Sleep Peacefully ~ Safe and Natural Options to Help Cope with Stress and Improve SleepOct 29, 2021 06:35AM ● By Paul Bernitt
There is a lot of uncertainty in the world, which can lead to stress. Excessive stress can lead to higher levels of anxiety, depression, insulin sensitivity, high cortisol, increased heart rate, and insomnia. Long-term effects of stress compromise our immune system, cause high blood pressure, and lead to serious chronic illnesses, including heart attack, stroke and cancer. While stress is inevitable, the question we must all ask is if the amount of stress we accept is worth the potential side effects.
Sleep is an important aspect of our lives, as it gives us the opportunity to recover and re-energize. If we are getting adequate sleep, we will spend one-third of our lives sleeping. Yet many people do not get the sleep they need, and the long-term effects can lead to serious medical conditions. Being aware of sleep patterns and understanding what can disrupt this vital activity will preserve wholeness and vitality physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Inadequate sleep, generally considered anything less than seven and a half hours per night, can have a profound effect on metabolism and hormonal balance. Our hormones are chiefly secreted during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, also known as the dream phase. Sleep loss has also been associated with decreased thyroid function, resulting in lowered metabolic rate; increased evening cortisol, associated with insulin resistance; and aberrations in the release of human growth hormone (HGH). HGH, often alluded to as “the fountain of youth” by laymen and termed the “healing hormone” in medical circles, is responsible for all cellular regeneration. This is why we refer to restful sleep as “restorative sleep.”
Restorative Sleep—the completion of all five stages of sleep, and the chemical changes that occur that allow the brain and body systems to be repaired, heal and grow.
During restorative sleep, critical functions occur. Our livers activate to do the important work of assimilation and detoxification, our immune system generates antibodies, our skin produces collagen, and our minds stop racing and have the opportunity to shut off the cares of the day and integrate our experiences in a way that promotes optimism and hope for the future. As such, a good night’s sleep is one of the most powerful tools to reduce stress and anxiety. On the other hand, insomnia—a sleep disorder that can be short-term or chronic—impedes these important processes, thereby hindering the activities of daily life.
The autonomic system manages our body’s ability to respond and relax through two branches known as the sympathetic (fight/flight) and parasympathetic (rest/digest). It’s important to recognize that our ability to sleep, digest, keep a balanced heart rate and normal blood pressure, and so much more relies on a balance of the two. Too much sympathetic activity, such as stress, helplessness, worry, fear and doubt, limits self-actualization and purpose, and impairs our ability to rest and recover.
Stress is always present. How we handle it is the real issue. Often we’re “justified” in feeling stress, but justification doesn’t regulate health and wellness. How we feel about the stress does. The accumulation of the effects of stress will eventually cause excessive sympathetic activity, preventing the ability to focus and sleep, a normal heart rate and normal breathing, and optimal digestion. Our ability to sleep acts as a gauge to monitor the effects of stress and adjust accordingly.
Exercise and deep breathing can help reduce or eliminate the effects of stress, irritability and muscle tension, allowing your body to reach the deep state of relaxation needed to fall and stay asleep. Some natural ways to induce relaxation and restorative sleep include the following:
· Enjoy cardiovascular and resistance exercise daily (20 to 30 minutes per day).
· Optimize transit (“food to poo”) time to 24 hours.
· When feeling overwhelmed, stop what you’re doing, take three to five deep breaths, and focus on something for which you’re grateful.
· Eat a small handful of walnuts an hour before bed. They contain melatonin, an antioxidant that will help make you drowsy.
· Incorporate 10 to 20 minutes of meditation daily.
· Develop a consistent sleep schedule.
· Reduce alcohol and caffeine consumption.
· Avoid spicy foods before bed to prevent heartburn and acid reflux.
· Don’t eat or drink an hour before bedtime and empty your bladder before going to sleep.
· Keep a sleeping area that is quiet, comfortable, cool and dark.
· Don’t watch TV or use electronic devices in bed.
· Turn off the news and other sources of stress!
Paul Bernitt, DHH, is the director of TriVita Clinic of Integrative Medicine, located at 16100 N. Greenway Hayden Loop, Ste. G-100, in Scottsdale. If you’re having difficulty sleeping or experiencing any of the symptoms associated with a lack of sleep, call 480-337-4148 to book an appointment or visit TriVitaClinic.com.