My Virtual Fitness Studio students loved Sheila Southon’s lecture on meditation in September, so I asked her to return and offer us some insight into common sleep disturbances. Sheila has her masters in Counselling Psychology and is a Naturotherapist who runs her practice out of the Yellow Umbrella Wellness Center, located west of Montreal, Quebec.

It is no secret that many of us, no matter our age, are having trouble getting a good nights sleep during this pandemic. We are all carrying many burdens and responsabilities and because the future is unknown, we are experiencing high levels of stress. As Sheila pointed out in her lecture on meditation, the stress hormone cortisol is meant to provide us energy for a rapid escape from danger. It is not meant to be circulating in our blood stream 24/7 and when we are under stress for long periods of time (7 months) our body is struggling to find balance. Sheila listed other factors that are causing us to suffer from a lack of sleep and then she gave us many helpful tips to get us back on track.

Sheila highlighted some very serious conditions that can result in sleep disturbances such as sleep apnea, parasomnia (sleep walking) and restless leg syndrome. These conditions might require psychological and pharmaceutical help so you should always speak to your doctor if you are suffering from chronic sleep issues. Sheila made it very clear that it is better to go and speak to a medical professional rather than suffer needlessley as help is available.

Why Do We Need To Get A Good Night’s Sleep?

Our bodies heal when we sleep. This is the time when our muscles are repaired from the days work and when our hormone are regulated. Sheila mentioned that a lack of sleep can result in a decrease in the satiety hormone and an increase in the hunger hormone. This can result in overeating which can lead to weight gain, diabetes and high blood pressure. We also work through the events of our day while we sleep and process our emotions which helps us to cope and the rest prepares us for a better tomorrow. Sleep is essential to mental clarity.

Why Aren’t We Getting Restful Sleep?

As humans we want to get the most out of our days and evenings as we possibly can, so intead of following our natural circadian rhythym and slowing down with the setting of the sun, we turn on many lights and pretend that the day is still going. We are in a sense burning the candle at both ends instead of taking advantage of the falling daylight as cue to begin to slow down. To compound this problem even more, we stare at screens and the blue light emitted from our phones, laptops and televisions surpress the production of the sleep hormone melatonin which makes it harder to get to sleep.

As Sheila told us, melatonin is very important to our health and it is secreted by the pineal gland when night falls. A good nights sleep of 7 to 9 hours will help us to reduce cravings and improve our metabolism. Melatonin is an antioxidant that reduces inflamation in the body and increases life span by 25%. We need to sleep in a completely dark room to maximize melatonin release so that we can reap the benefits of this amazing hormone, but very few of us are getting the restful sleep that we need because of what Sheila refers to as ‘poor sleep hygiene.’

Sheila recommends that we improve our bedtime rituals in the following ways to maximize melatonin release:

  • REGULAR ROUTINE. ..starts in the morning
  • Get outside into sunshine
  • Rare napping
  • Limit stimulants (food, medications, drinks, screen time)
  • Eat a light dinner no later than 7pm
  • Take a leisurely stroll after dinner & cleanup, if possible
  • Minimize anything aggravating, exciting or mentally challenging (Fight,Flight or Freeze)
  • Minimize alcohol 2 hours before bed
  • Make your bedroom a haven of rest:
  • Blackout curtains, darken clocks
  • reduced clutter
  • reduce electronics in the room or at least
  • make them silent, still and face down
  • Routine into bed around 9:30 – 10:30pm (half hour increments)
  • Take advantage of your sense of smell (diffuser, oil in bath, scented candle)
  • Lavender, vanilla, sandalwood,, rose..)
  • Use your sense of hearing: have calming music/ nature sounds on a timer that will shut off automatically

Use your sense of taste:  drink something warm (m/b your favorite milk w honey, nutmeg, cardamom, or calming tisane like chamomile or licorice.

Sheila suggests creating a Spa like atmosphere with the following routine.

  • SPA routine: low lights / candles;
  • calming music/ nature sounds
  • run a hot bath w calming oil
  • soak 10-15 minutes
  • Follow w a warm drink
  • Journal (Gratitude) and/or
  • systematically recapitulate your day (“downloading”)
  • Read something inspirational/ hopeful for a few minutes
  • In bed: SYSTEMATIC RELAXATION
  • Watch your breath
  • REMEMBER body – mind

In the end we have to decide what is more important to us: our health or staying connected to the outside world 24/7. As Sheila mentioned we were never meant to know the news from around the globe just before we shut our eyes. Reading and viewing disturbing, upsetting stories or films reves us up emotionally. Remember the stress hormones are released in response to our behavior that is largely under our control. We need to cut ourselves some slack and create a routine that will enable us to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep so that we can repair our body and mind in preparation for the next day.

My students are committed to their health by participating in regular, consistent exercise. I hope that you will consider making restful sleep a priority. Do everything you can to get enough zzz’s as this will improve your life in some many ways.

See you soon,

Beth