Sleep It Off: Why It Works

Learn how you can sleep it off by reading this article

I’ll be the first to admit it. I love sleep. I love curling up in bed after a long day, closing my eyes, and not really thinking for the next eight or so hours. It’s something that seven year old Danielle would never believe. But, besides feeling well-rested and a little less cranky, there are countless benefits to a good sleep! This article explores why you should sleep it off.

What Happens When We Sleep It Off?

Now, I’m not talking about the gnomes that come into your bedroom at night and steal one sock from each pair. Or the trolls in the kitchen that love eating Tupperware and their lids (BUT NEVER THE SAME ONES). I want to know what happens in our brains and bodies when we sleep.

Well, according to researchers sleeping involves a four-stage cycle.

  1. Non-REM Sleep: this is the first and lightest stage of sleep. Your body is slowing down.
  2. Non-REM Sleep Part II: stage 2 is the part of our sleep cycle we spend the most time in. Our body cools down, and our brainwaves spike and slowdown.
  3. You guessed it! Non-REM Sleep Stage 3: this third stage is the “deep sleep”. Your eyes aren’t moving, your body is restoring itself and repairing cells. It is Stage 3 that ensures we wake up refreshed the next day!
  4. REM Sleep: In this stage, Rapid Eye Movements, your eyes move quickly from side to side. Occurring about 90 minutes into your snooze, it is this stage that helps you process your thoughts, learning, and memory. It is also the stage at which we dream.

On top of these fascinating stages, sleep helps us store information and clean up “brain waste”, and helps us conserve energy.

Basically, if your brain was a grocery store, sleep is night shift workers coming in, cleaning everything up, making sure all the tills cash out correctly, and ensuring that the store opens bright and sparkling the next morning!

Why Do We Need Sleep?

When we sleep it off, our body gains a wide variety of physical and mental benefits!
Photo by Gregory Pappas

So we know what happens when we are sleeping, but why do we have to sleep at all? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just stay awake the entire night and do the things we actually want to do with our lives? Just imagine how many more blog posts I could write! How many more hobbies I could start?

Unfortunately, our bodies need sleep for more than just to keep me in a good mood.

We need to sleep to conserve energy, repair our cells, support our emotional health, maintain our weight, ensure proper insulin production, boost immunity and improve heart health. When we “sleep it off”, we are actually sleeping quite a bit off.

In fact, if we don’t get enough sleep, it can impact our long-term physical health (greater risk of a variety of long-term diseases), risk of getting into accidents, and damages of mental health severely. Supporting proper sleep hygiene has been called a public health imperative because of its wide-spread impact on human health!

There is a catch though, as always. When we have chronic diseases like diabetes, or struggle with mental illness like anxiety, our sleep suffers.

It cannot always be said that bad sleep causes disease, because disease itself often interrupts sleep!

Either way, we know that our body needs sleep to function properly. So how can we ensure that we get the best quality sleep possible?

Sleep Hygiene: What is it Not?

Sleep hygiene is not going to help you if you have insomnia. There has been a lot of research on this, and they found that having a routine around bed time does not actually help you if your body refuses to fall asleep. So, if someone is complaining about insomnia, and you want to tell them they need better sleep hygiene, do everyone a favor and resist the urge. I guarantee you that they have heard it before.

Sleep hygiene IS a way that the average person can prepare their body for sleep as they power-down for the night. It includes:

  • not taking long naps (especially in the afternoon)
  • avoiding caffeine and other energizing substances four hours before bed
  • limiting screen time
  • ensuring that you don’t eat huge meals right before sleeping

In this article, they created an assessment that measures what not to do before you go to bed if you are interested in reading a more comprehensive list! Also, those with poor sleep hygiene had a lesser quality of sleep. We know there is a correct way to sleep it off. Routine, and avoiding habits that will keep you awake.

How I Sleep It Off

It seems pretty simple, but let me walk you through a night of what my sleep routine looks like.

For me, I try (read hope) to start winding down shortly after dinner. If I finish eating at 7:00 PM, I hope to be in bed by 10:00 PM.

I usually watch some TV or scroll through my phone. If I’m practicing ideal sleep hygiene, I would probably read instead. But, because I’m not superhuman, I make sure that the blue light filter is turned on, on my devices, instead. Maybe I’ll sip a cup of peppermint or chamomile tea. I try to avoid snacking, which is hard for me, but I do try.

At around 9:30 PM, I’ll start my actual sleep routine. This is a pattern I tend to follow regardless of what I do before.

I fill up my water bottle. Then, I wash my face. I take my vitamins and brush my teeth. Once more, I fill up my water bottle again (because I drank some with my vitamins). I brush my hair and pee. In my bedroom, I close my blinds and window, and plug-in my phone. I climb into bed and turn out the light.

If I’m lucky, I’m asleep within the hour. A lot of times I’m not. Whether I toss and turn is dependent on my mindset when I go to bed. Am I stressed? Have I prepared for tomorrow? Do I have a lunch packed?

While my sleep routine is far from perfect (and I definitely need to incorporate more mindful activities and self-care routines into it), when I vary from this routine it is OBVIOUS. My body freaks out, and I toss and turn for hours.

Supplements to Sleep It Off

Sleep hygiene is an important part of getting a good sleep. But it is not everything.

As I addressed before, good sleep hygiene doesn’t necessarily work for someone struggling with insomnia. Moreover, if your nose is plugged, having a routine before bed may not be enough to put you to sleep.

So what else can you do if you’re struggling to get the sleep you so desperately need?

Supplements!

Disclaimer: many supplements have not been scientifically tested, but that does not mean they do not work. Be cautious when using them because many are not regulated. And most of all! Listen to your body and not the internet when trying to decide whether a supplement helps or not.

The Sleep Foundation explores this topic much deeper than I do, so I encourage you to visit their website if you are struggling to sleep.

The sleep aids they list in the above article include:

  • Melatonin
  • Valerian
  • Magnesium
  • Tryptophan (the turkey hormone)
  • Kava
  • Passionflower
  • Chamomile
  • Magnolia
  • Cannabidiol (CBD)
  • Lavender
  • Glycine
  • GABA

One factor of this list that I believe is worth mentioning is that many of these “supplements” can be found in the foods your already eating. Magnesium rich foods include spinach, dark chocolate, and hemp hearts. Tryptophan is in dairy products, nuts, and turkey! Aromatherapy with lavender also works well for some people, and many of these supplements address the anxiety that prevents people from falling asleep.

For more information about sleep, visit www.sleepfoundation.org!

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