During the darker and colder months of the year, it’s natural that we are drawn to more rest, earlier nights and to give ourselves the gift of a good night’s sleep. Good quality sleep is essential, necessary, vital. With our overly busy and stressful day time lives, overlayed with the ongoing “bigness” of life at these times, we need to put in place several practices that can sustain us and keep ourselves well. Sleep is one of these practices and is a highly sustainable way to reset the health of our brain and body each day.
One of the ways I love to nurture and sustain myself, is to give myself the gift of good sleep. Unlike my 9 year old daughter, I LOVE sleep (she loves it too once she’s there, it’s just the getting to sleep part she delays to no end). I look forward to this time of the day when I can dive into my cloud bed, swaddled in my linen sheets and feather doona and drift off into rest and dreams, held safely in the palm of the dark quiet night.
Sleep is itself, like a wonder potion: it’s the space of deep rest and restoration where parts of us relax and other parts, such as our mind and spirit, are alive and active in mysterious ways. We thrive on rhythm and regularity and sleep is the dark, quiet balance to the bright and busy day. Through the night we sail away on the ebb and flow of 90 min cycles of non-REM (non-Rapid Eye Movement) and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep (more on these later). Journeying through the land of dreams and the land of deep restoration, we are doing important work to keep us well and balanced.
There have been two periods in my life where my sleep has been poor for extended lengths of time. As a child I remember having trouble getting to sleep and also waking in the middle of the night from sounds, frightful dreams or out of body experiences. This led to some childhood anxiety that was never really recognised or addressed until later. As for my daughter who may have similar issues, we have nurturing bed time rituals that make bedtime so much more inviting.. crystal under the pillow, lavender filled eye mask I made for her, foot massages and yoga Nidra.
The second period was of course motherhood, having about 7-8 years where sleep was whenever you can get it, interrupted and very poor quality at times. I felt the impacts of the lack of sleep on so many aspects of my health - mentally, emotionally, immune-wise and spiritually.
There was also a time in my life, during and after I had glandular fever, where I slept more than I was awake. I was exhausted for weeks in the recovery process, where no matter how much sleep I got, I was still tired. Sleep was so very essential to my recovery and learning the value of rest, pacing myself and slowing my daily movements down a gear was part of the healing process along with my herbs (esp astragalus, withania, poke root, thistle) and acupuncture, which got me through this exhaustion/ post viral period very well.
Thankfully, these days, sleep is less interrupted (touch wood) and my dreaming life has returned too (somehow having children interrupted my fabulous dreaming life) and as best as I can, I nurture this rhythm and revere its importance. I have books and journals of my dreams that I love to read through. They take me to the dream portal and remind me how much meaning dreams have given to my wakeful time.
In my bookcase live many books about dreams and dreamwork. I love dreamwork (that’s another article) and more recently I have also been fascinated with the function of sleep and what happens physiologically while we sleep. I also like to impart this knowledge to clients who feel they can get away with 6 hours or less, sleep a night. This is not a sustainable practice.
Now to REM sleep: these are shorter cycles that come in waves after non-REM deeper sleep. During this phase our brain is active (hence the rapid eye movement) as REM stimulates the brain to help with learning and the production of proteins. It’s also a creative phase as the brain tries to stitch together information and help provide solutions to difficult situations we may have been facing. It is also typically where we dream … perhaps we enjoy a bit of astral travel, journeys, bizarre and surreal or even scary encounters. We might meet with loved ones that have passed on, recall memories and have a replay or twist on the day’s events.
There’s a whole world to discover in our dreaming life. It is an opportunity to connect with our spirit self and travel with parts of ourselves that are intangible, mysterious and a bit magical; to work on deep parts of ourselves, discover revelations, move through trauma, or to tap into deep creativity. Dreams are unique to all.
Apparently, babies spend about 50% of their sleep in REM sleep, compared to about 20% for adults. Is that where the term ‘sleep like a baby’ comes from? A baby that can’t sleep is not a happy babe, understandably.
We all know that sleep is important… but why? I love to know the why’s and how’s and it’s useful to be able to share with clients some interesting facts of why they should prioritise sleep.
