Depending on who you are, you might look comfortably forward to bedtime, or dread it. Sleep is a great thing when it comes easily and lasts through the night, but not so much if you have trouble getting or staying there. Some, of course, dislike the whole concept of sleeping because “there just aren’t enough hours in the day.”

Through the years, there have been some truly odd theories about why we sleep. Scientists, if you can even call them that, have speculated that nocturnal rest protects us against nighttime predators[1]. Obviously, this seems foolish, because sleep would make us more, not less vulnerable to species who’d like to eat us. Others suggested that we sleep at night because food is less available during those hours. However, it shouldn’t have been that hard to carry food to the old cave for the evening hours.

So, why do we sleep? Because that’s when you heal and when your mind and body recharge. Without regular rest, your brain cannot function efficiently, and if your brain’s not working, neither can anything else.

 

What Does Sleep Do for Me?

That sleep is good for you should be obvious simply because you get cranky when you’re tired. Sleep is so important, in fact, that it’s one of the two things you absolutely can’t avoid (outside, as they say, from death and taxes).

Think about it. If you don’t want to eat or drink, you don’t have to. You’ll die in several days without water, and usually within eight weeks without food, but you don’t have to do it. Sleeping, like breathing, is a programmed activity. If you doubt that, try holding your breath. You can for a minute or two, but before long instinct forces respiration.

The same thing happens if you try to stay awake. You might get by a day. Maybe even two. But before long, you’ll be snoozing no matter what you try.

Here are several vital things that happen while you sleep:

Immune Activity

Studies show that reducing sleep time by just four hours for a single night can reduce your Immune System’s Natural Killer cells by 72%.

Very specific cytokines reduce chronic, internal inflammation. These cytokines are thought to also strengthen innate immunity[2].

Hormone Production

Cortisol levels decline as you sleep. In this stressed-out world, this is crucial. Meanwhile, your pituitary gland releases Growth Hormones to stimulate growth and regulate fat, muscle, bone, insulin, blood sugar levels, etc. It’s as important for adults as for children.

Sympathetic Nervous System

By calming the Sympathetic Nervous System, sleep thereby relaxes your stress response. This, in turn, slows respiration, decreases blood pressure and heart rate, increases digestion and cellular building processes, etc.

Brain Function

Your brain is still highly active while you sleep. Beyond dreaming, it processes the information it acquired since its last sleep period. It uses this info to build long-term memories and to help you make future decisions.

And this is just a sampling of what goes on while you sleep. Hopefully, it helps you see just how important a good night’s sleep is. To put it simply, if you don’t get enough sleep, you undermine every aspect of good health. You’ll be cranky, fatigued, have trouble focusing, and notice impaired motor skills. While it may seem counterintuitive, you’ll get more done with a good’s night sleep than without it.

 

Woman staring at alarm clock in the middle of the night because she can't sleep.

 

How to Fall Asleep Faster

So, you’re wondering…how much sleep do I actually need? I’m so glad you asked!!! Here’s a guideline.

  • Babies -- 14 hours of sleep per day
  • Toddlers – 11 to 14 hours
  • Children between 6 and 12 – 9 to 12 hours
  • Teens – 8 to 10 hours
  • Adults 7 to 9 hours

If you have trouble falling asleep, it’s hard to get the sleep you need. A great first step in fixing this is establishing an intelligent bedtime routine. Ideally, this begins at least an hour before lights-out. This should include relaxing both mind and body. Some tips:

  • Turn off electronics
  • Read a book
  • Get Quiet (Pray, meditate, be still)
  • Take a warm bath/shower, etc.

Once you’re actually in bed, here are some simple tricks that can help you find sleep more easily.

  1. The Military Method. Designed to help Navy pilots fall asleep during stressful times. First, relax your entire face and upper body – drop your shoulders to release the tension and let your hands drop to the side of your body. Exhale, relaxing your chest. Then, continue down your body, relaxing your legs, thighs, and calves. Lastly, clear your mind for 10 seconds, it helps to imagine a static, relaxing scene like laying on a bed. If you’re still awake, repeat “don’t think” for at least 10 seconds. As your mind relaxes, you’ll be asleep.

  2. Breathing exercises. The best breathing practice for sleep is the 4-7-8 method. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. Continue until you drift off to sleep. The idea is to do this without thinking, so it may take some practice to develop a good routine.

(Please note, if you have a respiratory condition, like asthma, consult your doctor before attempting this method.)

  1. Reverse psychology. Sometimes if you try too hard to go to sleep it backfires and causes you to stay awake longer. For some people, the fastest way to sleep is through tricking your brain into staying awake. Science calls this a paradoxical intention.

  2. Distraction. This can involve counting backward from 100, “counting sheep or blessings,” creating an image in your mind, or telling yourself a story. Find something to keep your brain from engaging in anxious thoughts that will keep you awake.

 

Nutrients for Healthy Sleep

Nutrition is crucial for healthy sleep. These four help you relax more easily and improve the quality of sleep.

foods rich in magnesium (avocado, banana, spinach, seeds, and nuts) poured around a heart that says Mg

Magnesium is a nutrient that virtually everyone should take as a supplement because over 90% of American’s are functionally magnesium deficient. It’s really important for healthy sleep. Magnesium helps relieves stress and calm your nerves. It also helps regulate the levels of the sleep hormone, melatonin. This helps prepare you for sleep, and produces deeper, more restful sleep.

Note: We recommend using a magnesium supplement like Ionic-Fizz™ Magnesium Plus™ about 30 minutes before bed to help improve your sleep.*

 

Cup of milk on a platter with a pile of cherries - both are food with melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep cycles. As it gets dark outside, your body makes more melatonin. This lets your body know it’s time to sleep. Melatonin also helps regulate body temperature and other hormones, helping you relax.

Some people use a melatonin supplement to help improve these functions, but too much can cause headaches and grogginess and also interferes with some medications.

 

Lavender plant growing

Lavender and lavender oil are popular herbal remedies for sleep enhancement. Lavender helps by soothing the nervous system and relaxing your mind[3].

 

 

 

Ashwagandha roots and powder

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that promotes a healthy stress response, calms the nervous system, and supports immunity. Many use it as a natural sleep aid[4].

 

 

 

If you try these things and still need help, examine your typical, daily routine. Do you nap during the day? Drink lots of caffeine? Are your bed, pillow, and sleep environment comfortable?

Most people, if they try these tips, will find that sleep comes easier. If you have trouble with falling or staying asleep through the night, get started now. And us let be the first to wish you sweet dreams!

 


 

Sources

[1] https://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/why-do-we-sleep

[2] Asif, Nayyab et al. “Human immune system during sleep.” American journal of clinical and experimental immunology vol. 6,6 92-96. 20 Dec. 2017

[3] Koulivand, Peir Hossein et al. “Lavender and the nervous system.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 2013 (2013): 681304. doi:10.1155/2013/681304

[4] Deshpande, Abhijit et al. “A randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study to evaluate the effects of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on sleep quality in healthy adults.” Sleep medicine vol. 72 (2020): 28-36. doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2020.03.012

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