We’ve all experienced a horrible night’s sleep at one time or another. The following day can be excruciating to get through. We aren’t as alert, our mood dips, and we’re more likely to make poor choices with food and caffeine for any boost in energy. It’s clear sleep is important to our well being, but recent research reveals the astonishing reason why. During sleep our brains shrink so that cerebral fluid can clear toxic molecules from this hard-working organ. Even a few nights of poor sleep can cause a build up of toxins that lead to physical symptoms like headaches.* Over time, this build-up of these toxic molecules is associated with a whole host of more serious issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Activating the parasympathetic nervous system, known as the ‘rest and digest’ system, before bed will slow your heart rate, calm your mind, and set you up for a restful night’s sleep. Creating a ritual that supports your parasympathetic system before bed while ensure you get a good sleep on a consistent basis. Below is a list of things that are part of my personal ritual. I don’t do them all every night, but I’ve found choosing a few each evening based on your current stress levels to be ideal.
- Avoid Blue Light: An hour or two before bed avoid being on the computer, watching tv or any other screens that emit blue light which disrupts your body’s 24-hour circadian rhythms. If this proves difficult or you want to avoid blue light as soon as the sun goes down, sport a pair of blue blocking glasses. Options range from the high-end stylish Swannies to more basic cheaper versions you can find on Amazon.
Epsom Salt Bath: Draw a warm bath with 2 cups of epsom salt and a few drops of a relaxing essential oil like lavender. Epsom salt contains magnesium, a mineral many are deficient in, which supports sore and tense muscles, and helps reduce stress. Sit in the bath for about 20 minutes by candlelight and unwind by playing your favorite relaxing music.
Herbal Tea: Drinking a cup of warm herbal tea an hour before you go to bed can be soothing, calm your nervous system, and help slow you down. Look for caffeine-free blends that contain chamomile, passionflower, lemon balm, tulsi, peppermint, or lemongrass.
- Meditation: Worrying about a problem or your neverending to-do list won’t prepare your mind for sleep. Focusing the mind on your breath and the present moment via meditation throughout the day and especially right before bed can improve your sleep quality. If you’re new to meditation I suggest Headspace. It’s an easy-to-use app for your phone or tablet that walks you through the meditation process, and is available for a free for a ten-day trial. Insight Timer is a free app with over 9,000 guided meditations that cover a variety of topics. There is a paid option for perks like offline downloads. My current favorite on Insight Timer is the yoga nidra, or yogic sleep, form of meditation.
- Avoid Stressful Tasks: Having a difficult or serious conversation, paying bills or doing an intense workout within a few hours of bedtime won’t support the ‘rest and digest’ system to elicit sleep. These activities will keep you in the sympathetic, or ‘fight or flight’ mode, and much too alert to sleep. Opt for activities like reading, stretching, chatting with your family, or doing a puzzle in the hours leading up to your bedtime instead.
Take what resonates with you and craft your own bedtime ritual for your best night’s sleep yet!
*For additional information about these studies, read more here.
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Erin Chandler is a student of holistic nutrition at Bauman College. She is a certified holistic nutritionist working one on one with clients through her business, Warrior Wellness.
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