healing foundations

Stress Management

Sleep: The Key to Health

Sybil Cooper, WellTheory Health Coach

What Happens While We Are Sleeping?

So many great things! While we are sleeping, our body is undergoing all of its housekeeping duties. Organs are rejuvenating themselves and toxins are removed. The brain is busy removing toxic metabolites created during all of the day’s activities, consolidating memories, and cementing learning. Hormones shift, promoting growth of bone and muscle.

Your immune system is also hard at work. All the components of the immune system are talking to each other while you are sleeping, “discussing” the day’s intruders — bacteria, virus, fungi, as well as aberrant cancer cells. Just as our brain is encoding memories and learning from our waking hours, the immune system is encoding memories and learning about exposures we’ve had during our waking hours — what is friend, and what is foe!

Does It Matter When I Sleep?

Yes, it does. The brain goes through sleep cycles of about 90 minutes each. During each cycle, it goes through several stages of sleep: light sleep (dozing), deep sleep, and REM sleep. During the first half of the night, you spend more time in deep sleep while in the latter half you spend more time in REM sleep. Remember the brain cleaning we mentioned earlier where your brain is removing toxic metabolites? That happens mainly during deep sleep in the first half of the night. If you’re consistently not going to sleep until 1:00 a.m., you could be missing prime brain cleaning time.

Now that we’ve established the sleep stages, what controls them? Circadian rhythms are regulated by light exposure and darkness through the master clock inside the brain. The master clock, in turn, regulates the clocks inside of each tissue, organ, and cell. Every organ has a clock that regulates cyclical hormone secretion. For example, serotonin, your feel good hormone, is influenced by the amount of sunlight you get each day. Serotonin is later converted to melatonin, which prepares the body for sleep. Melatonin supports the immune system, reduces blood pressure, decreases accumulation of plaques in the brain, improves thyroid function and insulin sensitivity, and can enhance weight loss. The circadian rhythm has a profound impact on every system of the body, including the immune system.

As many as 60% of Americans report having trouble sleeping and many don’t even realize they have a sleep problem. How do you know if you have a sleep issue? The best way to know is to keep a sleep journal. Take our sleep quiz to track your sleep throughout this course.

What Does It Mean to Miss the Sleep Bus?

During the day, we build up a sleep pressure — that feeling that it’s time for bed. We all have pushed through that sleep pressure, said “I’ll take the next bus,” and then stayed awake for hours. Our sleep stages are actually timed with our early morning sun exposure. That wonderful, rejuvenating, hormone and immune system balancing occurs during deep sleep in the first half of the night — typically 11:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. So if you need to be up by 6:00 a.m. but are skimping on getting ready for bed and being asleep by 10:00 p.m. or so, you’re missing out on prime body rejuvenation!

Have you heard of revenge bedtime procrastination? This term refers to delaying bedtime to finally grab some moments of solitude away from the busyness and stress of the day. If you have young kids it might be that time, once they are in bed, to fold laundry and watch your favorite show. Those who bring work home might finish up work late in the evening and then feel the need to steal some “me time” from their sleeping hours to catch up with friends or wind down with a glass of wine. This bedtime procrastination comes at a cost of lost sleep. We encourage you to think of sleeping as your “me time” during this course and see how much better you feel and able to weather the ups and downs of the day.

Where Do I Start?

First, while having a sleep tracker such as an Oura ring, Whoop band, or Fitbit can be helpful in assessing your sleep, one of the best sleep trackers is a pen and paper with your wakeup and bedtime and how you felt when you woke up!

Here are a few of our favorite apps:

Below, you’ll take a short sleep assessment to see how you feel when you wake up. Then, if you choose, you can note your bedtime and awake times and how you feel physically and mentally when you wake up to see if you’re getting the zzzzzz’s you need!

This first week, we’ll spend a few minutes assessing your sleep environment and making any modifications to your environment before moving into Lesson 2.

Assessing Your Sleep

Before we learn new tools and strategies for improving sleep, it’s important to understand where we are starting and where we want to go. Spend 2 minutes filling out this Sleep Self-Assessment.

This short quiz will give you an idea of how well you’re currently sleeping. By establishing a baseline, you’ll be able to track your progress over the next lessons and see how far you’ve come!

Are You Ready to Get Started?

Let’s kick things off by creating a supportive sleep environment. Making sure your room is calm and comfortable is an essential first step for supporting high quality sleep. When you walk into your bedroom, what is your first thought? If seeing your bedroom evokes calm, then you have a sleep haven. If not, you have some work to do.

  • Clean off the nightstand. Clear it of everything except a notepad for jotting down thoughts before bed, a glass of water, book, etc.
  • No work allowed. No work, paying bills, or stressful conversations allowed.
  • Keep it dark. Cover any electronic devices, such as alarm clocks, that are emitting light. If you have to get up during the night, low-light motion sensor lights are perfect for lighting your path while being the least disruptive for going back to sleep.
  • Keep it cool. Your body temperature needs to cool down in the evening in order to get into deep sleep. Ideal room temperature is 65 °F to 68 °F. You can also try cooling sheets, a fan, cooling mattress pads, opening a window, etc.
  • Keep it quiet. Is there noise from outside that is disrupting your sleep? Electronic noise inside your bedroom?
  • Bed and bedding. Your mattress is the most used piece of furniture in the house and is very individual. Your pillow should keep your neck and spine in a neutral position. If your pillows are old, invest in new ones to remove possible allergens. Lastly, are your sheets welcoming and clean?
  • Sleep clothing. Your sleep clothing should make you feel like royalty! Try different fabrics for keeping cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Try sleeping socks to get that warmth without having to wear heavy PJs.
  • Smells in your bedroom. Scent is a powerful trigger. Many find a jasmine, citrus, or lavender pillow spray soothing and sleep promoting.

Take Action

Review the check-list above and assess your sleep environment. Choose one or two things you’d like to focus on and change this week to support a restful sleep environment.

How Can We Help?

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