Five Foundational Habits for Health: Sleeping
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Last month we focused on the importance of breathing as part of your foundational routine. Just as important is the topic of sleep.

Some of the most challenging times of my life were when I was severely sleep-deprived. With two kids under two (shout out to all the crazy moms out there), I would find myself just drifting off to dreamland before being startled awake by a child. I tried all the things to sleep train without avail. Drifting through my day with intense brain fog became my normal. I longed for a time when I would get a full night’s sleep and be able to wake up early for some much needed me time. I am so thankful that “normal” was temporary, though it was the longest four years of my life.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 35% of people sleep less than seven hours a night. Several studies have proven that to receive the benefits from sleep, we need seven to nine hours per night. We also know that six or less hours of sleep will lead to increased insulin resistance, disruption of normal cortisol patterns and decreased cognitive function, which affects creativity, emotional regulation and energy levels. Poor quality or quantity of sleep inhibits your health and humanity. 

On the other hand, deep restorative sleep facilitates healing, weight loss and balanced hormones. 

Achieving adequate sleep brings several desired benefits: 

  • Improved insulin sensitivity, reduced hunger, reduced inflammation
  • Muscle repair and growth
  • Reduced cortisol = reduced stress
  • Adequate brain rest and enhanced learning
  • Improved mood
  • Increased energy 
  • Reduced risk of diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety, heart attack and stroke

How your hormones affect the quality of your sleep: 

  • Progesterone has sedative effects and is a respiratory stimulant; decreased progesterone can lead to sleep disturbances.
  • Estrogen increases REM (dream) sleep, metabolizes serotonin and can decrease how long it takes you to fall asleep and how much you wake up in the night, increasing total sleep time and quality.
  • Estrogen also plays a role in body temperature and cortisol regulation which helps to stabilize sleep and provide more rest.
  • Melatonin increases during the low-hormone phase of your cycle to regulate your body temperature and decreases sleep disruption.

Here’s how you can optimize your sleep habits:

  • Be consistent with your bedtime, aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
  • Establish a bedtime routine (i.e. reading, meditation/stretch/yoga, gratitude journal, breathing, sleep).
  • Eliminate screens two hours before bed. If you must use screens, purchase blue light-blocking glasses.
  • Darken the lights inside when it becomes dark outside to help maintain circadian rhythm and melatonin production.
  • Keep the room temperature cool.
  • Avoid caffeine after 12 p.m. 
  • Avoid alcohol before bed (Yes! Alcohol can lead to less quality sleep!).
  • Avoid eating for two to three hours before bed—t his signals your body it’s time to rest.
  • Take a sleep inventory—count the hours you sleep for three nights, total them and divide by three to get the average. Anything less than seven = you need more sleep!

It’s important to also recognize what stage of life you are in. There may be things that disrupt this routine that are outside of your control. Acknowledge that you may be sleep deprived and do the best you can. 

Next month, we will dive into what the vagus nerve is and how you can use targeted exercises to your benefit!

Resources: 

“Built to Move” – Kelly & Juliet Starrett

“The Betty Body” – Dr. Stephanie Estima 

“Roar” – Stacy T. Sims, PhD

About Author

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Dr. Crystal Whitmarsh is the owner of Whitmarsh Health and Wellness, LLC, and co-owner of Trail Creek Coffee Roasters in Kasson, Minnesota. She is a board-certified physical therapist. She was raised by a single mother in upper Michigan where she played college basketball for 4 years at Finlandia University. During that time, she found a love of serving her community which developed her servant leadership philosophy through outreach and volunteer work. After graduating in 2006 with her associate degree, she moved to Minnesota with her husband and began working as a physical therapist assistant. She continued her educational journey and completed her Bachelor’s in Exercise Science from Minnesota State University, Mankato in 2010 and in 2013 she obtained her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences. She is the first female in her family to attain a terminal degree. In addition to Dr. Whitmarsh’s academic accomplishments, and while working full time and serving in her community, she and her husband opened their coffee roasting business in their home under the Minnesota cottage food exemption in 2017. During this time, she focused on advertising and networking strategies, specifically trying to collaborate with non-profit or locally run businesses. She has been engaged in multiple business-related platforms including the Women’s Entrepreneur Forum, the Chamber of Commerce, Master Networks, and The Full Circle. In January of 2023, Dr. Whitmarsh launched Whitmarsh Health and Wellness, LLC, a private physical therapy practice. Her mission is to evaluate, elevate, and empower people who desire to improve their health by optimizing their brain and body through individualized physical therapy to provide lifelong wellness.

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