Restful Sleep

As the election approaches and with a blue (full) moon on the horizon, stress levels are increasing both individually and therefore collectively.  One of the first things we lose when we’re feeling stressed is sleep.  The reason this happens, is because stress activates the FFF (Fight, Flight, Freeze) response in the body.  When this happens, the oxygen leaves the brain and travels to the big muscles of the body (think stress hormones included) in order to prepare for fighting, running away, or paralysis.

While this natural system of defense (or offense) is highly effective when the situation is true life or death; in modern society, we receive so much stimuli on a consistent basis that our brain/body is frequently experiencing a false activation.  False activations feel every bit as real as true activations, yet our lives are not actually in danger.  For example, we can have a false activation when someone jumps out from behind a corner and intentionally scares us.  Our lives are not really in any true danger in that moment, however our brain initiates the FFF response and we just might punch, kick, scream, or run from the person pranking.

Over time, false activations can become the “program”, meaning it becomes harder and harder to come out of the FFF activation and return the body to homeostasis.  When the body is unable to transition between sympathetic nervous response (FFF) and parasympathetic nervous response (rest & digest), we can develop sleep and/or digestive issues.

When we aren’t sleeping, we aren’t dreaming.  Dreaming is an important part of the sleep cycle, because of the Rapid Eye Movement.  During this phase of sleep, the bilateral stimulation of the eye movement allows for us to process information.  If we aren’t able to process information it gets stuck, keeping us cycling within the same patterns and programming.

We can think of the brain like a big digester of information; kind of like the stomach digests food, the brain digests information.  Whenever we experience stress, that stress is like a steak.  Imagine cutting a steak into four huge chunks and trying to digest that.  It might be difficult to chew. It might sit heavy in our stomachs.  It would definitely create discomfort in our body.  We might get sweaty, or feel constipated, or event have diarrhea.  This is similar to what happens with stressful information in the brain.  We get stressed, and we don’t process it well (or adaptively).  In both scenarios, we need to break things down into digestible bits.  In order to break things down, we need the body in a state of receptivity, meaning rest and digest or calm and relaxed.

One way to calm the body is by getting enough sleep.  We all know how important sleep is to the body.  When we sleep well, we experience less stress, less anxiety, and we feel more energized and more motivated. When we sleep we can have dreams which help us to process information from our subconscious minds.

If you’re having difficulty sleeping, try some of these tips for restful sleep:

1.) Stay off all screens for an hour or two prior to bedtime.  This includes personal devices as well as television screens.  If you’re bored, listen to a podcast or read an actual book or magazine.

2.) Try a sleep mask.  They have really designed the newer ones to be completely comfortable and once we get used to it, it’s nearly imperceptible.  Sleep masks completely cut out all light, giving the body more time to experience the REM stage of sleep.  (When the body perceives light, it initiates the wake cycle).

3.)  If you’re on Zoom calls or using screens for work (or school) all day, try using a grounding sheet on your bed at night.  They’re amazing.

4.)  It’s the perfect time of year for adding an herbal tea to the bedtime routine.  Chamomile or Lavender is a great place to start.

5.)  If you’re ok with herbs, you can try Melatonin or Valerian Root.  Both allow for the natural sleep cycle to manifest.  It’s important to note that these herbs need to be taken at least one hour prior to sleep time.

6.) Be active and get enough exercise during the day, so that the body feels tired at night.  If you don’t want to go to a gym right now, walk around your neighborhood, take the stairs, or ride a bike somewhere instead of driving.

7.) Essential oils can be great sleep aides.  Lavender and Cedarwood are my personal “go to’s” when I need a good night’s sleep.

8.) Try a weighted blanket. They come in different weights, and having one quite literally adds a feeling of experiencing a layer of security.

9.) Seek out a counselor or therapist when you’re too stressed to sleep well.  Working through stressful events and situations which cause the mind to go into “overdrive” can be very beneficial.  A counselor/therapist can help with the development of coping skills and breathing techniques which work to bring the body out of the FFF activation and into homeostasis, which allows for restful sleep at night and reduction of stress.

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