By Rachel Welch
One of the best feelings in the world is waking up from a deep, high-quality, and restful night of sleep. Even a quick nap can serve as restorative rest that leaves you feeling refreshed and energized. Sleep heals you physically and mentally and enhances your other healthy life choices. Have you ever had a post-beach day nap that transcended all other naps?
Getting outside to soak up the sun can often lead to some of the best sleep of your life. Even if you aren’t getting a lot of actual sunshine in your daily life, supplements like vitamin D can fill in the gap to provide you with the same sunny benefits. Give some love to the relationship between sunshine and sleep to create a healthy powerhouse in your body that can conquer anything life presents.
The power of sleep is arguably one of the most undervalued, especially in our busy society that operates on working at all hours, and pushing sleep and rest to the wayside. While society may encourage sacrificing sleep, it is important to remember that sleep is one of the foundational necessities for every part of your body and brain. During sleep, the brain restores information centers and absorbs information from the previous day. Sleeping allows the lively, wakeful parts of the brain to rest, restore, and heal, while it activates other areas to perform special sleep-related tasks.
Additionally, sleep is a pivotal time for hormone production and regulation to take place. Hormones like insulin, cortisol, and melatonin are balanced out while we sleep. Without rest, hormones can remain out of whack and problematic. In fact, the lack of sleep has been correlated to obesity, likely due to this impact on hormones. Lacking sleep can also cause us to crave higher-calorie foods throughout the day, and usually results in a lesser likelihood of exercising. This makes sense, because if you were up until two in the morning, you probably would be less inclined to wake up for your morning workout routine at five or six.
Other benefits that come from sleep include muscular health, the decrease of inflammation, the reduction of insomnia, and body weight maintenance. Suffice it to say, sleep is crucial, at all stages. Within the different stages of sleep, come different processes within the body and brain. These include:
Stage 1 of Non-REM (rapid eye movement) Sleep
This is the time in which we transition from wakefulness to sleep. Usually lasting several minutes, our heart rate, breathing, eye movements, and brain waves begin to slow down into sleep patterns.
Stage 2 of Non-REM Sleep
This is light sleep – when our body temperatures start to drop, and our eye movements stop. This stage is before we enter deep sleep and is where we spend most of our repeated sleep cycle time.
Stage 3 of Non-REM Sleep
This is deep sleep, which we need a good amount of to feel refreshed the next day. This occurs in longer periods during the first half of the night. This phase is when we may have a difficult time waking up. Our muscles are relaxed, and our brain waves move very slowly in this stage.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM)
REM sleep is where we have our awesome dreams or not-so-awesome nightmares. During dreams, our limbic system gets a boost of activity! This is the part of the brain associated with emotions and memory. This is why, when we dream, our minds may take random parts of our day and warp them into strange and emotionally charged dreams. REM sleep also allows our frontal brain systems (which help with analytical thinking), to rest and recharge. REM sleep is why we may feel more cognitively sharp after a good night's rest, and more mentally scattered if we are sleep-deprived.
After a good night’s rest, your body and brain have completed their lists of healing and restorative tasks, and it’s time to wake up. Hopefully, you wake up and feel healthy, rejuvenated, and lively. If you don’t, then it may be time to look at how much sunshine you enjoy, and/or how much vitamin D you take in on a regular basis because the two are very tightly connected.
Vitamin D is one of the body’s favorite nutrients – so much so, that even the act of going outside and stepping into the sunshine is enough for the body to start creating its own vitamin D. As we discussed in a previous post, vitamin D nourishes the skin and is naturally synthesized in our bodies when we spend time in the sun. One fun and lesser-known fact is that it takes 15-30 minutes for our bodies to begin producing vitamin D, and that's only if we are not wearing sunscreen! Sunscreen is very helpful at protecting our skin from excessive exposure to the sun. But, it may be valuable to wait and only apply sunscreen after you've had at least 15-30 minutes in the sun without it. Otherwise, you may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency.
In a way, we’re not that different from plants, in that we also absorb the sun’s warm rays in exchange of vital nutrients!
Highlighting one of vitamin D’s favorite partners, we have sleep, and specifically sleep hygiene practices. Sleep on its own is crucial, but sleep hygiene (the assortment of healthy sleep practices), is also just as relevant. Whether you want your sleep to include crazy dreams, or just want to obtain a more rested feeling upon waking, sleep hygiene habits can make a big difference in your quality and quantity of sleep. Here are a few tactics to ensure the best sleep possible.
