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THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP: HOW REST HELPS YOU STAY ACTIVE AND MINDFUL

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There are only 24 hours in a day; so often we are tempted to maximize as many of those hours to accomplish as much as possible, no matter the cost. After a night of interrupted, have you noticed the next day your body no longer feels the same, you feel tired, unwell, and unmotivated?

These side effects are blatantly obvious if you are used to good quality sleep, but they may be less obvious to you if you are chronically under-slept. Even though you feel like you’re getting more done by shortchanging your sleep, are you really? In a culture of achieving, it’s important to understand the physical and mental benefits of making sleep a priority to stay alert and physically active.


WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?

Mindfulness is defined as a mental state that can be gained from one’s awareness of the present moment; acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Mindfulness is commonly heard in yoga practice and can be used as a technique to reduce stress or anxiety. The secret is to focus on the present, often our minds tempt us to wander in thought and ruminate on the past or future. When mindfulness is learned it allows for reduced stress and easier focus on the task at hand. This skill, believe it or not, can contribute to more productive exercise inside and outside of the gym. If exercising with little sleep, and less focus you might lose count of reps or more importantly have less focus on form during a lift. The ability to be mindful ensures that you get the most out of your workout, perform the movements correctly and decrease your risk of injury. Mindfulness is often spoken about when it comes to nutrition as well. Mindful eating has proven to be effective in reducing unhealthy eating behaviors like emotional and binge eating, while also improving diet quality over time (The Nutrition Source 2020).


BRINGING SLEEP AND MINDFULNESS TOGETHER

Sleep and mindfulness go hand-in-hand. 1. Getting sufficient sleep can help you be more mindful. Sleep studies reveal that sleep deprivation impacts cognitive function by lowering attention span and working memory (Alhola and Polo-Kantola 2007). This simply means that when you get less sleep, your ability to concentrate on the task at hand decreases, thus decreasing overall productivity. 2. Mindfulness can improve your sleep. Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and improved ability to fall asleep and stay asleep (Shallcross et al. 2019).


THREE BENEFITS OF HEALTHY SLEEP

With numerous benefits of a good night's sleep, here are three: Sleep lowers stress levels. According to the American Psychology Association (2013), the amount and quality of your sleep can have an impact on your perceived stress level. In a study by the APA, adults who reported getting more hours of sleep (7.1 hours) also reported lower levels of perceived stress as compared with those who slept less (6.2 hours). Sleep removes metabolic waste from the brain and improves memory. In deep sleep, the brain removes protein buildup and repairs and restores brain processes. Sleep is also vital for memory consolidation or, the process through which learned information becomes stable, long-term memories. Sleep increases the likelihood that you’ll stick to your exercise program. A lack of sleep can make it challenging to have the motivation and the energy to stick to your workout plan. In a 2014 study, participants who were in sleep deficit also exhibited lower levels of physical activity (Kline 2014).


HOW TO PRACTICE HEALTHY SLEEP

There are four elements of healthy sleep that are crucial for brain health and overall well-being: Depth: Entering all REM and NREM sleep stages (aka getting deep enough sleep).

Duration: According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults over the age of 18 need an average of seven to nine hours of sleep per night, and older adults need seven to eight hours (Suni 2022).

Continuity: Continuous, uninterrupted sleep.

Regularity: Maintaining a consistent wake and rise time throughout the week. Depth and continuity of sleep can be difficult to control but practicing good sleep hygiene can help improve these elements of sleep. Sleep hygiene is a step-by-step routine of behaviors adopted at nighttime to promote restful sleep. How you feel during the day can be a good indicator of the quality of your sleep. Are you tired during the day? Do you require caffeine to function? Are you able to focus on your work? Do you lack motivation and the energy to exercise? Some of these can be indicators that you might benefit from trying some of these sleep hygiene tips! Here are some things that you can do to get better sleep: Get some sun in the morning and avoid screens an hour before bedtime. This can help to keep your circadian rhythm in line.

Relax before bed by reading a book, taking a bath, or listening to relaxing music.

Stick to a consistent sleep/wake schedule. Waking at the same time each day will help you regulate your bedtime. Set an alarm to help you get up at the same time every day – yes, even on the weekends.

Use your bed for only sleep. Do your studying, working, or TV watching in another room to train your brain to associate your bed with sleep and restfulness.

Limit caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. Caffeine has a half-life of five hours in most people, so try to avoid caffeine past lunchtime. Nicotine and alcohol also inhibit sleep, so it’s best to avoid them right before bedtime.

Move every day. Physical activity has been shown to improve sleep and help you fall asleep faster.

Manage stress. Adopt a mindfulness practice, journal to “dump” your worries at the end of the day, and/or visit a mental health professional to help you manage the stressful factors in your life. It’s important to manage expectations when making changes to your sleep schedule. It takes time and consistent effort to see results, so stick with it. Choose one or two of these strategies to start out with and implement them for two weeks. Evaluate what’s working and what’s not working and continue to adjust until you find the routine that works best for you.


SUMMARY

Mindfulness is closely linked with sleep and physical activity. Good sleep improves your ability to stay physically active, mindful, and productive. Small changes to your sleep routines can make a big impact not only on your sleep but also on your overall health and well-being.

References

Alhola, P., & Polo-Kantola, P. (2007). Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 3(5), 553–567. American Psychological Association. (2013). Stress and sleep. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/sleep

Kline C. E. (2014). The bidirectional relationship between exercise and sleep: Implications for exercise adherence and sleep improvement. American journal of lifestyle medicine, 8(6), 375–379. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827614544437

Shallcross, A. J., Visvanathan, P. D., Sperber, S. H., & Duberstein, Z. T. (2019). Waking up to the problem of sleep: can mindfulness help? A review of theory and evidence for the effects of mindfulness for sleep. Current opinion in psychology, 28, 37–41. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2018.10.005

Suni, E. (2022). How much sleep do we really need? Retrieved from Sleep Foundation website: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-wereallyneed

The Nutrition Source, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2020). Mindful eating. Retrieved from Harvard School of Public Health website: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/mindfuleating/#:~:text=Eating%20mindfully%20means%20that%20you,improve%20the%20overall%20eating%20experience.

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