Sleep, oh glorious sleep. With it, we wake up feeling like we can change the world. Without it, we find ourselves struggling to get through the day while reaching for too much caffeine. It’s a vicious cycle that many—if not all—of us are familiar with.
We know how important sleep is to our health. So, why–with all of the technology, supplements, creams, potions, apps, and “miracle” memory foam mattresses–does it seem like we cannot avoid fatigue, chronic disease, and loss of human spirit due to lack of sleep?
While it can feel like a faraway dream some nights, you can sleep and truly rest. It should help you recover from the day and give you the energy to take on the next. The art of sleep can be a powerful tool in preparing you for the next best day of your life.
Let’s look inward for a moment. When was the last time that you intentionally prepared for a good night’s rest, and didn’t just get ready for bed? Have you ever given yourself the gift of time to slow down, breathe, and relax to naturally reduce stress? When was the last time you put in as much effort into getting quality sleep as you did a hard day’s work?
The Problem With Our Sleep Today
Our natural human sleep patterns developed over hundreds of thousands of years based on our environment, activity, energy preservation needs, weather patterns, and exposure to sunlight. As the number of daylight hours varies, so should your sleep. But today’s modern world creates an artificial sleeping pattern that conflicts with our homeostasis and natural circadian rhythm.
We live in a world that is very different from our ancestors, to say the least. Instead of breathing in pure air and the scents of our native lands while falling asleep to the sounds of nature under the stars, we sleep on synthetic mattresses (that are most often made with endocrine-disrupting chemicals), inside VOC-painted rooms with no airflow, while basking in the glow of the TV.
In stark contrast, our ancestors slept in ways that felt most natural based on their environment or were critical to their survival. The most comfortable sleeping positions were those where the rib cage could expand fully and the jaw was resting in a position to prevent snoring. But, unfortunately, today our culture is more familiar with sleep apnea machines and ASMR than the clean air.
What Sort of Sleep Do We Need?
The quality of our sleep has become so poor and disrupted that we can’t heal as efficiently from disease, let alone build muscle or utilize fat as energy, form new neural pathways or catalyze memories. As our energy levels decrease day over day, our ability to stay positive, control our fate, and live a meaningful existence seems to fade. We cannot live, let alone thrive if we aren’t resting and recovering from the challenges of the day.
We are told that we need between seven to nine hours of sleep, depending on age and activity level. But, other factors that are often overlooked are the times we go to bed at night and wake up in the morning, our sleeping conditions and positions, and how far removed from our natural environment we’ve become. We need to focus on the quality of rest we’re receiving, which takes all of these factors into account, not merely the number of hours we spend with our eyes closed.
Sleeping positions are an oft-debated topic because most of them result in aches and lower-back pain. But the answer is simple: we should sleep how we’ve slept for millennia. There are benefits to sleeping in a natural position, whether that’s in the quadrupedal position, in the recovery position, or on our shins in extreme conditions. The proof is in the rising rates of osteoarthritis.
When you are comfortable, your breathing is much deeper, more oxygen flows through the body, and it begins to heal itself. One of the critical roles sleep plays in your health is memory formation.
Like a child, learn how to listen to your body and let it tell you how much sleep it needs. Try alternative sleeping positions, no matter how strange they may seem. Experiment with your sleep and become your own diagnostician.
How to Sleep and Recover Well
The human body is exceptional at adapting to its environment. No matter how toxic or how pristine, we somehow find a way to survive (quality of life, aside). What determines the quality of your existence is your ability to adapt and withstand the constant changes of life.
Understanding the balance between exertion and recovery is an important part of being healthy. The more physical and mental energy you exert the more recovery you will need. This will allow you to find your natural circadian rhythm in sync with the light-dark cycles of the day. Rest is crucial to any organism’s health, including Earth. Seasons have this balance, as do plants and all the animals.
Be kind to your body before bed. Eliminate the noise and the distractions that speed up your thoughts. Go for a walk, then open the windows to let fresh air in your home; if the air quality allows. Slow down by taking a warm bath or shower and put all devices away well before slipping into bed–that includes TVs and phones. Abstain from caffeine altogether. Exercise in the morning and stretch in the evening. Developing a nighttime ritual can help signal to your brain and body that it’s time to sleep.
Listen to yourself. We don’t need to tell you all of the things that are hindering your sleep. You know what impedes your ability to dream those wonderful, deep dreams that you love waking up to.
Being just a little bit more disciplined than the day before will quiet the mind, slow the breath, and relax you in a way that will help induce beautiful, rejuvenating rest. If we listen to our bodies, we can heal and become incredible versions of ourselves.