LiveWell®

Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

The power of sleep

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by Molly Ellefson, MS, NCC

iStock_000007134013XSmallWhen I was a child, I fought bed time like a warrior nearly every night.  I have memories of making my sister stay up and play games with me and of reading under the covers with a flashlight. This pattern stayed with me into my college and young adult years. I worked part-time at a bakery, and there were many mornings I went to work without any sleep at all.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I understand the importance of sleep.  When I haven’t had enough, it’s harder for me to focus, and I’m more likely to catch a bug. I even struggle to eat healthfully and exercise.

As a wellness coach, I see my clients struggle with this as well.  They often feel overwhelmed by all the responsibilities in their lives: child rearing, aging parents, work, community obligations and financial strain. Sleep is often the first thing that gets sacrificed to fit in everything else.

What many people don’t understand is that sleep is a necessity, not a luxury.  It isn’t something we can postpone or ignore.  Inadequate sleep has been linked to everything from cancer to strokes.  When we don’t get enough, it stresses our bodies.  Over time, being in this chronic state of stress has serious implications.

So, what can you do to improve your sleep?  Here are six things that help me:

  1. Take 30 to 60 minutes to wind down before going to bed. I use that time to read.
  2. Turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before bed, including cell phones, iPads and laptops.  These electronics emit “blue light,” a light similar to day light, which tells your brain it’s time to be awake.
  3. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.  This can be hard, especially on the weekends.  But you can help your body’s rhythm become more regulated. This makes it easier to fall asleep and wake up.
  4. Invest in a quality bed and bedding.  It can seem daunting to invest a lot of money in this, but we spend nearly a third of our lives sleeping.  Think how much we spend on our cars, where we spend a lot less time.
  5. If you cannot fall asleep in 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something else. Your bed should be a place of calm, not cause anxiety.
  6. Try some integrative health therapies.  Try aromatherapy. Lavender oil is known for its relaxation properties.  Just put a drop on a tissue near your pillow. You can also try deep breathing, guided imagery or another relaxation technique.

I hope you find these tips helpful.  It is good to remember that everyone has trouble sleeping at times.  However, if it happens more often than not and affects your daily activities, it might be time to speak to your physician or inquire about a sleep study.

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