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Rest & Sleep.
This is a tough one for a lot of people. It has been, and still is at times, a hard one for me.
Without proper rest, our health will suffer. Not just our physical health, but our mental health as well. There's no ifs, and's, or buts about it.
In my opinion and experience, quality rest and sleep trump pretty much everything else, even food, when it comes to cultivating good health. I have seen in myself (and my clients) that I could be eating the best, cleanest, healthiest food in the world, but if I am not sleeping well, my health will continue to fail. That's why sleep has become so precious and so important to me.
When it comes to keeping the whole body healthy, rest is critical. While resting and sleeping, your body has time to recover from the stresses put on it throughout the day. While there are a ton of different things that happen when we sleep, here are 3 interesting tidbits about what happens when we rest.
- Our brains do some housekeeping. Even though we are resting, our brains are almost as active when we are sleeping as when we are awake. Our brains are busy cementing new memories and filing away events of our days and weeks. Consider it a good office cleaning that takes place every night. A mouse study done in 2013 discovered that the brain's waste removal systems are much more active when we are sleeping. The researchers on the study theorized, that perhaps when we sleep, our brain has time to clear out the toxic byproducts of our daily life that could otherwise pile up and lead to health problems later on.
- Our physiological processes slow down. This includes our muscles, heart, lungs, and other organs. Pretty much everything slows down so that the body can focus on healing and rejuvenating in preparation for the next day. Our blood pressure and body temperature will drop slightly and our heart rate and breathing will slow. During REM sleep (rapid eye movement), the body's muscles literally become paralyzed temporarily, with just the muscles in our respiratory system and eyes working normally.
- We produce and manage hormones. When we sleep it gives our body a chance to create and manage our hormones. From growth hormones to hunger hormones, getting proper sleep and rest is going to be a crucial part of keeping the body balanced and functioning optimally.
I have personally struggled with rest quite a bit. I have always been the type of person to sacrifice rest when life gets too busy. It's easy to feel like I have to keep my nose to the grindstone instead of stepping away and letting my body chill out for awhile.
I've also dealt with sleep issues related to my autoimmune conditions, ranging from insomnia to lots of tossing and turning throughout the night. While I have found a lot of different things that have worked for helping me sleep better, the one thing that I always have to come back to is this: Rest and sleep have to remain a constant priority for me.
When I get busy and rest starts to slip to the back burner, I have to bring myself back to the present. I know full well that when I don't get enough rest, I don't function optimally. And I have too many things I want to accomplish in life to not function well! 🙂
I recently wrote an in-depth article about my experiences with rest and how I began to cultivate body awareness to improve my ability to rest over on my health coaching website. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I'd love for you to click here and read the full article.
I really enjoyed writing that blog post and I hope you enjoy reading it. Body awareness is a foundational concept that I work on with my clients and it can make a huge difference in not only improving rest, but also improving their digestion, metabolism, general health, and relationships with food and body. I cover all of that in the post linked to above (or here), but for now, let's dive into 5 of my top tips for improving sleep and relaxation.
5 Tips for Improving Sleep and Relaxation
If you are struggling with rest and sleep, then I would love to offer some further tips and resources. I know just how miserable it can be when you can't get good sleep and rest so I hope these will help. I feel like I've tried just about everything out there, even sleeping pills (EEEK!), but here are 5 things that have worked really well for me. I'm continually exploring and experimenting with new things, so if I discover some other amazing things I will make sure to share them here.
First and foremost, talk to your doctor or practitioner about the issues you are having with sleep and rest. It will be really important to rule out any medical conditions that could be impacted your rest.
Second, explore herbal medicine. If you can, work with a knowledgeable herbalist who can really tailor an herbal routine to your own specific needs. Not all herbs work for all people, so it's always a good idea to speak with a professional if possible. Two herbalists that I personally recommend (and have worked with) are Lori Roop, Clinical Herbalist and Nutritionist and Carol Little, Registered Herbalist. Both work with clients remotely and are well-versed in herbs for sleep issues (since it's such a common problem today).
Third, try to cut back on exposure to blue light for a couple hours before bed if at all possible. I know this is often easier said than done, but it really can help make a difference for a lot of people. I wrote an article on the importance of this and How to Use Blue Blockers to Improve Sleep here.
Fourth, try to cultivate a relaxation routine before bed. Again, I know this is often a lot easier said than done, especially when so many of us are running full speed ahead right up until bedtime. This go, go, go creates a low-level (or in some cases high level) stress response that impacts not only our rest but our digestion and metabolism too.
