Sleep: Try as we might, we cannot do without it. We can delay it with caffeine in an attempt to sneak in just one more hour of work or we can try to stay up to binge-watch "House of Cards," but eventually our eyelids will draw the final curtains on the day.
While sleep always wins, do you know if the sleep you're getting is of the quality kind? According to a report by the National Sleep Foundation, the answer is "no." "Americans report sleeping an average of seven hours and 36 minutes a night. [However], despite sleeping within the recommended number of hours, 35 percent of Americans report their sleep quality as 'poor' or 'only fair.' Twenty percent of Americans reported that they did not wake up feeling refreshed on any of the past seven days."
Beyond basic survival, sleep is needed for a myriad of health reasons. Regular sleep deprivation can lead to heart disease, heart attack, weight gain, stroke, diabetes and depression. A little extra sleep can help you relax and accomplish your tasks more quickly and effectively, which reduces your overall stress level.
If getting a restful sleep at night remains out of your reach, studies have shown a mid-day nap can be just what your body needs. "Naps boost alertness and improve motor performance, which is why you feel energized after taking one," according to Sleep.org. The site goes on to say that, "Regular, short naps can help lower tension, which decreases your risk of heart disease."
Six Steps to Sleep
To start scheduling a nap into your day–and make it worthwhile–employ Speed Sleep's (an audio guide to sound sleep) six tips for napping nirvana:
1. Take six deep breaths.
When you are ready to nap, get comfortable and take six really deep, slow breaths. If you can, breathe in from the nose and out through the mouth in a nice, slow and easy manner. This triggers the relaxation response in your body, which is the process of deescalating the stress response and inducing relaxation through the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.
How to do it: With one hand on the chest and the other on the belly, take a deep breath in through the nose, ensuring the diaphragm (not the chest) inflates with enough air to create a stretch in the lungs, then breathe out through the mouth. The goal is to work your way up to six deep, slow breaths.
2. Feel your aches and tensions.
People tend to tighten their jaws when they feel stress or anxiety. Over time, it becomes a habit and we do it each time we feel emotions or an urge to share something.
How to do it: Without moving, take a quick inventory of the aches and pains you feel, especially around the face, neck, jaw and lower back. Then, with eyes closed, visualize each of those muscles one at a time, first relaxing and extending them, then releasing the stored tension.
3. Think of warmth.
Increasing the temperature of your skin—but not your core body temperature—even just a little bit can help you achieve a deeper, more restful sleep and avoid waking up too early in the morning. The reasoning behind this phenomenon is that skin warming has been shown to stimulate areas in the brain that are involved in regulating sleep.
How to do it: Imagine sending liquid warmth to the areas of your body where you feel aches and pains. Do this in a way that causes you to feel the warmth pour over your aches and wash them down and out of your body, off the bed and onto the floor.
4. Release your worrisome thoughts.
It's not always easy to look in the mirror and acknowledge the years of reflexive thoughts and actions that may have spawned many of your worries. However, it is one thing to recognize them and another to try to rid yourself of them. The world changes and has a certain level of unpredictability; therefore, reactions to life's real or perceived disruptions can become ingrained and reflexive. Now is the time to let them go so you can sleep soundly.
How to do it: Try repeating this mantra to every bothersome thought that pops up in your mind: "I can't fix you right now. I'll get back to you later." Everything that comes up is not meant to be solved immediately. Your brain is just trying to get rid of any problems. Also, try to rid yourself of any reminders your brain might bring up, such as "I'll remember you when I wake up." Let them all go.
5. Assure yourself you will wake up on time.
Remember, our internal clocks have adapted to a 24-hour time cycle, so thinking of your wake-up time in terms of physical, man-made clocks will be helpful. Your conscious anticipation will guide your subconscious. Scientists aren't sure how the brain monitors the passage of time, but it does.
How to do it: Before you sleep, actively visualize the time of awakening. Think about when you want to wake up and how. Get creative: Imagine yourself waking up and looking at the clock, which (in your imagination) will be set to the correct time. It's all about implanting that time in your mind.
6. Visualize a relaxing space.
Visualization has proven helpful in developing the appropriate brain wave patterns to achieve restful sleep. The more you practice these techniques and build them into a ritual, the better your opportunities are for repeated success. Just like Speed Sleep, the goal is to increase the speed at which you achieve those deep levels of sleep, and thus the speed at which you get to sleep after practicing improves with more practice.
How to do it: Close your eyes and imagine you're walking across a big, open field. The warm sun is shining down, and there is a gentle breeze. Or, pretend you're in a hammock up off the ground, wrapped in a cocoon of comfort, swaying gently in the open air.
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