Good Sleep Health = Good Life Health
As human beings, approximately one-third of our lifespan is spent sleeping. In general, we don’t realize the importance of a good night’s sleep when compared to the level of time and attention we give to rushing around – always being on the run in the name of getting things done. As we increasingly burn the candle at both ends, we tend to overwork our mind, but don’t give it the necessary fuel it needs to do its job well. Sleep is one of the most powerful ways to refuel the brain. In fact, the brain must have sleep in order to function at its best (Source).
According to Ayurveda, the sister science of Yoga, healthy life expectancy depends on:
- Regulated sex life
Sleep is the second most important for both health and longevity. If you think about it, people operate in their day-to-day lives in three main states: waking, dreaming and deep sleep. Life (and health) doesn’t just happen when we are awake. It is necessary that we make best use of the other two states as well. Giving the brain time to dream and recuperate in deep sleep is as important to our health as what we do when we are awake. All three must be included in our path towards living in the state of true health and happiness.
Why Poor Sleeping Patterns Are Not Good For You:
- Weight Gain: People with short sleep duration weigh more than people who get adequate sleep. In a detailed and thorough study, adults and children with short sleep cycle were 55% and 89%, respectively, more likely to develop obesity (Source). It’s absolutely paramount for individuals to get a good amount of sleep every day, especially if they are trying to lose weight.
- Appetite Regulation: Studies show that sleep deprived individuals tend to eat more calories and have a bigger appetite than individuals who are well rested. Sleep loss causes poor appetite regulation due to higher levels of a hormone called ghrelin, which is responsible for stimulating appetite. Sleep deprived individuals also have reduced levels of leptin – the hormone that blocks appetite.
- Risk of Diseases: Poor sleepers are prone to chronic diseases like heart diseases and stroke. A review of 15 studies found that people who don’t get enough sleep are at far greater risk of heart disease or stroke than those who sleep 7–8 hours per night (Source). People who sleep for shorter durations can also have blood sugar problems that can lead to Type II Diabetes and increase risk of coronary artery calcification.
- Compromised Immunity: Loss of sleep even in a small amount hinders proper functioning of the immune system. It becomes easier to fight the common cold and cough if individuals sleep for at least 6-8 hours in their day-to-day life.
- Performance and Productivity: Both chronic and acute sleep loss leaves your brain with: reduced concentration, increase in mood swings, dramatically reduced ability to learn new things, slowed reaction time and compromised critical thinking – making it more likely you will make errors that could cost you. In fact, both the Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown and the Exxon Valdez oil spill were linked to sleep deprivation (Source). Yet because sleep does not compromise all areas of the brain and body in the same way, you may not even realize how much it is impairing your functioning. Lest you think that chronic sleep loss is not as harmful as sleep deprivation, studies have actually shown that the effects of long term sleep loss are similar to those with acute sleep deprivation.
- Cognitive Decline: Irregular sleep patterns, trouble falling asleep, staying asleep and sleeping for shorter durations are all gaining traction as contributing factors to cognitive decline and dementia. As we age, many people find it more and more difficult to sleep. This can further cause unnoticed, mild cognitive changes which can set the stage for a host of neurodegenerative conditions later on.
- Depression and Anxiety: Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are strongly associated with poor sleep patterns, especially for people who suffer from sleeping disorders like insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea.
Three Simple Steps to Regain Your Sleep Health
Restoring your body to a healthy sleep pattern is one of the easiest ways to help prevent and even reverse many of the symptoms listed above. Now that we have looked at the effects of irregular sleep patterns, let’s look at three simple things we can incorporate into our life to optimize sleep health. Investing in sleep is investing in your health. It is simple and it feels good!
a. Reset Your Circadian rhythm with the sun:
The human species was meant to work in sync with the rising and setting of the sun. After you have slept peacefully through the night, try to take a few minutes to allow your eyes to catch the morning sunlight without looking directly into the sun. This will wake up your circadian clock and tell your brain that it is time to be alert and awake. This will also signal the brain to know when to fall into restful sleep 12 to 15 hours later. This simple activity every day will provide you mental clarity along with the ability to focus.
b. Yoga Nidra:
With a number of therapeutic benefits, Yoga Nidra is known to reduce depression, anxiety, stress and is especially helpful for the effects of sleep deprivation. Mainly known as effortless meditative relaxation, Yoga Nidra mimics the sleep process to create its effects. It is a powerful aid for individuals to improve their sleep cycle while helping to reverse the effects of sleep loss.
Yoga Nidra increases melatonin production and also slows its breakdown. This means that in the sleep period following Yoga Nidra the melatonin released will help you not only fall asleep, but stay asleep (Source).
It is also during sleep that HGH (human growth hormone) is released, which is responsible for fat burning. I recently had a student who after practicing Yoga Nidra daily for two months lost 8 kilos without changing anything else in her lifestyle! You can find guided Yoga Nidra experiences on YouTube or on a convenient app such as this one: I AM Yoga NidraTM for Apple and Android. Or if you want to know more, take an online course.
c. Sleep before midnight:
The National Sleep Foundation suggests a target sleep time between 8 p.m. and midnight. Ayurveda recommends going to sleep by 10pm. Between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. is the most beneficial for our nervous system and promotes intellect, creativity, and passion (Source).
To Sum Up:
- Yoga Nidra can help you regulate your sleep pattern
- Sleep is as important as eating healthy and exercising
- A healthy sleep cycle helps cognitive function and memory formation
- A healthy life is a result of a healthy sleep pattern
Interested in learning more?
Kamini Desai PhD is the Author of Yoga Nidra: The Art of Transformational Sleep, an excellent resource for anyone seeking more information on the philosophy and scientific research behind Yoga Nidra. For more information visit: www.iameducation.org OR www.kaminidesai.com.
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Originally published online at www.kaminidesai.com on February 19, 2021