For as long as I can remember I’ve always been a night owl. I actually have vivid memories of faking a tummy ache when I was younger just so I could go downstairs and hang out with my mom at night with my head in her lap, LOL. Sleep always seemed like a waste of time for me all the way up through my college years and beyond.
Fast forward to today: I have three kids under the age of 5, and you can be sure I’m kicking my younger self in the butt right now! Sleep is so not a waste of time; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. So that’t what I want to discuss today if you’ll join me. 🙂
Why Is Sleep Important?
Sleep plays such an important role in our overall health and well-being. The quality of our sleep directly affects our physical and emotional health, our brain function, and even our daytime productivity. While we’re sleeping, our bodies are working super hard on maintaining our physical health and healing from the regular “wear and tear” of our daily lives.
When we don’t get enough sleep – and more importantly, enough quality sleep! – our bodies aren’t able to properly repair themselves, which sets us up for a long list of chronic health conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Regular sleep deprivation can also lead to a compromised immune system, hormone imbalances, and even weight gain.
And we haven’t even addressed the safety issues involved with functioning during the day without proper sleep! Driving a car, operating other heavy machinery, and completing tasks at work; all of these can really be affected by a lack of sleep, leading to decreased productivity and terrible accidents.
Long story short: We NEED sleep!
What Does Healthy Sleep Look Like?
Now that we’ve seen just how important sleep is to our health and well-being, let’s talk about what good quality, restful sleep actually looks like. Notice that I mentioned quality; although the quantity of sleep is important, it’s really the quality of sleep that we want to improve. Even if we’re getting enough sleep at night, we might still be waking up feeling groggy and tired. Why? Because of poor sleep quality!
This is what healthy sleep looks like:
- Recommended 7-9 hours for adults (and more for kids!)
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows
- No phones/tablets/TV/any screens at least one hour before bedtime (the blue light from these screens can affect the body’s ability to release melatonin – the sleep hormone). Better to read a book or do some journaling instead.
- A relaxing bedtime routine that includes things like a bath, soft music, reading, or a cup of warm tea (Try one of the herbal teas listed below!).
- A consistent sleep schedule will help regulate your body’s sleep/wake cycles.
Natural Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep
Even if we’re doing everything right, sometimes our bodies just need a little extra help preparing for and getting to sleep. Instead of reaching for the over-the-counter sleep aids, which come with their own laundry list of side effects, try some of the natural remedies below:
- Herbs – Make yourself a warm cup of herbal tea to help you relax and wind down after a long day. Chamomile, lemon balm, catnip, and valerian root are all time-honored sedative herbs that have been used for insomnia and restlessness for centuries. (My favorite place to buy herbs is Mountain Rose Herbs)
- Magnesium – Known as “the relaxation mineral,” magnesium helps calm and relax your entire body. It’s also been found to lower the body’s cortisol (stress hormone) levels! Add some epsom salts to your bath water, apply some magnesium oil to your skin, or drink a glass of Natural Calm. Start out slow, and gradually work your way up to the full dose, as magnesium can be quite strong if your body isn’t used to it.
- Tart Cherry Juice – Apparently, tart cherry juice has been shown to increase melatonin levels, which is beneficial for improving sleep duration and quality. Read more for directions and dosing here.
- Aromatherapy – Essential oils like lavender, roman chamomile, sweet marjoram, and ylang ylang are great for calm, relaxation, and reducing stress. Try making this wonderfully relaxing essential oil blend and use it in a diffuser or personal inhaler, dilute it in a carrier oil and massage onto your neck and/or feet (sweet almond oil is a great carrier oil), or make a calming linen spray for your sheets and pillows. (My favorite essential oils come from Plant Therapy and Mountain Rose Herbs)
- Yoga and Meditation – Adding a bit of yoga and meditation to your nightly bedtime routine can do wonders for the quality of your sleep! In a recent study of staff nurses at a Chinese hospital, yoga was found to improve sleep quality and reduce work-related stress in the nurses who performed yoga more than twice a week for an hour after work. For a simple bedtime yoga routine, click here.