By Mr. Andre
Often quoted during New Year’s celebrations, Tennyson’s words, “Ring out the false, ring in the new,” resonate with hope that we can let go of limiting beliefs and habits and open up to fresh possibilities. With revitalizing force, we can make new choices. And what better place to start than with our own health?
Optimal health encompasses six dimensions: physical, mental, social, emotional, spiritual, and environmental. Obviously, bad habits and good practices in any dimension can affect our overall well-being. However, one foundational practice greatly influences every part of our lives. Appreciating its importance, releasing the habits that prevent or disrupt it, and making simple changes that increase or improve it will energize and enhance our lives. This January, let us ring in the zzzzz’s.
Sleep: you may think that it’s a waste of time. Maybe you believe that sleep deprivation shows that you have more important things to do and that you are tough. If any of this rings a bell, recognize that it’s an alarm! Your brain has a mind of its own and can only perform critical tasks well with enough sleep. Ironically, when your body goes to bed, your brain goes to its second job. Sleep plays many vital roles in sustaining and regulating our mental and physical health, including:
- Improving learning & memory
- Enhancing muscle growth
- Strengthening the immune system
- Promoting a relaxed state of mind
- Slowing down the aging process
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Regulating all hormones
- Generating optimism and self-esteem
If you don’t sleep enough, you know how you feel—sluggish, irritable, anxious, distracted, depressed, and worn out. How much is enough? You need eight to ten hours of sleep each night, or about six sleep cycles. Approximately 90 minutes long, a sleep cycle is the progression through the five essential phases of brain wave activity necessary for physical and mental renewal. If you are sleeping less than eight to nine hours, begin by adding 15 minutes. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier for two weeks, and repeat this pattern for six more weeks until you get a full extra hour. You will make up the time in increased efficiency and effectiveness. Imagine how much easier it would be to do your homework, create a masterpiece, or compete for your team when you have energy, a positive attitude, concentration, and clear thinking.
The quality of sleep is also crucial. Because the deepest sleep cycle (the most rejuvenating one) only occurs during the first half of the night, sleeping less during the week and then catching up by sleeping late during the weekend does not work well. However, if you are exhausted and sleep-deprived, sleeping during part of the weekend can help some. Ideally, don’t change your bedtime and wake up time by much. Keeping less than a two-hour variation during the weekend is most beneficial to your health. And you’ll feel refreshed and ready for school on Monday morning. Ring the celebration bells!
To make sleep a priority, you will need to protect it by organizing your daily activities carefully so you will be ready to go to bed eight to ten hours before you have to get up. You can also create a sleep strategy that helps you fall asleep more easily and that facilitates quality sleep.
To improve the quality of sleep:
- Be sure your room is as dark as possible. Cover any glowing clock displays.
- Keep your bedroom’s temperature on the cool side, and use blankets to keep warm. 68 degrees is comfortable for most people, but shift 2 degrees warmer or colder if necessary.
- Wear socks if you are prone to having cold feet. Keeping your feet warm helps to even out body temperature and blood flow, which in turn helps induce and maintain sleep.
- Turn your cell phone off, or at least silence any notification noises. Keep your phone out of your bed and away from your pillow. This not only eliminates potential radiation but also signals to your brain that you do not need to be vigilant or anticipate an incoming disruption.
To encourage falling asleep (outside of school, of course):
- Make a to-do list for the next day so that you get the nagging, anxiety-producing reminders out of your mind and onto a paper, which you can deal with in the morning.
- Disconnect from all electronic devices (computer, TV, cell phone, etc.) at least 30 minutes before going to bed so that you avoid the blue light radiation from screens that can disrupt the sleep hormone melatonin. Unplugging also helps you transition into a relaxed mental state.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages after 4:00 p.m.
- Eat your dinner at least two to three hours before going to bed. If you want a snack, go for some whole-wheat cereal, milk, crackers, or a banana.
- Take a hot shower about an hour before bedtime. This will trigger a temperature cool down that promotes sleep.
- Sip a warm herbal tea with soothing properties, such as chamomile.
- Practice the relaxing breath once you’re in bed. (Inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of eight.) Repeat four to five times.
Invest in your sleep, and the payoff will be life-changing. Physically and mentally, sleep supports your health, improves your performance, and increases your overall well-being. To ring in the new you, pursue your dreams!