By Liz Buehler Walker
I’m writing this blog the day after Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and my day was much like yours might have been. Putting on some sweats in the morning, spending much of the day on the couch watching TV (we ordered our food from a local restaurant for pick-up) drifting in and out of naps, eating a giant meal in the late afternoon, heading to a friend’s house for drinks, dessert and socializing late into the night. All of that also meant going to bed super late, with a full belly, and tossing and turning pretty much all night. I had basically broken all the rules for getting a good night’s sleep.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am a real believer in breaking the rules from time to time, especially if it means loosening up and getting to spend time with people you love after a really rough couple of years of isolation. But I’m also a real believer in taking steps to maintain vitality and avoid burning ourselves out to the point that we get physically or mentally sick. Sleep is key in that maintenance, and there are a few daily choices we can make to cultivate that magical time when our body/mind/spirit recover and reset. It’s amazing what consistently restful sleep can do.
WHY SLEEP IS A KEY TO GOOD MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH
Sleep is crucial for mind/body wellness – this is why the ancient systems of wellness like India’s system of Ayurveda focused intently on cultivating good sleep. In Ayurveda, 10pm-2am is the time in our sleep cycle governed by the elements fire and water (the energy of transformation). And 2-6am is governed by air and space (the energy of movement). Ayurveda teaches that the deep sleep experienced from 10pm-2am is when the organs systematically detoxify and refresh, and the experiences from the day before are digested mentally. And the REM sleep time of 2am-6am is when the body purges the previous day’s experiences via dreams and prepares the body for physical elimination. This is why we often say “let me sleep on it” or problems seem less daunting with a clear head after a good night’s sleep. Modern science bears this out as more sleep studies are conducted. A 2021 study by the European Society of Cardiology got specific enough to name the exact hour (10-11pm) for going to sleep to lower the risk of heart disease, especially for women.
The thing is, so many people struggle with sleep. There is even a phenomenon coined “Coronasomnia” to describe the drastic increase in sleep problems due to stress, lack of activity and variety, and broken day/night routines during the pandemic. In fact, the American Psychological Association reports that 60% percent of adults have trouble sleeping at least a few nights a week. It has tremendous implications for our mind/body wellbeing, not to mention our ability to interact well with each other.
Luckily, the Winter season is the time of year when the natural world is working in favor of deep sleep and rejuvenating rest. A lot of sleep issues are reduced or go away entirely simply by setting up the conditions for getting a good night’s sleep. The more consistent we are with setting and keeping those conditions in tact, the more our body sets its clock to deep, restful sleep. Nature wants us to wake up revved and ready to go for our daytime activities. When we take away the things that separate us from that natural rhythm, often productive sleep comes without needing to do a bunch of interventions. Here’s how nature is sending signals to your body to slow down and snooze your way into a healthy winter:
5 WAYS NATURE SUPPORTS YOUR RESTFUL SLEEP IN WINTER
Daylight signals our bodies to produce cortisol and get us up and active during the daylight hours – so if you feel sluggish in the mornings try peeking outside to get a good dose of daylight; even better if you go out for physical activity. And when it gets dark out, the reverse happens and cortisol dips while melatonin rises to put our bodies into a restful state. In the winter, it gets dark quite early, and we can use that to get into a calm nighttime routine from 6-10pm so we’re nice and sleepy for going to bed between 10-11pm. This winter try being conscious of slowing down and avoiding activation between 6-10pm; cuddle up, get cozy, and set your body clock to get into a good sleep groove.
Speaking of cuddling up and getting cozy, the colder temperatures mean sweaters and blankets and warm cups of tea. All of this puts us into a state more conducive for rest and quiet activity. Notice the impact of soft warm fabrics from your clothes and bedding to comfort and calm you. Never tried a weighted blanket? This might be the season for you to take one for a test drive.
Along with shorter days and colder temps, staying in and taking some down time is common in winter. When we socialize less, we are less stimulated and also less likely to get pulled out of our healthy routines. Winter is a great time to focus on a consistent sleeping and eating schedule so it’s second nature when we emerge and loosen up a bit in the warmer months.
When we are doing less outside the home, it gives us a chance to pause, reflect, and tune in to who we are instead of just paying attention to what we do. You know how a big snowfall makes things get quiet, even in the middle of a busy city? Winter lends itself to quiet introspection and is a wonderful time to begin or return to a daily meditation practice. The benefits of meditation are powerful and wide-ranging, so please don’t be discouraged if you’ve strayed away or haven’t been able to connect before. There are so many different kinds of meditation — it’s not just sit down and stay there! Find a style of meditation that works for you (we can help with that in our Indigo108 memberships) and keep coming back to it the way you would with a good friend.
What foods are in season where you live? Likely it is grounding, nourishing root vegetables and bright leafy greens. Warm winter stews filled with veggies and grains are great for warming and comforting the body and soul during the cold months. Best to eat your heavier stews midday when your digestion is strongest and have a lighter soup for dinner. Eating too close to bedtime can disturb your digestion and disrupt your sleep. Try getting into the habit of eating dinner early so by the time you go to sleep your body is digesting the day’s events instead of a late heavy meal.
In almost every health coaching session I do in the Indigo108 program, sleep comes up in one way or another. The good news is there are steps we can take that don’t cost money or require medication that can be very effective in supporting restful sleep and positively impacting overall health. If you’ve been having trouble with your sleep, you are not alone, and you can use the longer nights and cozier indoor environment to reset your sleep habits and re-commit to your wellbeing.
“Bedtime linked with heart health” European Society of Cardiology, Nov 2021 https://www.escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/Bedtime-linked-with-heart-health
“COVID19 is wrecking our sleep with coronasomnia – tips to fight back” UC Davis Health, Sept 2020 https://health.ucdavis.edu/health-news/newsroom/covid-19-is-wrecking-our-sleep-with-coronasomnia–tips-to-fight-back-/2020/09
“Why Sleep is Important” American Psychological Association, May 2020 https://www.apa.org/topics/sleep/why