Sleep, nourishing sleep! It's natural medicine, pure and simple. The spirit of regeneration works upon each and every person during sleep, rejuvenating every cell in the body, as well as the mind and soul. The Huichols say that when sleeping, you die a little death: You go to the Great Spirit, or to a special place of power, where everything just is. They're referring to the kind of sleep that is deep and uninterrupted -- and that's the healing sleep we need.
There are many costs of not getting enough of this good, nourishing sleep. And many of us aren't getting enough: an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from some type of sleep disorder. When sleep-deprived, our bodies release cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland that's also known as the "stress hormone." Elevated cortisol levels can diminish the ability of the body to burn fat. So if you're struggling to lose those final pounds, even a few more minutes of quality sleep can make a difference.
If we don't get enough sleep, it hampers the production of human growth hormone, without which we can't regenerate muscle tissue, for instance. And there are links between sleep and aging: Much of the aging process (including some aspects of memory loss) is related to a lifetime of continual, low-grade stress that eventually robs the body as well as the brain of the time it needs to regenerate. Poor sleep is also linked to low levels of DHEA, a pro-hormone vital for maintaining a strong immune system, among its many other functions.
But perhaps the most significant effect of sleep deprivation is the disruption of your energy cycles. Without enough sleep, you may tire in the middle of the day, but get wired again late at night. You may go to sleep easily enough, but wake up far too early, and then not be able to get back to sleep. Or despite what seems like a full night's sleep, you may wake up feeling worn out and anything but refreshed.
Here four tips for a good night's sleep:
1. Cut back on the caffeine. Limit your consumption of caffeine to the early parts of the day, preferably before noon.
2. Eat big meals earlier. Having a large meal late in the day can trigger swings in your blood sugar, and wake you up in the night when insulin is overdoing its job. Instead, adopt the Huichol's approach of eating a lighter dinner most days of the week.
3. Reduce alcohol consumption. If you want to drink, just keep it in the healthy zone (around one drink a night). Drinking too much alcohol will trigger the release of a hormone that can actually wake you up in the middle of the night.
4. Tuck those worries to bed. Sleep time is for sleeping, not solving the challenges you face in life. By the time you hit the pillow, your mind should be free of worries. Try this ritual: Go over the day's events, and then imagine you're gathering them into a sacred circle in front of your heart. This helps you calm your mind and prepare for deep sleep.
We need those cycles of waking and deep, regenerative slumber -- that special "place of power," as the Huichols say -- to stay healthy and happy. Make getting enough quality sleep a priority, and you'll be doing your whole self a big favor.