Sleep: The Most Important Hours for Revitalization
As Wayne Dyer states in his book, Wishes Fulfilled, “Sleep is the time when your conscious mind leaves the world of your five senses and joins in with your subconscious mind. Your subconscious mind responds to what has been programmed into it. We spend one-third of our life in this sleep state. This time can be viewed as a time that we receive instructions for how the other two-thirds of our life can unfold. We all want to run our lives smoothly. Therefore, a very important point is to maximally prepare ourselves to enter this natural sub-conscious state of sleep. How can we maximize the last five minutes of our day before we enter sleep? What should we think about? Do not review the day’s frustrations and disappointments. Do not focus on how unhealthy you are, or on how you are not feeling as energetic as you used to be. Do not focus on thoughts that make you feel bad. This imprints your subconscious mind with thoughts of ‘I am unhappy, I am frustrated, I am sick.’ Your subconscious mind reacts with no desire to change your awakened state, so it will proceed to offer you experiences with what you have programmed it to do.
“So you need to give it a different program, and you can do this best by starting with a new mindset in those precious five minutes before you fall asleep. Instead, you need to program your subconscious mind with positive feelings and attitudes. Program it with how you would like your life to be. Think happy thoughts before you go to sleep. Think about your aspirations. Most importantly, you want to assume the feeling of what you want to occur in your life. You must tell yourself in those pre-sleep moments that your desires will manifest, and you must assume the feeling that they have already manifested. This begins the reprogramming of your subconscious mind, which you can do every night before falling asleep.”
Lack of, and poor, sleep is a big problem for so many people today. In fact, sleep problems rank with chronic fatigue and obesity as our nation’s most common health complaints. Too many people either can’t fall asleep or else they wake up in the middle of the night, or toss and turn, only to greet the morning feeling exhausted.
The importance of a good night’s sleep cannot be overemphasized. Lack of sleep has been implicated in a wide range of health problems, including lowered immunity and greater susceptibility to infections, increased stress and muscle tension, an increased risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer, increased weight gain, increased risk for developing type II diabetes, hormonal imbalances, high blood pressure, and impaired brain function. Lack of sleep also leads to a diminished ability to solve problems, decreased creativity, reduced productivity, and poor job performance.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), sleep and its importance to health and regeneration is closely associated with the twelve major meridians and the organ systems that they correspond to. Each of these meridians is linked to two hours of the 24-hour cycle. The liver meridian, for example, is most active between 1 and 3 AM. In TCM, these hours are known as liver time, meaning it is then when the body’s energy is most concentrated in the liver. If people tell me they wake up, or can’t fall asleep between the hours of 1 and 3 then I know their liver energy is abnormal or imbalanced. Additionally, when people wake in the middle of the night and cannot get back to sleep, that is usually a sign of abnormal adrenal function.
A similar correspondence between optimum sleep and the body’s natural 24-hour circadian rhythm has long been recognized by practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine. The term circadian is Latin and means “around a day.” Circadian rhythms tend to follow the same cycles and patterns of the sun during a 24-hour period and influence the times of day when you feel most awake and alert, as well as those times when you feel tired or sleepy.
The teachings of Ayurvedic medicine regarding sleep and circadian rhythm have been confirmed by modern science, which has found that many of the human body’s neurological and endocrine functions follow this circadian rhythm, including the ideal sleep-wakefulness cycle. These findings show that for most people the ideal time for achieving the deepest, most restful levels of sleep and maintaining harmony with the circadian cycle begins between 9 and 10 PM. This finding substantiates the Ayurvedic teaching that eight hours of sleep beginning within that timeframe is much more restful than eight hours of sleep that begins after midnight.
Relatively few people today go to bed this early, however. If you suffer from sleep problems, though, I encourage you to try doing so. Going to bed earlier will eventually help you reset your biological clock and make it easier for you to wake up earlier feeling more restful, energized, and ready to be productive.
In addition to going to sleep earlier, in order to improve the quality of sleep, it is essential to know and address the various factors that can compromise healthy sleep. The most common contributing factors are:
- Poor diet and/or poor eating habits, such as eating late at night, can often cause or exacerbate sleeping problems. Excessive alcohol and caffeine intake can also cause sleep problems. Make sure to finish drinking alcohol four hours before going to sleep. Stop eating three hours before going to sleep.
- Legal medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, can similarly impair your ability to get a good night’s sleep. These include beta-blockers, cold and cough medicines (they contain caffeine and synthetic stimulants such as ephedrine), oral contraceptives, synthetic hormones, and thyroid medicines. In addition, all drugs create a toxic burden on the liver and can impair other organ systems as well, making sleep more difficult.
- Food allergies and sensitivities can interfere with your ability to sleep peacefully and restfully and are a frequent cause of sleep disorders. Among the ways that food allergies and sensitivities can cause or worsen sleeping problems are the hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) they can cause, as well as increased histamine production. Sugar and carbohydrate foods are frequent triggers of food allergies that cause drops in blood sugar levels. This creates an adrenal stress reaction that puts the body in a state of stimulation characterized by jittery feelings and tension.
- Geopathic stress, refers to energy fields within the earth that are imbalanced and capable of disrupting the body’s bio-electrical fields, and, therefore, the health of those who dwell near such areas. Manmade devices can also cause geopathic stress, as can power lines and power generators, due to the electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) they emit. (For more about geopathic stress and EMF, see below.)
- Lack of regular exercise, which typically results in chronic muscle tension and the buildup of stress in the body, can make relaxing and falling asleep more difficult.
- Various psychological factors, including unresolved anxiety, depression, despair, stress, and grief, as well as positive emotions such as excitement and euphoria, can also interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Such emotions can cause imbalances in your biochemistry, creating indigestion and other gastrointestinal problems, and interfering with the brain’s ability to properly produce nerve signals and the production of hormones such as melatonin and serotonin that are necessary to restful sleep. Chronic stress can also cause depletion of the adrenal glands, further aggravating sleep disorders.
- Smoking, as well as secondhand exposure to cigarette smoke, can interfere with healthy sleep because of the chemicals and nicotine cigarettes contain. Nicotine acts as a stimulant and can cause insomnia and other sleep disorders, while many of the other chemicals contained in cigarettes can create a toxic burden on the liver to further disturb healthy sleep patterns.
- Structural imbalances in your body, such as muscle tension and/or a misaligned spine, can contribute to sleep disorders due to how such imbalances interfere with the flow of nerve signals to and from the brain. They can also keep you awake at night due to the pain they cause in the muscles and joints. To help resolve structural imbalances, consider adding a few minutes of gentle stretching exercises to your daily routine (see above). For structural problems that you cannot resolve on your own, consider working with a massage therapist, bodyworker, chiropractor, or osteopathic physician. Yoga can also be very helpful.
- Over-stimulating yourself before you go to bed can make falling asleep more difficult. There are a variety of ways in which you can over-stimulate yourself, including late-night exercise, watching television, or working on your computer, including checking your email. All of these activities serve to stimulate brain function by generating “busy mode” beta wave activity.
- The environment of your bedroom can also have a major influence on the quality of your sleep. Bedrooms that are excessively cold, hot, or humid, or which have poor indoor air quality and ventilation, can make healthy sleep difficult, as can sleeping in rooms that let in light from windows or other rooms, as well as sleeping on mattresses that are too hard, soft, or otherwise uncomfortable.