This is our fourth post in a series where we explore daily practices that nurture and encourage healing. Our last post discussed creating balance between relationships and digital technologies. This post explores the benefits of sleep and useful tools that help us relax and get the most out of our sleep.
Out of Gas
Many of us realize the importance of maintenance and how it relates directly to an automobile’s performance. When we fill the gas tank and manage the oil level, we know our car will run at its best. When we push our car past how much gas it will hold, or if we neglect to change the oil, the car will not go. So if the car runs out of gas, what would be the most helpful thing to do? One option is to yell at it, but would that get us to our destination? Instead, we maintain our car so we can go where we want to go.
Our bodies are no different. If we want to be effective in our relationships, work, and other pursuits, we need to have a full tank. In our culture, when we “run out of gas,” we often use over-the-counter drugs or herbs to push ourselves to keep going beyond fatigue. Our tanks may be “on empty,” but it is hard to stop. Some of us may even yell at ourselves to keep going.
But unlike cars, our bodies are not machines. We have limitations. When we identify our limitations, we can learn to respond to ourselves with kindness. As we treat ourselves with compassion and give ourselves permission to rest, we can meet the world and all its challenges with a fuller tank.
Caregivers and Parents
It is important to note how challenging it is to find time for rest as caregivers and parents. The needs of young children and those we care for often go beyond our ability to catch up on our rest. Fatigue can lead to tension and strain in a marriage. Fatigue often results in shorter tempers with children. As important as identifying our own “empty tank,” it is helpful to notice signs of fatigue in our relationship partners, and allow our loved ones and friends time to rest and refuel. When we cultivate these acts of grace in our families, we create space to respond to one another from a fuller tank that has more space for patience and compassion for ourself and others.
Setting aside time to rest yields great benefits. When we take a time-out, naps can be a great source of rest that helps fuel the body for the second half of the day. According the the National Sleep Foundation:
Naps can restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%. Napping has psychological benefits. A nap can be a pleasant luxury, a mini-vacation. It can provide an easy way to get some relaxation and rejuvenation.
Preparation for Sleep
Many find it challenging to fall asleep at bedtime. Creating a pre-sleep routine can aid in a more restful experience. To begin, it is helpful to set aside digital devices about an hour before bedtime. Our brains confuse the light emanating from our computers and phones with sunlight. This inhibits the release of melatonin, the chemical that kicks off the sleep cycle. When we turn off our devices, our bodies can more easily shift into a resting mode.
It may be helpful to include some calming exercises into a pre-sleep routine:
Our body craves routine and likes to know what’s coming. By creating a pre-sleep ritual, you are establishing a clear association between certain activities and sleep. For instance, if you read before heading to bed, your body knows that reading at night signals sleep time. If you take a warm bath before bed every night, your body recognizes that it’s time to slow down and relax. Other helpful activities can be listening to calming music, stretching, or doing relaxation exercises. If you are watching TV before bed, make sure it’s at least a relaxing program, and not something like the news. (Margarita Tartakovsky, 12 Ways to Shut Off Your Brain Before Bedtime)
The following videos are examples of different approaches that calm the mind, reduce stress, clear tension, and release emotional energy. Everyone is different, so it is helpful to experiment in order to find the best personal fit. As we create space to relax, we set up the potential for a deeper, more restful sleep.
Try some of these. Do not underestimate the importance of sleep when it comes to your well-being. Proper rest can be a gift we give ourselves every day, a gift of compassion that not only benefits us, but everyone around us.
Mindfulness Body Scan