The importance of sleep to heal the body...and ease anxiety?! (+ my top tips for your best sleep eve
The past week I've been nursing an injury–both Achille's tendons are inflamed which makes standing and walking extremely painful–and I've been sleeping 10-11 hours each night!
At first, I was really uncomfortable sleeping so much night after night and started setting alarms for myself to wake up at 7am (instead of 9/9:30am). Waking up so late was throwing my routine so I thought it would be more beneficial if I slept a "normal" amount of hours (which is usually 8-9 hours for me) in order to get more done and feel a bit less frazzled. But after only two days of trying out this theory, I noticed that I didn't feel as well rested. I decided to do without an alarm once again and wow...I felt so much better!
This morning when I awoke naturally (at 9:30), I took some time to reflect on my sleeping patterns over the past week. Since making the decision to forgo an alarm, I realized how much more calm and grounded I feel. And I realized how fast my injured tendons are healing!
When I was forcing myself to wake up at 7am–the time my body naturally has woken up for years–the pain and the anxiety I was experiencing was much more intense and noticeable.
I've recognized the connection between the anxiety I experience and the amount of sleep I'm getting in the past, but with this injury and the physical pain I'm currently in, the connection between sleep, anxiety and healing is so much more clear.
Why is this?
Since the injury, the anxiety I feel has heightened ever so slightly, which is normal. With any injury, the body enters into a state of unease, trying its best to push all its resources into healing the pain and discomfort. When this happens, the energy that's usually devoted to help keep anxiety low, is redirected to the physical healing process.
Have you ever noticed when you are in physical pain or discomfort that you are much quicker to anger or frustration? That's because your resilience, your ability to deal with life's upsets and surprises, is directly affected by injuries and illness. This is completely understandable! Your physical body and your mental focus are tied up with trying to heal!
But guess what helps ease ALL of this anxiety and physical pain?!
However, if you are in extreme physical pain and are experiencing intense anxiety, getting a good night's sleep may be really difficult to do, so here are my top tips to help get your best night's sleep.
Turn off ALL devices 2-3 hours before bed. No TV, computer, phone...anything with a screen is a no-no! Why? The blue light triggers your body to think that it's daytime, which in turn suppresses the secretion of melatonin and messes with your circadian rhythm, making it harder to fall asleep at night. Blue light, which is the kind of light produced when the sun is shining, boosts attention, reaction times and mood...doesn't sound helpful for someone trying to go to bed!
Create a bedtime ritual. I know this may sound boring, but trust me, this works wonders. Get into a routine so your body can register that "Oh, it's time to slow down and get ready for sleepy time!" Take a warm shower, read a book (use warm colored lights only! I love to use my Himalayan Salt lamp to read with at night), give yourself a nice foot massage with essential oils, listen to some classical music or other calming music, meditate...make it your own! Whatever helps you relax, incorporate it into your bedtime ritual.
Legs Up the Wall Pose/Viparita Karani: This yoga pose is one of my favorites to help the entire body and the entire nervous system relax. I've actually fallen asleep in this pose! All you do is sit as close to a wall (make sure there isn't anything hanging that you may knock off) and swing your legs up, SLOWLY. You can have legs slightly bent if that feels best, if you have tight hamstrings or an injury. Stay here for at least 5-8 minutes, then slowly swing your feet down and come up the way you got into the pose, or simply place your feet on the wall with legs bent and push yourself away from the wall to sit up. **please do not do this pose if you have a history of or are currently experiencing glaucoma, hypertension or hernia**
Use a lavender eye pillow before bed. When I'm feeling extra anxious or overwhelmed physically, mentally or emotionally (or heck, all three!), I absolutely love to use my eye pillow! It has flax seeds and dried lavender inside–lavender is such a relaxing scent, so it's a double whammy of relaxation. Did you know that light pressure on the eyeballs helps the body relax? When we use an eye pillow, the pillow puts light pressure on the eyeballs and also stimulates the vagus nerve, which regulates heart rate and digestion, thus calming our entire nervous system. Pretty amazing! (read more about this concept here) If you don't have an eye pillow, try soaking a small hand towel in some water with a few drops of lavender essential oil, ring it out and place over your eyes.
Focus on your breath. Place one hand over your heart and one on top of your stomach (or both over your heart or stomach). Inhale for 7 counts, exhale for 7 counts and repeat for as long as you like. If counting the lengths of inhales and exhales isn't your thing, simply focus on slowly inhaling and slowly exhaling. Envision your entire body filling with white light as you inhale and as you exhale, envision that light extending out into the world around you. Before you know it, you'll be so relaxed that you'll fall into a deep, restful sleep.
Move your body throughout the day! This may be a little unexpected, but if you aren't moving your body enough when it's light out, you won't be physically tired. Keep in mind that your physical activity needs change, sometimes day to day, month to month or year to year, so it's super important for you to check in with yourself to determine what level of activity serves your highest good. When you are sick or injured and your body is trying to recover and heal, you may need to decrease your level of physical activity for a while until you feel better and more capable to exercise.
Watch the sunset. If you are someone who has a desk job and rarely find time to spend outside, make it a point to watch the sunset as often as you can. If you can only make the weekends work, great! If you can watch the sunset every night, that's great too! I find that when I create time to go watch the sunset, it allow my body to transition from a busy work day to slowing down for the night and eventually, for sleeping. Being in nature is so beneficial for our bodies as well; the natural rhythm and vibrations of the natural world help relieve stress and anxiety which helps the healing process and...sleep! My personal favorite way to watch the sunset is barefoot in the sand, watching the waves crash upon the beach.
I could write tip after tip for better sleep, but this is a good starting point. There are so many other factors to consider, food being the biggest factor of all!
If you give these tips a try and you are still struggling with getting a good night's rest, contact me and we can figure this issue out together. You're not alone! Many people are not getting adequate sleep, even if they think they are, because they never enter into the deeper stages of REM sleep.
I hope these tips help you like they have helped me! Here's to deeper, more restful sleep!