One of the most powerful medicines we all have is sleep. We are becoming more aware of how diet and exercise can affect our health, yet sleep is often ignored.
According to Matthew Walker, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, nearly two thirds of adults throughout all developed nations fail to obtain the recommended amount of hours a sleep a night.
Not sleeping correctly can wreak havoc on our bodies. It decreases our immune and reproductive system, doubles our risk of cancer, disrupts our gut flora and blood sugar levels and increases our risk of Alzheimer’s, heart disease, depression, inflammation and even early death.
On the other hand, when we perform certain sleeping techniques it can become a great healer for our mind and body. Medicinal sleep can balance our body’s natural circadian rhythm (biological clocks), which regulates our hormones, digestion, body temperature and many biological functions in the body. The more we receive medicinal sleep, the more our circadian rhythms can boost our health.
Here are some of the most effective ways to use sleep as medicine:
Sleep a medicinal amount of hours a night and in a correct position
Studies have shown that sleeping about eight hours a night on our left side allows us to fully reap all of the benefits of sleep. Sleeping in other positions or a different amount of hours a night may do damage to our health.
Sleep during certain hours
To follow our body’s natural circadian rhythm, the best time to fall asleep is between 9pm and 11pm.
Mimicking the night inside our bedrooms helps boost our natural circadian rhythm for sleep. We can do this by sleeping in a dark room with no lights on that’s also slightly cooler at around 19°C.
Keep the rhythm going
Unfortunately, it is true that we cannot make-up for lost sleep during the week by sleeping extra over the weekend. It is best for our health to try to maintain a regular sleep schedule every day of the week to maintain a regular circadian rhythm.
Exercise in the morning
Exercising in the mornings, especially in the sunlight, helps to regulate our circadian rhythm, which improves our sleep.
Bathe yourself in white light in the morning
In the morning hours try to expose yourself to full-spectrum white light (through natural sunlight or with a Seasonal Affective Disorder light during cloudy weather). This boosts chemicals in the brain that are then used at night to regulate our circadian rhythm for sleep.
Take medicinal power naps
In addition to a full eight hours of sleep, we benefit greatly from spending just ten to twenty minutes resting around noon. Our circadian rhythm needs a gentle reboot at this time, even if it is just resting our mind and not being fully asleep. Avoid any naps over forty-five minutes, as this will affect your sleep at night and circadian rhythm.
Avoid blue-light and electrical objects at night
After sunset our circadian rhythm becomes extra sensitive and disrupted by any exposure to electricity or blue lights from things like televisions, smart phones, iPads, LED lights or computer screens. Avoid these items, especially an hour before bedtime, to establish medicinal sleep.
Start night-time fasting
Breakfast is called such as we are breaking a fast over night. Studies have shown starting this fast earlier in the evening allows for more energy to be used in cleansing the metabolic wastes in our brain while we sleep.
The more we rid ourselves of daily stresses before we go to sleep, the deeper and better our quality of sleep and balance of our circadian rhythms. Performing breathing techniques, mindfulness and meditations, or even inhaling specific essential oils before bedtime can all improve our sleep quality.
Dr Persephone is a fully licensed herbalist and acupuncturist, Nutritional Therapist, Integrative Medicine Practitioner and Diplomat of Oriental Medicine.