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Words  Anri van Rooyen

Sleep, rest and relaxation are crucial for the balance of all eight of our wellness dimensions: Physical, mental/emotional, spiritual, social, environmental, intellectual, occupational and financial; ensuring optimal health and happiness. Sleep is critical to health, wellness and longevity and a vital physical need. We require sleep for survival just as we need food, water and oxygen.

Healthy sleep helps our bodies to repair, recover and heal. Our circadian rhythm (CR) is our natural and internal process or biological clock that regulates our sleep–wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. Our body, including our mind, brain and emotions, operates in conjunction with our CR. We normally feel more alert during the daylight hours and less so at night, even for people who work nightshifts or who consider themselves as ‘night owls’.

Our CR is negatively impacted by stress, late nights, blue light, lack of routine, meal-times and body temperature. This is why so many people who are overwhelmed and stressed also struggle to sleep.

Light is the most important factor controlling the CR. It is important to avoid distractions and screens before sleeping, to encourage optimal levels of melatonin. The blue light emitted by screens decreases the production of melatonin.

The CR is mainly controlled by two hormones: cortisol and melatonin. Cortisol from the adrenal glands, increases in the morning to allow us to wake up and decreases throughout the day. Melatonin from the pineal gland in the brain, our recovery hormone, increases as we sleep to promote healing, renewal and recovery and then decreases during the day. Long term stress causes high cortisol and low melatonin levels that may disrupt sleep, recovery and healing as well as many health related issues.

There is a misconception that sleep, rest and relaxation are a waste of time. However, the opposite is true – the body needs to recover every day when we sleep, rest and relax. We have to make time to relax and unwind, because it is a quick way for the body to rebalance, ensuring improved sleep.

Daily relaxation or meditation can improve the functioning of your entire body, reduce stress and lower inflammation. Taking regular deep breathing breaks during your day can improve relaxation in the body as it stimulates our parasympathetic (or ‘rest and digest’) nervous system. Deep relaxation any time of the day, even for a few minutes, is beneficial. One hour of meditation is equivalent to three hours of deep sleep.


Sleep Tonic

Sleep, your brain and your health

When awake and alert, our brain waves are predominantly in the beta brain wave state, with fast, sharp waves. The more alert, stressed or worried we are, the higher and faster these beta waves become. High states of beta rhythm are also linked to all our physical ailments and chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, heart disease, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, etc.

As we prepare for sleep, brain waves slow down to alpha rhythm, a state of relaxed awareness. We gradually lose awareness of time and space, feeling more relaxed. We then slip into sleep, which is identified by theta brain waves of an even slower frequency. This is also the brain wave state where we dream. Ultimately we go into delta sleep, the deep dreamless sleep where true restoration and recovery of our bodies and minds take place (highest secretion of melatonin). We move through about six cycles of these brain wave states throughout the night. Prescription sleeping tablets prevent the normal cycles of sleep. That is the reason people feel groggy and not rested after taking these.The main obstacle to falling and staying asleep is that we fail to relax beforehand.

Holistic sleep tips

There are mind, body and soul level tips for soulful, restful and restorative sleep.

Physical level

Find your FunFitness to improve your sleep. Find what movement you enjoy, for example Yoga, dancing, boxing, hiking, swimming etc. Get regular exercise but avoid heavy exercise within three hours of sleep.
Do not go to bed hungry, but try not to have heavy meals within two to three hours of sleep.
Avoid using alcohol to help you fall asleep; it induces onset of sleep, but then disrupts sleep later on.
Avoid using stimulants to stay awake, as it will prevent sleep later on. Caffeine in coffee has an effect within 15-30 minutes and stays active in the body for three to seven hours. It can disrupt sleep and it also has a diuretic effect, meaning you might have to get up regularly. The best is not to have caffeine after 3 pm or avoid it altogether if you are sensitive to caffeine.
Limit screentime and artificial light for two to three hours before bed. If it is not possible, consider using ‘sleep specs’ to help limit blue light. Never have a TV in your bedroom, nor computers, nor cellphones, as the electromagnetic irradiations do have a negative impact on your brain. Do not watch news or action/violent movies just before sleep time.
Following your natural sleep-wake rhythm or CR, is one of the most important ways of keeping cortisol levels balanced. Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day.
Sleeping environment: 
Cooler temperature is ideal for optimal sleep.
Darkness: Use heavy curtains to make your bedroom as dark as possible, especially if you work nightshifts. You can also use eye masks.
Quiet: Unplug your phone, turn off your pager, use ear plugs if your environment is too noisy, or a white noise machine.
Bed and cushion: A firm mattress (that is not too hard or too soft) and a proper cushion are ideal for spinal alignment.
Seven to nine hours of uninterrupted, restful sleep every night.
Colours: Calming, neutral and healing colours in your bedroom can ensure better sleep, such as light blue, lilac, light green etc.

Mental-emotional and spiritual level

Sleep disturbances are one of the most common challenges of our time. Stress, an overactive mind and our thoughts can affect our sleep.

Express your emotions and journal to write down thoughts. This will ensure that undealt-with emotions and a racing mind do not keep you up at night.
Having a gratitude list and/or achievement list is a great way to improve your mood and maintain a positive attitude.
Make ‘to-do’ lists during the day to avoid making lists in your mind when you are in bed.
Develop a pre-sleep routine to calm down before going to sleep. Some examples:
Relaxation practices, including guided visualisations or progressive muscle relaxation, before going to bed to activate your ‘rest and digest’ nervous system and to calm down your mind, brain and even to balance your endocrine system. This can also include a spiritual connection in the form of prayer or meditation.
Drink a sleep drink of hot milk with a pinch of ginger and cinnamon, with a bit of honey.
Take a warm bath and add some aromatherapy oils of lavender and chamomile.
You can also do stretches to calm your body and mind.

Getting your holistic sleep routine will help you not only improve your sleep quantity but, more importantly, your sleep quality and overall health and happiness!

Anri Van Rooyen

Anri is a holistic health counsellor with a passion for holistic health education. Her mission in life is to teach people that healthy living shouldn’t be a punishment! Anri is the co-owner, together with Dr Arien, of Ariani Health Solutions. She supports, guides and motivates her patients and provides practical tools to implement life changes for real results. Email: [email protected]