When you’re feeling overly tired, the last thing you want to do is open up your mind to contemplation, or stretch your limits physically. A lack of sleep keeps you blocked from the sweeter things in life like introspection, patience and empathy. (Learn more about the virtue of patience here). Plus, physically, it negatively impacts nearly every part of the body and brain – from your digestion, to your brain’s ability to handle the everyday challenges of life.
It’s not surprising that many people today get less sleep than they’d like to, or even really need to – considering the pressure we all face to accomplish so many different things in any given day. When we’re stretched thin and up against an overwhelmingly long to-do list, sleep is usually the first thing to get neglected. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Sleep Foundation, millions of Americans suffer from sleep problems on an ongoing basis, which kicks off a vicious cycle and raises the risk for things like depression, anxiety, substance abuse and heart disease.
Surging Stress Hormones
Missing sleep can take years off your life. One unfortunate side effect of being tired is an increase in the amount of cortisol that the body produces, raising your natural stress response and affecting your metabolism, appetite, emotional control, heartbeat and much more.
Cortisol (considered the body’s primary stress hormone) surging throughout your body can feel uncomfortable in the short-term – increasing the amount of anxiety you feel, for example, and making your heart beat faster– but it also has negative long-term repercussions for your health, too. High levels of cortisol and other stress hormones triggered by a lack of sleep contribute to inflammation and, therefore, nearly every chronic disease there is: heart disease, diabetes, mental disorders, autoimmune diseases and so on.
No Room For Inspiration, Creativity or Contemplation
Being tired adds unnecessary stress to your heart, joints and muscles, as well as impairs your ability to think clearly and practice “emotional intelligence.” Active awareness/mindfulness, mixed with relaxation, is the key to diving into deep contemplation with enthusiasm and interest. It’s hard to stay motivated and present to everything going on around you, or to go deeper and draw your attention inward for reflection, when a sense of tired heaviness weighs on your mind. Yoga and meditation can feel like a burden when you’re exhausted, and making time to listen compassionately to others can feel overwhelming.
Non-striving: Relaxing Into Restful Sleep
You might be used to fighting your way to the top in your career, social group and even family, but there’s no room for striving when it comes to sleep. If you’re someone who knows they could physically benefit from getting more sleep, but you still can’t seem to nod off easily or stay asleep long enough to wake up rested, keep in mind that relaxing the body is key. This might seem obvious, but how many nights have you had trouble sleeping and simultaneously spend hours beating yourself up with guilt over losing more and more sleep? Instead of blaming yourself and allowing the mind to go off into tangents, give yourself compassion for whatever is keeping you up.
The best way to dive into deep sleep is through the opposite of force, but rather with ease and acceptance. Focusing on the body’s many sensations, right in the “here and now,” helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which relaxes the mind and makes it easier to fall asleep. A body scan meditation is one of the most reliable ways to lower the internal fight-or-flight response activated by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and reduce circulating stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. To practice a body scan meditation, lay down on your back and sense the various parts of the body being supported by the ground beneath you, working from your head down to your toes or vice versa. Bring a sense of full awareness and deliberate peace, heaviness and ease to each body part, not judging whatever it is you find (like pain or cramping, for example) but rather accepting what’s there and moving on. (Learn more about body scan meditations here.)
Make Sleep a Priority and Establish a Healthy Routine
Other habits can also help you sleep more deeply and calmly, so that you wake up feeling more restored and inspired. Try to establish a predictable sleep-and-wake pattern which will regulate stress and relaxation hormones in a way that promotes easier sleep. Throughout history, people have traditionally gone to bed and woken up at similar times each day, creating a routine which makes the body and brain naturally feel safer. In addition to practicing a meditation prior to bed, which relaxes both mind and body, try to soothe yourself and increase feelings of peace, safety and protection by reading something inspiring, writing in a journal and talking with a loved one. Devices like a computer or TV should be avoided as they give off a certain type of blue-light that keeps the brain alert and mind wandering for hours.
Set the temperature in your home to one that’s cooling and in favor of deep sleep, which usually means establishing a cooler temperature than would make you comfortable during the daytime. Sleep in a dark room and consider using dark shades or an eye mask if it helps you avoid waking up. You can also use essential oils that have been utilized for hundreds of years to promote sleep, including relaxing lavender oil and chamomile oil. It takes the entire brain and body working together to keep you in deep sleep all night long. An aggravated digestive system can trigger wake-ups and insomnia, so skip sugar before bed and give yourself enough time to digest dinner.