Sleep – Birth Prep Challenge – Week 9
Sleep is a given, right? If you don't sleep, you don't feel rested and your day can kind of go downhill from there. If you wake up in the middle of your sleep cycle, you tend to feel groggy throughout the day and may stress your adrenals with the adrenalin boost caused by unnatural waking.
But, what else is happening when we sleep? During the most common sleep hours, some of our most important body-support functions are happening.
Sleep Promotes Health
Sleep encourages immune function. When energy is being utilized less for circulation and heart function, brain function, and digestion, it not only reduces overall energy needs but also focuses more on healing any viruses or unwanted bacteria that invades the body. What do we like to do when we're sick? We eat less and sleep more. The fasting our body intentionally endures over night or when we're sick reduces energy needs for digestion. If we're sleeping more to reduce this energy consumption further, we also don't need to eat as much to support our body through that time.
Sleep encourages healthy adrenal function. Our adrenals are responsible for many of the hormones needed to reduce stress. If we are constantly bombarded with stress, our adrenals are constantly at work to level out the calm. Stress, however, is often misunderstood. Any stimulation on the body is received as stress. This can be anger, an overbooked schedule or a tough boss. It can also be a creative project, always on the go, or waking up to an alarm every day. Our bodies were designed to have daily help in our lives for all our normal survival functions and a lot of down time after those basic needs were met. Anything beyond easy, healthy, survival with help can cause increased stress. Sound like everyone you know?
Sleep encourages toxin release function. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine concepts, the body systems have a certain time throughout the 24 hours in a day that they are most active in their main functions. The gallbladder and liver work most during the night to filter the body and detox the blood. In the morning the intestines are working their most for regular bowel movements after these toxins have been processed.
How to promote healthy sleep habits
Many of our sleep habits have been skewed from a lifetime of artificial lighting. When we trick our mind into thinking it is daylight longer than it normally is, we don't always get the signal to get sleepy. Furthermore, we also don't always listen to that signal. Even more, blue light from phone and computer screens mess with melatonin and seratonin production. Most of all, we are not only keeping these artificial lights on in the dark hours, we're missing out on natural sunlight that balances the body's ability to produce melatonin and serotonin needed to sleep well throughout the night. These sleep hormones are also crucial to the body's ability to produce oxytocin. We want to increase our body's ability for spontaneous birth, right? Then let's get into some healthy sleep habits.
- Eliminate, or at minimum significantly reduce, caffeine intake, especially after the morning hours. This includes coffee, of course, but also chocolate, black and green tea, and even decaf to some degree (coffee reduction isn't only useful because of the lowered caffeine). Increase your greens and balance your foods for better energy. Get up and move; get out and get some sunshine.
- Eliminate, or at minimum significantly reduce, sugar and condensed sweetener intake. Sugar and sweeteners (especially artificial though also including processed stevia, agave and all types of honey) have to be processed by the liver. Pastas, breads, and other processed/milled foods fall into this category as well. The harder the liver has to work (especially since it is doing most of its detoxing job at night), the less likely we are to sleep well.
- Keep your energy-promoting foods for breakfast and lunch and make dinner a lighter meal or snack. Try an herbal tea in the evening if you feel like you need a little extra before bed time. Proteins are harder to digest and the liver's job is to process proteins as well as toxins. Let's keep its night job for all those environmental and food toxins and keep digestion for the day during the small intestine and stomach's prime time.
- Eat well balanced for proper hormone production, proper nutrient assimilation, balanced digestion, and toxin reduction for an overall well-functioning system.
- Reduce artificial light usage. Reduce your exposure to harsh lighting, even during the day. Lights out when the sun is down. Use candles in the evening or at least low light levels.
- Turn off the screens at minimum an hour before you desire to go to sleep and keep screen usage to a maximum of 2 hours whenever possible. If you must use a screen throughout the day, try some blue-light reducing glasses. Be sure to take regular eye movement breaks with natural sunlight and focusing on far distant objects for eye muscle balancing to avoid eye discomfort (and poor vision).
- Move well throughout the day to expend the energy you intake. Strive for good movement for at least 2 hours every day - but a movement based lifestyle is best. Walk to where you need to go - 1 mile minimum daily - 3-5 is better. Bike to where you need to go. Drive less, use a stand up desk, walk on your breaks.
- Get plenty of outdoor time and sunshine (a minimum of 2 hours per day). Reduce the usage of sunglasses and sunblock and use shade and clothing to block excessive amounts of harsh sunlight. In the harsher climates or sunlit times, avoid direct sunlight for extended periods between the times of about 10 am - 2 pm.
- Set your sleep time for when the sun goes down and try to accommodate a daily schedule that allows you to wake up naturally.
Getting sleepy yet? If not, try on occasional cup of chamomile tea an hour before you desire to turn in for the night, especially if your sleep issues result from stress. Sweet dreams!