severe Sleep Deprivation
Follow me on instagram for more updates.