My students will tell you I often teach about the importance of Fixing your Clock, aligning your life to natures rhythms. The clock I am referring to is the cosmic and biological clock we come into this world with. Fixing this is key to living a healthy and successful life. It is a process that has to begin with our sleeping habits.
Sleep is not a luxury, it is a necessity, but how we live has taken us away from our natural sleep patterns. Benjamin Franklin was correct when he said: “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” This is how we lived in the past, operating by nature’s clock, sleeping when the sun set and rising when it rose again. If we look at the natural world, we see that animals haven’t changed their sleep patterns. Watch animals that graze for their food and you will notice they sleep much less than animals who hunt for meat and eat a big meal. Even plants tune themselves to nature, shutting down processes like photosynthesis when the sun sets. Scientific research in recent years has concluded that we need 7 to 8 hours of good sleep for optimal health. Poor sleeping routines have been shown to make us more susceptible to heart disease, cancers, depression, anxiety, diabetes, mood swings and memory loss. As Prof. Matthew Walker, author of the book, Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams, says: “…our lack of sleep is a slow form of self-euthanasia.”
Sleep is our body’s time for restoration and renewal. Good quality, regular sleep is vital to our wellbeing -physically, mentally, and emotionally. There is a Chinese proverb that says: “replenishing health with medicine is not as effective as replenishing health with diet, but replenishing health with sleep is the best medicine.” It doesn’t work like a bank account. Sleep debt accumulated from Monday to Friday can’t be repaid by sleeping on over the weekend.
There is so much happening to our body and mind when we sleep. In the brain, for example, the hippocampus is very active in deep sleep, like a computer system, moving memory from temporary files to long term memory files. This explains why when we have a good sleep, we absorb and retain information better. While we sleep, the body is busy clearing toxins and releasing hormones necessary for good health. There is a protein, called Beta-amyloid, that builds up in the brain and has been identified as a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. During sleep a process called glymphatics takes place in the body that clears the build-up of this toxin. Think of famous people like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan who claimed to only need 3 to 4 hours sleep but developed Alzheimer’s. Melatonin is an antioxidant, that supports our immune system and is only produced when we are sleeping. Exposure to light has a negative impact on the production of this antioxidant, so I do not recommend sleeping with the light on. During the deep sleep phase, the body releases Human Growth Hormone, which has an important role in the regulation of our metabolic system, as well as in bone and muscle growth. Finally, if you are trying to control your weight, you should know that during sleep, the body also releases Leptin, the chemical that lets you know when you are full after eating.
There are many things you can do to create a better sleeping habit, and I would say the most important is to establish a routine. Aim to go to bed at the same time every night, early enough to allow yourself 7 to 8 hours to sleep and rise at the same time every morning- including weekends. Do not use electronic devices for a few hours before you go to bed- they make you feel alert. A warm bath or shower an hour before bedtime also helps the body to prepare for sleep. Eat lightly in the evenings, and, if possible, only Sattvic foods.
There is an old French proverb which says, “there is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.” This I believe to be very true — I often use the phrase our “mind works on logic; our soul works on ethics”. If our daily actions, thoughts, words are based on ethics, then it only seems logical that getting a good sleep helps us to be better human beings.
In India we have an ancient science of architecture, called Vastu Shastra. It is a science that helps us to live in balance with nature, by aligning a building and its interior with the eight directions, the five elements and the nine planets.
Sleeping in a wrong direction, as per Vastu, can lead to a restless and disturbed sleep, whereas sleeping in the right direction has many benefits. It leads to improved blood circulation, balanced hormonal functioning, growth and repair of tissues, and a great boost to the overall energy field giving a fresh glow to the skin.
Below are five top Vastu tips for ways you can adapt your bedroom for maximum benefit:
1. Never sleep with your head pointing to the north as it may lead to bad dreams and drain your energy. Ideally, ensure your head is pointing to the south, west, r south-west corner of our bedroom.
2. The walls and soft furnishings should be in soft shades. Shades of white, brown or pink work well as they are grounding and relaxing colours. Keep busy patterns and the colours blue and black out of the bedroom.
3. It is considered inauspicious to sleep facing a door or with your head to the door, this includes an ensuite bathroom door.
4. Mirrors or any reflecting surfaces, such as television screens, should never be positioned to face your bed. Energy bounces off reflective surfaces and can result in restless sleep. Vastu says that whichever part of the body is reflected in the mirror while you sleep may suffer health problems.
5. Any electronic equipment, including cell phones, should be turned off at least an hour before sleep. These emit electromagnetic waves which are harmful to the body.
I hope I have opened your eyes to the importance of regular sleep, and perhaps you will be encouraged to change your habits. For your overall health and wellbeing, sleep should make up one third of your 24-hour day. A peaceful and nurturing sleep is not only vital for our physical wellbeing, it brings peace and contentment to body, mind, and soul.
I wish you restful sleep and pleasant dreams!