Falling into a deep sleep during my Slow Flow yoga practice proved to me that even my efforts to establish ‘balance’ in my life were over-exhaustive. Between two young children, an emotionally-needy dog, a welcoming home, a small (but growing) business, a partner balancing both a full-time job and graduate school, our ‘Whole 30’ Diet requiring regular multi-locational grocery shopping and extensive meal planning, consistent exercise and a “social life” all fighting to coexist – I was striving to carve out the ever-shrinking Zen-maintenance time. As a Loudoun County woman trying to keep up and do it all, I was averaging an appalling 5 hours of restless sleep a night.
I do not kid myself into believing that I corner the market on insufficient rest. In fact, my very compassionate yoga instructor who so kindly woke me that afternoon assured me (in my groggy embarrassment) – “It’s okay; it happens.” We live fast-paced, highly stressed, and achievement-driven lives; many of us are simply not getting enough quality rest as a result.
Other than outright nodding off in public, other telltale symptoms of insufficient sleep are general fatigue and low energy levels, stress, irritability, indecision, cravings, and poor food choices, etc. Sound familiar? Does the barista at Starbucks know your name and drink of choice? Have you too fallen victim to some guilt-ridden late-night snacking?
I continue, on occasion, to pack too much into a day, but I do against my better judgment. Because I know that not only is high-quality rest in ample supply absolutely crucial to a healthy lifestyle, but sleep is also one of the most important factors in attaining and maintaining a healthy weight. Even still, mainstream weight-loss advice typically revolves around exercise and nutrition, leaving the critical role of rest out of the recipe. Why do we conveniently forget this part of the equation?
Not only does being well-rested help control appetite, prevent weight gain, and provide more energy for exercise and meal planning, but physiological stress from exhaustion can also trigger efficient fat storage – Whole 30 or not! Perhaps even worse, research shows that inadequate sleep can torpedo your weight loss efforts, and even mimic the symptoms of low insulin sensitivity and high blood sugar. So, while we invest our finite time and energy into eating well and exercising efficiently, we sacrifice our progress by neglecting our body’s need for the rest time that it needs to recover from the demands we place on it.
Having now pointed out the obvious – we are all tired – I’ll endeavor to redeem this article with some (hopefully) useful advice intended to help you get to the Land of Nod more frequently, and preferably for between 7 and 8 hours a night.
Create an environment conducive to sleep. Get your mind and body in the habit of using your bedroom for sleeping, not daytime activities like paying the bills, doing homework, eating, talking on the phone, watching television, etc.
Firm up a routine. This is admittedly difficult with demanding and varying schedules but try and set yourself a strict lights-out bedtime to settle your body into a routine.
Set an early ‘Last Call’ time for food and beverage. Lying horizontally too soon after eating causes heartburn and indigestion from the leveling out of stomach acids – and alcohol’s effects severely disrupt sleep patterns and quality. Spikes in post-consumption metabolism can actually raise your energy level; try to avoid eating for at least three hours before your bedtime.
High on my wish list is the desire to explore the curative practice of meditation in order to better manage life’s stresses. The saying, “if you don’t have time to meditate for 20 minutes a day, meditate for 40 minutes” comes to mind. If you’re tossing and turning at night proves relentless, get a check up. Untreated sleep disorders are dangerous to your health, so if you suspect something is wrong, consult a specialist.