Sleep is the "forgotten" health variable. Sure, we know we should eat healthy, drink plenty of water, exercise, etc, but too often do we overlook catching our zzzz's as an important part of having a healthy body and a healthy mind.
However, sleep is no simple task. It's often a struggle for those of us who have a hard time shutting off the thoughts running swiftly through our minds. For others, sleep comes naturally. It's a very personal thing, and it's different for everyone. But the one similarity we all have with sleep is this: We need it.
A recent study on the connection between body image and sleep was presented yesterday at the meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Minneapolis. The study found that teen girls who felt felt pressured to be thin had more difficulty sleeping than their body-confident peers. It's possible that because these girls struggle w/body image, they experience more anxiety than the typical teen (which is a LOT of anxiety, needless to say). It's this nervousness that creates a waterfall of thoughts right before bed, keeping these sleep-deprived teens up all night.
When we lose sleep, we lose a lot more than just sleep. Our food habits become ruled by cravings (especially carbohyrate sources), and we may become irritable or unpleasant to be around. Lack of sleep can decrease work productivity, sex drive, intellectual abilities, enjoyment of the pleasures in life... and when these things dwindle, so does our confidence, leading to more body image woes. And the beat goes on.
But there is no magic wand to swirl around our heads at bed time to make these thoughts disappear! We have to work at it, just like everything else. Here are a few ways to help you get some more shut-eye...
- Be your own Body Image Activist: Throughout the day, eliminate "I hate my body" thoughts and incorporate "I am able" thoughts. The less we verbally abuse our bodies, the less our bodies will rebel against us, thus allowing more sleep time.
- Get Moving: Even if you feel tired, exercise. That's not to say that you shouldn't take breaks, because if you've been reading Guiltless, you know I am a strong advocate for taking breaks when you need it. But when we exercise, we get rid of all that stressful, angsty energy that keeps us up at night. So sweat it out for more sleep!
- Lay off the nightly caffeine: I enjoy a cup of coffee after dinner. But more often than not, I end up getting less sleep. (This is a monumental discovery, I know.) I say give your body it's last cup around 2 p.m. That way, when it's time to hit the hay, you're energy levels aren't hitting the roof.
- Focus on the right stuff: Turn off all the lights (yes, including the TV and the lap top). Get rid of all the sound (no iPods either). Close your eyes and take deep breaths, paying attention to every inhalation and exhalation. If you feel some thoughts creeping back up into your brain, picture every single part of your body falling asleep. First your toes, then your feet, then shins, all the way up to your head. It works. I know it sounds a little eclectic, so you don't have to make the decision to do this every night. But at least sleep on it.
That's all folks. Hope you get some much-deserved shut-eye!
What strategies do you use to fall asleep in times of high stress?