Everything you do, you’ll do better with a good night’s sleep.
– Arianna Huffington, author of “Sleep Revolution”
Thanks to chronic anxiety, I’ve battled insomnia since my early teens.
I’ve had my fair share of sleepless nights, tossing and turning until the sun came up.
If I was lucky enough to eventually fall asleep, chances were I wouldn’t stay asleep for long.
I’d wake up feeling mentally and physically exhausted and out of it the next day no matter how much I seemed to “sleep.”
My body’s rhythm was all out of whack, and I couldn’t find relief or solutions regardless of what I tried.
And I tried everything I knew at the time – sleeping pills, wine, weed, sleep mask, etc.
Nothing worked long-term.
It turns out I was doing it all wrong.
I didn’t know it then, but many of the things I was doing were actually making my sleep situation worse.
Sleep Hygiene & The Sleep Problem Epidemic
I learned about the concept of sleep hygiene, which the American Sleep Association defines as the “behaviors that one can do to help promote good sleep using behavioral interventions.”
It turns out my sleep hygiene was pretty lousy.
So I ditched the sleeping pills, weed, and wine before bed and instead researched all the ways in which I could improve my sleep quality naturally.
Of all my research, the most surprising proven sleep hack had been under my nose all along…
Studies show that regulated deep breathing can help lessen the symptoms of insomnia while improving sleep quality. (1)
This is really promising considering that 50% of the adult U.S. population experiences insomnia, with women and the elderly more at risk. (2)
What’s even more concerning is that 9 million of us are having to resort to prescription sleep medication because we feel there is no other way. (3)
So we take these pills that come with a slew of detrimental side effects like: (4)
- Memory and focus problems
- Burning or tingling in the hands, arms, feet, or legs
- Changes in appetite
- Constipation/ Diarrhea
- Difficulty keeping balance
- Daytime drowsiness
- Sleepwalking/ Night terrors
The Dangers of Not Getting Enough Deep Rest
Sleep is profoundly intertwined with virtually every aspect of brain health.
Lack of sleep over time can lead to an irreversible loss of brain cells – yet another debunking of the myth that sleep debt can be made up.
– Arianna Huffington, “Sleep Revolution”
We live in a time where “busy” is glorified and it almost becomes a badge of honor to do more and sleep less.
We pride ourselves in how much we can get done with as little sleep as possible.
And this costs us heavily in the long run.
Chronic sleep deficits and poor sleep hygiene have been linked to the start and progression of a wide range of disease and conditions such as heart disease, depression, anxiety, obesity, and diabetes. (3)
Not sleeping wrecks your brain’s ability to “cleanse” itself at night, which impacts performance and impairs your ability to think clearly and sharply, react accordingly, and form new memories.
Being sleep deprived, especially chronically so, can be very dangerous. One study found that sleep-deprived people did just as badly as drunk people when given a driving simulator and asked to perform hand-eye coordination. (5)
The Top 7 Benefits of Deep Rest
1. Regular quality sleep may help protect the body against cancer, which means quality sleep may help you live longer! One study found that women regularly working the night shift had an estimated 60% increased risk of developing breast cancer. (6) Researchers think this may be due to artificial light exposure, which decreases melatonin levels in the body. Melatonin is the hormone that helps keep our body’s sleep-wake cycles balanced, and it’s thought to help suppress the growth of tumors. (7)
2. Helps support hormonal balance, as deep sleep is precisely when the brain and body secrete important hormones such as human growth hormone (HGH). (8)
3. Deep sleep helps keep your brain healthy, strong, and sharp because that’s the time the brain cleanses out gunk, plaque, and build up throughout its neurons (brain cells). Think of deep sleep as a sort of floss for your brain’s cells. 😉 (9)
4. Deep sleep leads to increased immune function and a decrease in inflammation. (10)
5. Helps support a healthy metabolism and therefore can help support your weight goals because quality sleep ensures you keep the hunger hormones such as leptin in check. (11)
6. Quality sleep can help your mojo, ladies. A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that just an extra hour of quality sleep can increase a woman’s libido by up to 14%. (12)
7. Deep rest also helps keep your blood sugar balanced, thereby protecting you from diabetes. Little or poor quality sleep wreaks havoc on the hormones responsible for keeping blood sugar and insulin regulated. Deep sleep seems to counter this. (13)
How Much Sleep We Need According to the Largest Sleep Study Ever
The largest sleep study involved 1.1 million people and showed that when it comes to sleep, it is definitely quality over quantity.
Research results showed that those who slept an average of 6.5 hours lived longer than those who slept the commonly accepted 8 hours. (14)
But there very likely may be other factors at play here so it’s not so black-and-white…
Researchers concluded more studies are needed.
It’s very possible that healthy individuals need less sleep to keep their bodies balanced.
It’s also known that if your sleep quality is high-standard then you may just need less sleep time.
There are things you can do to take matters into your own hands and ensure your sleep quality and sleep hygiene is of the top caliber:
- Cut off caffeine entirely, or at least from 1 pm onwards.
- Protect yourself from blue light by wearing blue-light blocking glasses, using the night mode on your iPhone, and using an app called fLux on your computer screen.
- Sleep in a cold, dark room.
- Breathe deeply and intentionally AND meditate regularly.
Breathing Our Way to Quality Sleep: A Guided Meditation
Deep breathing exercises serve two purposes… They calm the central nervous system and act as a meditation to quiet the mind.
Breathing exercises calm your nervous system, preparing the body for deeper sleep.
It’s a way to train your brain to start winding down for the night.
Life is hectic, and your brain isn’t just going to flip to ‘sleep mode’ because the clock says it’s time to go to bed.
A simple calming breath can be very helpful in staving off insomnia.
– Jamison Monroe, founder of the Newport Academy
A regular breathwork practice has been proven to help with symptoms of chronic stress, anxiety, and insomnia.
This is because when done correctly, deep belly breathing helps to send safety signals to your brain and body which help to turn on your body’s natural calming/soothing/relaxation response while dialing down the stress response which keeps us awake at night.
An insomnia-and-breathwork study out of National Yang-Ming University in Taiwan showed that just 20 minutes of slow, deep breathing (six breath cycles per minute) before bed increased sleep quality drastically. (15)
Participants fell asleep faster, stayed asleep throughout the night more frequently, and fell back asleep sooner when they did wake up.
The following is a guided meditation to help you rest more deeply tonight.
It’s based both on ancient yogic and Buddhist wisdom, as well as modern scientific evidence in terms of what’s been proven to work for deep sleep.
Use it whenever you’re having trouble falling asleep, or when you just need a good reset to help you calm down:
(5) Williamson, A. M., & Feyer, A. M. (2000). Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 57(10), 649-655.