In our non-REM sleep cycle, we go through 4 stages, the 3rd and 4th being deep restorative phases. Thanks to research, sleep scientists have been delving into what goes on in these deeper cycles. A few years ago, I came across a book, *Why We Sleep, by sleep scientist Mathew Walker and was amazed by some of the things our body and brain get up to whether we’re tossing about the sheets; kicking our snoring partner; out cold with mouth open drooling … or better…sleeping like a baby!
Here are some wonderful sleep facts I gleaned, to remind us about the importance of stages 3 and 4 of non-REM sleep.
🌙 Did you know we have a glymphatic system? (I know right!) Much like our lymphatic system, the glymphatic system filters and detoxifies metabolic wastes that the brain produces in the day. It particularly clears a toxin called beta amyloid, a leading cause for Alzheimer’s disease. This system is 200 times more active in sleep than it is when we are awake.
🌙 Deep Sleep is essential for mental health, clarity, learning, memorising, decision making and choice. We need good sleep the night before all the learning and soaking up of information that we do in the day to follow.
🌙 Sleep re-calibrates our emotional brain circuits, allowing us to navigate social and psychological challenges.
🌙 Sleep restocks the armoury of our immune system, preventing infection, warding off disease, fighting malignancy.
Did you know that routinely sleeping less than 6 hours a night can increase your risk of cancer by 50%? After just one night of less than 5 hours of sleep Natural Killer Cells (which fight cancer cells) drop by 70%! After just one night!
That’s a bit of a wake-up call! It’s no wonder we need a lot of sleep when we are sick.
🌙 Here’s an interesting one for the vaccine climate we are in. If you sleep less than 5hs 1 week before a vaccine (thinking shift workers), you will produce 50% or less of the normal antibody response, which will render that vaccine practically ineffective.
🌙 Sleep rebalances our metabolic state, regulating insulin and blood glucose levels. Less than 5-6 hrs sleep per night could profoundly disrupt blood glucose levels.
🌙 Sleep helps regulate our reproductive system and maintains the microbiome in our gut where so much of our overall health is governed.
🌙 Deep sleep lowers blood pressure and drops the heart rate, releasing a variety of restorative chemicals and growth hormones to restore cells within our body.
I love setting myself some night time rituals to support my important “night life”. Some of my practices to nurture my sleep are:
✨Setting a gentle tinkle alarm for bedtime: a reminder to make my way to my soft awaiting bed. I try to get to bed around the same time each night,
remembering my body loves rhythm and routine.
💫Having a bedroom that is free of clutter and is serene and zen; a space I love being in, a space that represents rest and restoration.
⭐️ Regularly getting an extra hour or two more than my usual 8 hr sleep. When I have done this the energy and vitality that I feel the next day is truly amazing.
🪐 Having a warm drink before bed like a spiced milk or a herbal tea (and what a variety we have to choose from!). I might have a chamomile combination with myrtle and ginger or a rose and spearmint mix.
✨ Having magnesium. I’m a big fan of magnesium, I find it very effective to increase quality and quantity of sleep.
🌟 Enjoying a warm bath or shower with Epsom salts and lavender oil.
⭐️ Doing some gentle stretches, yoga, and meditation.
💫 Putting away the screens and reading a book, journal or listening to sleep soundscapes.
🌿 Hanging a bunch of dried herbs by my bed! Hanging by my bed this week is a bundle of mugwort, lavender and rosemary. The physical presence and smell of these herbs is soothing, sleep and dream promoting.
🌿 Mugwort nourishes our nervous system - restoring function and enhancing dreaming
🌿 Lavender is well known for its relaxing, anxiolytic and soporific effects. Inhale its aroma and you’ll know why instantly.
🌿 Rosemary to relax muscles, brain and heart, and to help remember your dreams in the morning.
Inspired to procure more sleep? I wish you all restorative brumal sleep and a rich dreaming life this winter.
*And for more interesting and mind blowing research on sleep, head to Mathew Walker’s book Why we sleep or listen to his podcasts https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-matt-walker-podcast/id1578319619