Sleep is critical. Critical for the functioning of the body, and critical for the healthy function of the conscious and subconscious mind (and resulting emotions). It is during sleep that our bodies and mind experience the most powerful restorative benefits. Healthy sleep is a necessary component of the healing process. Sleep length, sleep quality and sleep rhythm are all equally important.
During normal sleep, our bodies go through cycles, moving between deep, restorative sleep, when the heart rate slows, hormones are released, the body repairs bones and skin and rebuilds muscle, and the more alert (non-REM) sleep and, finally, what is called REM sleep (when vivid dreams occur). Each sleep cycle lasts for about 90 minutes, and these cycles should occur at least five or six times per evening. You can experience how important each part of this cycle is, by comparing the way that you feel upon awakening when using an alarm clock (when the alarm interrupts restorative deep sleep or the REM part of the cycle). When you awake without using an alarm, it will occur during the more transitory (non-REM) portion of the cycle and you won’t feel nearly as tired.
The dream portion of the sleep is when the process of sleep allows the subconscious part of our psyche to clear itself out. Stress, struggles and emotional challenges are cleared out via dreams. This could be a reason why even big struggles always seem clearer and more manageable in the morning. A good reason to “sleep on it” when facing big decisions.
Finally, just as our lymphatic system must be operating well to clear toxins and cellular waste products out of the body, the recently discovered “glymphatic” system (adding a “g” to reflect the impact on glial cells) allows for the removal of cellular waste from the brain. The blood-brain barrier precludes the normal waste removal process from the lymphatic system. This glymphatic system operates at its optimum level during sleep (when it is ten times more active). At the same time, during sleep the size of brain cells are reduced some 60% presumably to open these glymphatic channels and make this waste removal more efficient.
Methods that can be used to improve the quality of sleep include:
• Reducing ambient temperature. The correlation between body temperature and ambient temperature sets the body up for sleep. As temperature drops, the body’s need for energy expenditure decreases.
• Lighting impacts circadian timing. Thus, at night, avoid all “blue light” and turn off all background lighting. Blue light tells your brain that it’s time to get up.
• No television or “screens” at least two hours prior to bed (or use blue-light blocking glasses). In fact, if you can, remove the television set (and any computer screens) from the bedroom. And don’t read or watch anything stressful right before bed.
• Get at least a half hour of sunlight during the day (not behind glass and not filtered through sunglasses). Get outside, take a break and get some sun.