The Benefits of Sleep

Today we are going to focus on resting and rejuvenating this gorgeous organ. Two things are important when it comes to resting your brain, i.e. the quality and quantity of your sleep. I don’t know about you, but for me, anxiety, resulted in hectic bouts of insomnia that left me feeling helpless and even resentful. Insomnia is so prevalent these days that some people talk about it casually and may even be resigned to it. It doesn’t have to be that way and in fact, to safeguard the proper functioning of your brain, insomnia can’t be part of the equation.
According to Harvard Medical School, “The amount of sleep we obtain generally decreases and becomes more fragmented throughout our lifespan.” I don’t think that this necessarily implies giving up and resigning yourself to decreased quality of sleep, it just means increasing your awareness and adopting supportive measures as you age.

According to Dr Paul Nussbaum, sleep is a highly active time for brain development and brain function. Without proper sleep, you can progressively tend towards lethargy, depression and being error prone (imagine the impact on your studies, work, business and other endeavours of your life then?). Lack of sleep can also affect hormonal balance, appetite and the immune system. Signs of lack of sleep include slow reaction time, mood swings, memory problems, constant tiredness and lack of concentration, work performance problems and incessant yawning.
In addition to sleep, there are other ways in which you can relax and still your mind and enhance brain function. A practice that comes to mind is meditation. Professor Wendy Suzuki at New York University practices tea meditations which I found a more accessible concept than traditional forms of meditation which can be tricky for those who have trouble stilling their minds. On further research, I found plenty of websites which teach the art of tea meditation.

One very simple tea meditation comes from Jesse Jacobs via the Huffington Post:

1. Buy good whole-leaf tea which is generally fresher and better tasting (and just to add: ensure that your tea meditation happens in the early morning hours when it’s quiet and you can fully focus on setting things up for this ritual)
2. When you’re boiling the water, just boil the water. Don’t do anything else. If you have a glass kettle, watch the bubbles go from tiny to large to roiling. Notice your breath and allow this experience to set the tone. The Earth is mostly water. You are mostly water. Water is a miracle, and so is heat. Enjoy them and be grateful. 
3. Add about one cup of boiled water to one heaping tablespoon of tea. Steep the leaves for only one minute. Notice the steam wafting up. Notice the aromas arising out of your cup. Breathe easy.
4. Remove the infusion and just sit with the tea for two minutes. Let it cool slightly and notice the color of the brew. Enjoy the aroma in the air. Feel the ceramic in your hand. Appreciate the fact that this infusion was made possible by someone thousands of miles away who picked the leaves.
5. Sip your tea slowly. Pay attention to the temperature. Is it hot, warm or cool? Notice the taste. Is it earthy or grassy or floral? How does the body of the tea feel in your mouth? Creamy and full, dry and thin, heavy or light? You might notice that taking this time to enjoy just one activity enriches all the others in your day. That’s not because the activities have changed. But you have.

Relaxation music is also available in abundance and one might also try a brief sun bath which promotes sleep. Certain herbs like Valerian, Lemon Balm, Passion Flower, Chamomile and Kava-Kava (if you have liver issues you are not advised to use Kava-Kava) all help to aid better sleep. Essential oils like lavender, also contain properties which promote sleep. A few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillow before bedtime may just do the trick. Essential oils are highly concentrated, so the operative word is “a few”. I once made the mistake of dousing my pillow with Lavender Oil in desperation for a good night’s sleep. All I got for my troubles was a splitting headache, the lavender oil overwhelmed my nostrils and I was wide awake the whole night. Other useful essential oils include: Cedarwood, Ylang Ylang, Sandalwood, Sweet Marjoram, Jasmine, Frankincense, Valerian Root, Roman Chamomile, Orange and Bergamot.

Before taking any herbs and essential oils, please do your own independent study and make an informed decision.

This website contains instructions on how to use and mix essential oils for great sleep: Organic Facts.

On the foods that promote sleep (and those that have the opposite effect), I found these two links very accessible and to the point:

To summarize the main messages of this series:
• love your brain with intention by leading a brain health conscious life
• love your brain with the proper nutrition and it will thank you with balanced mood, energy levels and enhanced cognitive abilities
• love your brain with physical and intellectual training and you will be an interesting, constantly evolving being with a capacity to retain and use information creatively
• love your brain with sleep and relaxation and your brain will function like the well-oiled machine that it was created to be for a long time to come.

Writer: Mothipa Masina                     Photographer: Adam Rakus

Ninds     |    Healthy Sleep |   Huffington Post