Avoid Blue Light
You’ve likely heard in recent years that blue light disrupts healthy sleep in a majority of people across the globe. The blue light in question is what comes off of our digital devices and screens. Phones, tablets, television, and computers all emit an unnatural blue light that mimics natural sunshine in its command to our brain. When we look at a bright screen, it tricks the brain into thinking “Oh, it’s bright, so it must be time to wake up.” This can obviously hinder sleep.
Some research tells us that blue light is especially impactful on our hormones, such as melatonin, which is the sleep hormone that helps the brain enter its resting mode. Harvard researchers conducted a study that explored the difference in exposure to green light compared to blue light on melatonin production. They found that blue light prevented normal melatonin production with twice as much impact as the same amount of green light. They also found that the blue light resulted in a strong shift to the participants’ circadian rhythms, all of which has the potential to hinder proper sleep and may cause eye strain that can ultimately harm a person’s eye health.
The data is still out on whether or not tools like blue light glasses are truly effective, but a study in 2017 seems to confirm their value. They studied 36 healthy participants, male and female, and randomly assigned groups to wear and not wear protective blue light glasses, while working on a computer for two hours. They found that the group that wore the glasses reported less eye strain, less pain around the eye, and didn’t feel like their eyes were as heavy as the non-glasses group. Their conclusion was that wavelength (blue light) glasses may in fact reduce eye strain associated with digital devices. So, it could be worth getting a cheap pair of blue light glasses to help with your sleep hygiene.
Additionally, you can try the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes you spend looking at a screen, take 20 seconds to look away from the screen, and look at something approximately 20-feet away for several seconds. Researchers suggest that this practice will help your eye health and vision in the long run.
Avoid Eating Before Bed
While it is not ideal to go to bed hungry, you also don’t want to consume a whole meal and then immediately go lay down. This is because the body still has to digest the food you ate and can’t effectively digest and sleep at the same time (at least without some acidic repercussions – acid reflux, anyone?). Certain foods are okay in small amounts if you really need something to satiate your hunger. For instance, a banana, small piece of bread, or something like a cup of applesauce could be fine, because it’s relatively easy to digest.
Foods to avoid include spicy foods, dairy, foods high in sugar, chocolate, fatty or greasy foods, or garlic. These all take a bit more effort for the body to digest, so shouldn’t be your sleep time snack, if you can help it.
Exercise During the Day
One clear cut way to help your body sleep better, is to wear it out through exercise. Even a small workout or movement session can boost happy hormones like endorphins and can help your body unwind when it’s time for bed. If you go through the day eating, working, and stimulating your body and brain with no release of that energy, it may be hard to fall asleep when your head hits the pillow.
Exercise is a great tool to calm the mind, reset helpful chemicals, and help the body chill out when it’s time to sleep, especially if you’re prone to racing thoughts once you settle down for the night. It also beneficial for individuals with anxiety and other mental health conditions, so it’s a win-win!
Let’s say you tried not to eat before bed, avoided blue light two hours before bedtime, and even got in a workout, but still can’t wind down to sleep. In this case, meditation is the perfect tool to help get you off to dreamland. Meditation, or mindfulness is a wonderful way to calm down physically, and mentally. There are plenty of diverse options that are freely accessible for newbie meditators or tenured Zen masters, and all of them have the potential to help you sleep soundly. Some of them will even play while you sleep, if you need help drifting off and staying asleep.
Plus, by meditating before bed, you also receive the brain-changing benefits of meditating, since meditation is proven to help with changing our brain anatomy and increasing self-control, emotional regulation, and more. Amazing!
The Circle of Life, and Sleep
Finally, to come full circle, make sure that you are spending enough time in the sunshine, and/or supplementing vitamin D to keep the proper balance in your body. If you need a safe and proven supplement in your life, Health by Principle has you covered, and you can even earn points for discounted (and even free) products while you shop.
Remember that vitamin D and sleep work together in harmony, whether you obtain the sunny nutrient from spending time outside, or from a happy little pill. One without the other is good, but the two combined makes an unstoppable powerhouse of health, and who doesn’t want that? This spring, we hope you can get out and enjoy the flowers, have some dreamy time in the sunshine, and easily drift off to healthy dreams. Keep the vitamin D in your D-lightful life—and sleep well!