Why sleep is the best medicine

I once asked a neuroscientist what her number one health tip was … and without hesitation she replied, sleep.

You see the idea that not much happens when we sleep; So we don’t need a lot of it or we don’t need a good night’s sleep. That is grossly wrong. Sleep is a crucial time for the well-being of the body and mind.

Sleep can make or break us. You know yourself when you’ve slept badly – you can forget things, your temper is short, you can’t concentrate despite all the cups of coffee. Why is sleep so important? (By the way: one in three people has trouble sleeping, so don’t feel alone.)

First, let’s understand what happens if we doze off anyway.

When we sleep we experience four sleep cycles: one is Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM) and three that form non-REM sleep (NREM).

There are three different phases within the NREM sleep phase. Each stage can last 5 to 15 minutes, and you go through all three stages before reaching the REM sleep cycle.

You start the NREM sleep cycle in what is known as the N1 phase, switch to N2 and then to the deeper N3 phase.

The N1 stage is essentially the “falling asleep” stage and usually only lasts one to five minutes. During this phase, your body has not fully relaxed, but your body and brain activities begin to slow down. When you move in “N2” your body enters a subdued state, your body temperature drops, the muscles relax, your breathing and your heart rate also slow down.

The third stage of the cycle is N3 sleep, also called deep sleep. During “N3” muscle tone, pulse and breathing rate decrease and your brain wave activity is at the so-called delta wave frequency.

During REM sleep, the brain and body behave very differently than in other phases of sleep. REM sleep is the stage of sleep that is most associated with dreaming.

Repair and rejuvenate

During the deep stages of NREM sleep, the body repairs grow tissues and build bones and muscles. Important chemicals that help strengthen our immune system circulate in our blood. This is a time of repair and rejuvenation.

Bring out the garbage

That’s what scientists think happens during REM sleep. Your brain erases the information you don’t need. Our brain has its own waste system. It is known as the Glymphatic System and is a macroscopic waste disposal system. Special channels from the spine to the brain cavity, remove excess or toxic substances from the corresponding brain fluids.

I like to think of it as if we were sleeping – it’s like the cleaners walking in – packing important things in the closet and filing them away, sweeping the floor and taking out the trash.

Research into the effects of sleep disorders shows how damaging a lack of sleep is. Michigan State University’s Sleep & Learning Lab conducted one of the largest sleep studies to date and has been a key researcher. Professor Kimberley Fenn concluded, “Our research shows that sleep deprivation doubles the likelihood of placement errors and triples the number of attention gaps, which is terrifying.”

Wildcards are defined as the ability to perform a series of steps without losing your place. This means focus, concentration and cognitive skills. Michelle Stepan, MSU PhD student, and Erik Altmann, professor of psychology, co-authors of the same study, warned; “Sleep deprived people need to exercise caution in absolutely everything they do and simply cannot trust that they are not making costly mistakes. Often – like driving a car – those mistakes can have tragic consequences.”

If you have trouble sleeping, here are simple, practical steps to follow to improve your sleep. These are creative techniques based on self hypnosis and self meditation from our Mindology app.

Deep breathing is a simple but powerful technique. Deep breathing activates our vagus nerve, which in turn tells your brain, “It’s okay, relax.” Deep breathing intervenes in the parasympathetic nervous system, which is our “resting and digestive system”.

Box breathing is a simple technique that you can incorporate into your sleep routine to calm your mind and body –

  • Step 1.: Breathe out slowly
  • Step 2: Breathe in slowly up to four through your nose.
  • Step 3: hold your breath for another slow count of four.
  • Step 4: Breathe out through your mouth four times.

You can also go a step further by using the rhythm of your breath as a visualization tool. Imagine breathing in the words “SLEEP” in your head as you breathe in, saying “SLEEP” in your head, and as you breathe out you let go of any thoughts that you are holding onto.

The progressive muscle relaxation technique of tightening and loosening various groups of muscles moving from the toes to the head is also a powerful technique for giving a signal to the body – it’s time to rest.

Be creative with this technique and add visualization as you move up from the toes of the body. In your head, tell each part of you that it is time to rest, it is bedtime. Imagine every part of your body preparing for a state of deep calm.

Go further and imagine that a comfortable ‘blanket’ is placed on each part of you, starting at your feet, warm and comfortable and calming, and slowly going up your legs up your torso to your torso neck. Every part of your body relaxes deeply and is comfortable.

Mindology app

Imagine floating in the water, relaxing and feeling light. Imagine washing away the worries of the day while you swim in the water and drifting into a place of peaceful, restful sleep. Or imagine yourself floating in the sky on a cloud ready for a good night’s sleep.

Unfortunately, it’s so easy to slip into a bad sleep routine, so it’s important to build a consistent positive habit. Have a toolkit of relaxation strategies that work for you. If the thought of floating on a cloud is your worst nightmare then find what to do. The goal is to create a sleep routine and habit that suits you and your lifestyle.

And if you sleep poorly, tomorrow is a new day. Start again and optimize the routine. Do what works for you and this can be a trial and error. Be patient with yourself; Building new habits takes time, but the benefits are worth it.

The Mindology App has a sleep series with sleep stories, sleep sounds and a sleep journal to create new, more positive sleep habits.

Sleep well…

Claire Aristides is a hypnotherapist, visualization and mindset consultant and founder of Mindology.App. After completing her Bachelor of Arts (Psychology), Claire entered the IT business world and started the successful jewelry brand Aristides Fine Jewels. Hypnosis has had a significant impact in both the business and personal areas of Claire’s life, and she shares this passion for hypnosis with her clients. Check out her work here and follow Claire on Instagram.

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