Until I had a child, I never realized just how vital (and elusive) sleep can be. That’s one reason why hearing from Angela Holliday-Bell on prioritizing sleep for this episode was incredible! As a pediatrician and avid sleep enthusiast, she shared great information about what sleep is, how it works, and how you could get more of it.
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Mixed Messages About Sleep
In addition to her pediatric training, Angela has also studied in clinical sleep health. Now she sees both pediatric patients and also provides sleep consultations, in which she helps clients improve their sleep habits and get better sleep. This might pertain to enhanced performance, or even just regular quality of life.
As you know, sleep impacts every aspect of your health and wellbeing, which is why it’s honestly so important. It may seem basic (or obvious), but it’s also life changing when you take action! As a health coach, I’ve seen the correlation between sleep and eating patterns come up for many of my intuitive eating ladies. Improving sleep quantity and quality can be a major part of their journey.
Angela shares that every part of our lives are effected by our sleeping. And even though we often hear that we *should* be sleeping more…it’s also a badge of honor to talk about how little sleep you actually get. From parents comparing notes to colleagues boasting that they’ll “sleep when they’re dead”, many of us receive mixed messaging about actually getting the sleep we know we should be getting.
You have to understand: the more you sleep, and the more quality that sleep is, the more productive you’re able to be during the hours you’re awake. Sleep pays off!
What Does Sleep Impact?
We all have a legitimate NEED to sleep! And it’s not just about sleep feeling good.
When you’re sleeping, your body produces hormones to help you repair muscles and restore your body. In addition, a number of cognitive processes are assisted when you get your Zzz’s. Your brain moves memories from short term to long term memory while you sleep (one more reason to stop with the all-nighters if you need to learn something)!
Your ability to pay attention is significantly impacted by lack of sleep. So is your mood! Your ability to monitor and adapt your own mood is decreased when you’re lacking in sleep. And to make matters worse, your reaction time goes down across the board.
In tests that study reaction times and functioning, people who sleep less than 7 hours per night perform significantly worse than those who are getting enough sleep.
A Three Pronged Approach to Feeling Good
Exercise, nutrition, and sleep are part of a solid, three pronged approach to a feel-good life. Why is sleep included here?
Well, Angela shares that lack of sleep causes your body to up-regulate your hunger hormone and de-regulate the hormone that makes you feel full. In addition, your body is more likely to burn muscle for fuel and store fat when you are sleep deprived. And finally, insufficient sleep can cause your body to increase cortisone.
Prioritizing sleep to maintain your health is clearly vital! And if you’re already NOT feeling well….sleep is a key part of assisting your immune system and aiding in the healing process. No matter what your current state is, sleep can help you feel even better!
The Four Pillars of Sleep Hygiene
Sleep can be so hard, because so many factors can impact it. Sometimes, it’s a bit of “chicken or the egg” quandary. For example, people with depression are more likely to not sleep well…and not sleeping enough can cause or exacerbate depression.
However, Angela shares that many questions about sleep come down to the four pillars of sleep hygiene.
Have a consistent bed time and rise time. Angela shares that the time you go to bed and get up shouldn’t differ more than an hour on either side. This includes the weekend! It does take effort and training to create a regular sleep system; 4-5 days on routine and then a wild weekend makes it really hard for your body to get into any sort of helpful rhythm.
Have a routine. Parents often understand doing this for their kids, but they don’t realize they should be doing that for themselves as well! Just like our kid’s brains understand that bath time, reading time, or other calm-down activities are signals that bed time is coming, our brains will do that too! Whether you meditate, read, or listen to calming music, find ways to slow yourself down and prepare yourself for bed as well.
(And do what you can to avoid blue light from screens in the hour or so leading up to bed!)
If it’s not working, get up! Angela notes that the mind is really strong, and makes a lot of connections. If you lay in bed and don’t fall asleep, your mind starts to churn. What time is it? How long do I have to sleep? What if I can’t fall asleep? To avoid the mind racing questions, get up and do something quietly until you’re sleepy. This can prevent your mind from connecting your bed with anxiety, which is not helpful.
Use your bed for sleeping (and other adult activities, of course) only. You shouldn’t be eating, watching TV, or doing other activities there – you want your mind to clearly connect your bed with going to sleep. As you focus on prioritizing sleep, it becomes easier for your mind and body to crawl into bed each night.
Angela takes prioritizing sleep quite seriously! She shares that she takes a hot shower in the evenings, and enjoys aromatherapy lotions. She also journals each night. Because of her own experience with insomnia, she’s found that her mind tends to kick in with a lot of thoughts about the rest of her day as she lays down.
Rather than lay in bed and think about those things, she uses journaling as a way to let her mind process her day. That keeps her from getting ambushed by all those thoughts once she lays down. (This could be the perfect time to give gratitude journaling a try!)
And if sleep is out of your control (like when you have a newborn!), Angela recommends sleeping when the baby sleeps. Even though it might be tempting to clean or take care of other things around the house, let yourself sleep instead! As long as it isn’t too close to bed time, napping allows you to reap the benefits of sleep. (PS – if you’ve never heard of a Snoo, you can find out what that is here!)
The more other factors might impact your own sleep, the more important it is to create routines and rhythms that allow you to priories your sleep in whatever way possible.
To learn more about sleep stages, sleep inertia, and the ideal length of a nap, listen in to the full episode!