The Significance of Sleep

A young beagle pup sleeping on his pillow.
© blacksalmon –

We’re always looking for ways to improve our lives and think we need to make a big change or drastically overhaul our daily habits. Yet many of us overlook the importance of a good night’s sleep.

We may not realize we’re sleep-deprived or lacking rest. Even our healthcare professionals don’t always focus on how we’re sleeping, unless they’re concerned about a serious sleeping disorder.

Illness can be the body’s way of saying slow down and catch up on your rest. This could be our overall state of health, or a specific area that’s literally crying out for more rest such as a cold, fatigue, or irritability.

Sleep needs just as much as attention as nutrition, yet we don’t usually see the latest sleeping tips on magazine covers when we’re in line at the grocery store, only the latest fad diets. The truth is, we can’t even think about putting together a healthy eating plan until good sleep and rest are in place.

Optimally we need 7-9 hours for the best physical and mental functioning. Research proves this applies to everyone across the board, even those who are sure they get by just fine with less sleep.

So many of us have that all or nothing thinking. If I can’t get 7-9 hours of sleep a night then why bother? Instead of all or nothing, just aim for this ideal most of the time. Start with one night.

Five ways to improve your sleep*:

  1. Relax your senses – Decorate your sleeping space with nice soothing colors and smells. Some like lavender, though others find it too strong at first. Look for scented eye pillows or all-natural room sprays. Make your room as dark as possible, blocking out any light from outdoors or other parts of the house.
  2. Create a calming routine – For a couple of hours before bedtime, stay away from electronics, vigorous physical activity, or anything stimulating like caffeine or lively conversations. Wind down with light reading, yoga stretches, a bath, breathing exercises, or relaxing music. You’ll sleep better overall if you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. When you wake, get right up and get moving, ideally outside in the natural light.
  3. Tuck yourself into the right bed – Since sleep is so important, invest in high-quality, soft comfortable materials for your bed and bedroom. Some sheets are specially made to reduce dust or regulate your body temperature. Keep your bedroom cool and tidy. Find calming artwork and colors that relax you.
  4. Take a nap – If you haven’t gotten a good sleep, consider taking a nap during the day to catch up on what you missed. If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, however, skip your nap to see if that helps.
  5. Rein in your thoughts – Use guided imagery with a resource like Health Journeys, or create your own process of imagining your thoughts floating away on a cloud, down a stream, or on a magic carpet. You can also work with a counselor on retraining your anxious thoughts about not being able to sleep, or to learn techniques like progressive muscle relaxation.

Experiment with some of these things and explore them with a sense of curiosity to see how they benefit you. If sleep is still an issue, absolutely investigate any underlying causes of these problems, such as:

  • Chronic pain
  • Breathing conditions like asthma or allergies
  • Heart health issues
  • Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Grief from loss of any kind, including a job, relationship, or kids leaving home
  • Substance use, including caffeine and alcohol

Sleep is important to our physical health but also helps us enjoy our lives so other people enjoy being with us as well. Not sleeping well decreases our motivation to follow a healthy eating plan and undermines our commitment to our own health.

* These sleep tips were updated from an earlier post.