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Along with working on my circadian rhythm by using the tips outlined in this post, making an effort to get my sleep on track has been absolutely essential to my healing journey. I thought I would share some information about the importance of sleep along with some tips to help you troubleshoot any problems that may be interfering with your ability to get quality rest every night.
Why is sleep important? I love how Chris Kresser puts it in this article – you cannot be healthy without adequate sleep. While we sleep, our body maintains and repairs itself, which is absolutely essential to maintaining health. Sleep enhances our mental clarity, helps us cope with stress, boosts mood, gives us energy, improves immunity, and keeps all of our organ systems in working order.
Borrowing from Chris’ article, some of the effects of sleep deprivation are as follows:
- Impaired immunity
- Weight gain and obesity
- Cognitive decline
- Mood and mental health problems
- Systemic inflammation
- Increased risk of death
In light of this, our culture still seems obsessed with productivity, at the expense of sleep. Many of us force our bodies to stay up past sundown, which is when our bodies expect to go to bed. Coupled with the use of computers, phones, and other devices, this can really mess up the delicate balance of hormones that are needed to induce and maintain sleep. Often we miss the ideal window of going to bed and get a second wind, making it even more difficult to fall asleep. Hormonal imbalances, the use of stimulants, blood sugar issues, and chronic stress are all contributing factors to not being able to stay asleep once going to bed. A big trend in our culture is not even allowing ourselves to have enough time for a full night’s rest, with most people getting around six hours a night (when in reality most of us need 8 or 9). This leaves a person waking up feeling exhausted and unrefreshed and needing stimulants like coffee to get going in the morning.
Getting enough sleep for a “healthy” person seems extremely difficult – just think about how much harder that can be for someone with autoimmune disease! The pain, depression, and stress that come with autoimmunity can often make it even more difficult to get good quality sleep. Our bodies typically have a lot more inflammation and repair to deal with on a daily basis, meaning that sleep may be more important to us than the average person. Because of this, I think any good plan to manage one’s autoimmunity should place an emphasis on making sure they are getting adequate sleep.
Some tips to help you sleep better:
- Don’t go to bed on a full stomach. Try to give yourself a few hours before your last meal and bedtime, in order to allow for adequate digestion and proper hormone signaling.
- Create a bedtime ritual. I like to take a little walk after dinner and then take a bath and read before bed. If you get into a routine of slowly relaxing and getting into the mood for sleep, your body will get into the habit of preparing for sleep.
- Create a comfortable, dark sleeping environment. If your room does not get completely dark, you may want to invest in a set of black-out curtains or an eye mask. Ear plugs are a good idea if you can’t control noise in your house. Invest in a nice set of sheets and keep your bed clean and cozy.
- Avoid stimulants like caffeine and sugar. Both caffeine and blood sugar issues can contribute to problems falling or staying asleep.
- Consider making your bedroom a “no technology” zone. I find that I have a better time sleeping when I don’t bring my devices into the bedroom with me. I even went as far as investing in a battery-powered clock for my nightstand so that I could get my phone (which I was previously using as an alarm) out of the room. I no longer feel compelled to check my phone every time it buzzes or dings should I forget to turn it off.
- Reduce your exposure to blue light before bed. Don’t use the computer or have your lights on a couple of hours before bed, or use F.lux or amber-tinted glasses to manage your exposure.
- Use stress-management tools throughout the day. I find that when I take steps to manage my stress during the day, like meditating or walking, I sleep much better.
My experience with sleep issues
When I think back to when my health started to decline, one of the first things I remember was having trouble sleeping. I had always been energetic and healthy before, but it wasn’t very long after I started having trouble with my sleep that I started noticing other symptoms cropping up. By the time I got my diagnosis and started working on my health, my sleep problems were quite severe. Instead of crediting my success to one strategy or supplement, I really think that I was able to get back on track because I made it a huge priority in my healing. I am finally at the place where I am sleep well, and wake up refreshed and energetic – almost too much so, as I am unable to stay in bed past 6! I occasionally have trouble falling asleep, but I attribute that to being on the computer too late or not doing enough stress-relieving activities during the day. I have noticed that when I am stressed out the first thing to be affected is my sleep, and some not-so-fun autoimmune symptoms are sure to follow, so I make it a priority to get back on track.
What strategies do you use to ensure that you get a good night’s sleep?
Chris Kresser’s Tips On Sleep: http://chriskresser.com/9-steps-to-perfect-health-8-sleep-more-deeply
How Artificial Light Is Wrecking Your Sleep: http://chriskresser.com/how-artificial-light-is-wrecking-your-sleep-and-what-to-do-about-it
Light and Sleep from Mark’s Daily Apple: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/how-light-affects-our-sleep/