If possible, try to carve out a 5, 10, or 15-minute space before bed where you can relax. If you can do more, awesome, if not, just a few minutes of peace can have a profound effect on your sleep. Here are some of the things I like to do:
- Do some gentle stretching or a nighttime yoga routine
- Meditate or pray
- Read a book
- Paint, collage, or simply color in a coloring book
- Take a hot shower or bath
Fifth, if you're open to it and live in a state where medical and/or recreational marijuana is legal, look into CBD oil and/or THC tinctures. I know this is a controversial subject, but I am personally a big supporter of legalizing marijuana, especially for medical use (but I have zero problems with recreational use as well). If you're not interested in this, then feel free to skip this section.
I have read so many amazing stories and heard testimonies from people in my health groups where marijuana has helped them immensely for a variety of health conditions. In my case, I've experimented with both CBD oil and THC tinctures for sleep issues. I've used them individually and I've also combined them together. CBD oil does nothing for me (alone or combined with other things), but the straight THC tincture that I finally found has been of great help to my sleep. It doesn't necessarily help me fall asleep faster, but it helps me stay asleep longer and I get deeper, more restful sleep. That said, I have seen countless people say that CBD has been a total game changer for them, so I know it works for some people, just not me.
Everyone is different, so I can't give specific advice regarding this topic. I can say that my own personal experience has been that I have zero negative effect from it the day after I take it (i.e. not groggy, sleepy, etc.). It helps me get quality rest, which means I can focus and function optimally the next day. A win-win in my book. I will note that I don't take it every single night since the kind I use is rather expensive, but on the nights where I know I need a little extra support, I do take it.
If you do want to explore MMJ (medical marijuana), I encourage you to do your research first and talk to the owners of your local dispensers to find out how their marijuana is grown, harvested, and processed. The first tincture I got was full of all sorts of nasty things (solvents, rancid oils, and the like). That sparked me to do some digging and see if I could find a cleaner tincture that I felt safer using. I was able to find one that is super clean and works well for me and I am continually researching the topic for my own needs and hope to find more growers who start using healthier practices.
It's important to know that while manufacturers can't use the term “organic” on their products, there are some producers who are following organic practices. There doesn't seem to be a ton though, so that's why I encourage you to do your research on what you have available locally. You want to make sure to find ones that are using clean methods of production and are not using toxic chemicals like fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides, and the like. Marijuana growers are notorious for using some pretty bad chemicals on their plants.
Those are the five things that have really had a big impact on my own sleep. I hope some of it (or all of it) is helpful for you! I have one more thing I'd like to mention before we wrap up today's post.
Well Rested: The Natural Solution for a Good Night's Sleep
My dear friend and affiliate partner Kelly has written the most amazing program about rest and sleep and I would be remiss to not mention it in a post that talks about sleep and the importance of rest.
Her program is called “Well Rested: The Natural Solution for a Good Night's Sleep” and she talks about the science of sleep, offers practical tips for getting a good night's rest, and fun mindfulness activities that help quiet the mind and prepare your body for snooze time. You'll learn:
- All About Sleep and Why Getting Enough Is So Important
- Circadian Rhythms and Sleep + How to Get Your Circadian Rhythms Back on Track
- Common Causes of Insomnia and Poor Sleep
- What You Need to Know about Supplements
- Nutritional Factors Impacting Sleep
- Optimizing Your Environment For Sleep
- How To Handle Waking Up in the Night
- Creating and Sticking To a Bedtime Routine
- The Benefits of Coloring and Cultivating Mindfulness
Kelly has generously offered Delicious Obsessions readers a coupon code for 50% off her program. Click here to learn more about her amazing program and make sure you use coupon code SLEEPY50 at checkout to save 50% on your purchase.
I hope this blog post has been helpful for you! As one who has suffered from a lot of sleep problems, I know just how miserable the experience is. Hopefully, some of these tips will help you, or at least send you in the right direction for getting some help.
To your health, with love,
P.S. While not specifically sleep related, I will be taking clients starting this summer (2017). Many times our sleep problems are caused by the current state of overwhelm and chaos in our lives. If you are feeling stuck in life, dealing with unwanted food and body concerns, and need some extra support in getting clarity around your health and your life, I would be honored to assist you. You can subscribe to my coaching practice newsletter here and I will announce openings as soon as I have them!
References & Further Reading
- Psychology Today, “The Importance of Rest“, accessed 4/28/17
- Prevention Magazine, “10 Fascinating Things That Happen While You're Sleeping“, accessed 4/28/17