What Happens in Your Body When You Sleep

I used to think that sleep was just a matter of closing my eyes for several hours and then waking up to a new day. When I started to take my health more seriously, though, I began to understand what sleep was all about – and it blew my mind!

Just as much is happening in our body when we sleep as it does when we’re awake.

  • You’re supporting your body in regulating hormones – especially those that control your appetite. (I’m definitely hungrier the next day after a poor night sleep and I’m often craving lots of carbs and sweets!)
  • The brain goes through a detoxification process that can only happen during your sleeping hours. Skimp on sleep... you might just end up with a “dirty brain.”
  • You’re also storing memories from the day’s activities. Feel like you have a poor memory? Your sleep may be to blame more so than age.
  • Your body is also repairing itself from the movement you’ve had throughout the day.

Don’t be fooled

As a society, we tend to not get the quality or quantity of sleeping hours that our body needs. We also fill our days with more activity in a stress and distraction-filled environment that drains our energy further.

So, we mask the effects of this exhausting combination with caffeinated drinks. Be it coffee, soda, or energy drinks, they all give the body a false sense of energy and alertness, making us feel like we can “get by” with less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep. But the joke is on us, because although we may have a forced level of energy, we missed all the important aspects – hormone regulation, detoxification, and repair.

Improve your sleep

My biggest recommendation to my nutrition coaching clients who struggle with sleep is to “act like a child”.

When we were children, the better part of the night supported and lead up to bedtime. We had a routine: dinner, bath, story time, lullabies, sleep. Not only did the body – and mind – know this routine and start adapting to the external cues, but the activities were all supportive of sleep as well. As the night went on, there was less stimulation to our minds.

Now as adults, we push the limits of keeping activities going until the very moment our eyes close. I know I’ve definitely fallen asleep with the phone in my hand before having scrolled through Instagram until the night hours. Whether it’s the TV, social media, emails, texts, the mind is being stimulated by the electronic lights and the mental engagement you have with the activity.

Late night snacking is another barrier to a good night sleep. Personally, I think it’s less of an issue with calories and more an issue with the fact that late night snacks fire up the digestive system right at the time when your body wants to go into full rest mode. It’s like someone coming into the kitchen saying they’re hungry right after you put all the leftovers away and cleaned all the dishes. The lights were just about to go out and now they’re back on again.

Act like a child

It’s still a conscious effort for me and may always be, but I do my best to get off electronics 30 to 60 minutes before bed. I try to replace that with journaling, reading, or when I’m super on point, I’ll practice some yoga before crawling into bed.

There are countless options you can take too to create your own bedtime routine. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Take a bath
  • Pray/meditate
  • Read
  • Journal
  • Keep a gratitude list
  • Practice yoga
  • Enjoy a cup of herbal tea

If you had no distractions to get in your way, what would your ideal nighttime routine look like?

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