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Feeling Stressed? Sleep on it!

In the last month, we have explored several mindfulness practices: taking five deep breaths, and managing our gut health. This month, we would like to focus on a new aspect…sleep.

We all know that we get tired if we don’t sleep enough. But did you know that there’s a whole lot of important work going on in your body while you are snoozing?

Picture a minivan that’s taking a family of six to Florida on vacation. That car is trashed by the end of the trip! Crushed Cheerios, chips and crackers are ground into the carpet. Fast food bags litter the floor, games and books are strewn on every seat…it’s a mess!

Our bodies are in pretty much the same state as that minivan by the end of a day. We’ve been taking in and digesting food, running around doing our daily “stuff,” and our brains have been processing at warp speed. In the meantime, we’ve burned through cells, taken in toxins, and overloaded our mental circuits.

Our bodies don’t have enough bandwidth to take care of all the work that needs to be done when we’re awake. It’s using all its energy on those “waking hours” activities like digesting, moving and thinking. When we sleep, the body goes into cleanup mode. Our organs can detoxify. Our cells rejuvenate. The brain can rest.

When we get enough sleep, our “car” (body) is tidy, clean, and ready for action the next day. We wake up feeling refreshed and energized. If the body hasn’t finished its work, we wake up grumpy or unsettled.

So what are some things you can do to get a better night’s sleep?
• Stop with the screens at least 30 minutes before bed! Your brain will not start producing melatonin (the chemical needed for sleep) until you have stopped using your tablet, texting, or TV-watching for at least half an hour. (This is science…they’ve studied it!)
• For an optimum night’s sleep, you should be in bed by 10:00 and sleeping by 10:30. Again, this is science. The body does most of its detoxification and healing between 10:00pm-2:00am. If you are awake during those hours, you’re making your body’s normal processes less efficient.
• Report on your day. Run through a factual checklist….”I did this, then this happened, then I went here, then I did that.” This allows you brain to let go of some of the emotion attached to those activities.
• Identify three good things that happened in your day. Studies have shown that if you consistently do this for two weeks within one hour of your bedtime, it can dramatically increase your happiness! That’s because our brains are hardwired to remember the bad, not the good. You can retrain your brain to recall and acknowledge the positive. This will help you sleep better, and allow your body to self-regulate emotion more effectively. (There’s a great 10-minute YouTube video about this – watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZ4aT_RVHCs)

The old-timers had a lot of wisdom when they advised, “Are you worried or unsure what to do? Sleep on it!” Sleep is very important for our brains and bodies. When we use practices such as Reporting and Three Good Things, we can enhance that benefit even more.

Want to learn more about sleep, or any of the mindfulness practices we have covered in the last few months? Visit NorthOttawaWellnessFoundation.org for helpful tips, more science, and great ways to incorporate mindfulness practices into your overall health.

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