It’s official. the best drug in the world is…drumroll…sleep! Yep, that’s right. And trust me, I’ve done my research. I’ve searched high and low (mostly high) in my quest to answer the question ‘how awesome is it humanly possible to feel?’ If you want a consistent and sustainable high so you feel as good as humanly possible, then get yourself to bed, early. I’ll repeat that last bit – early!
Early to bed, early to rise, makes a person healthy, wealthy and wise
We’ve all heard this adage, but how early are we talking? I’ve heard it said that the hours before midnight are worth twice those after midnight. Ayurveda has a neat way to explain why this is so. According to Ayurveda each 24 hour period can be divided into 6 phases. Each phase has a certain quality to it; 3am feels different to midday, which in turn feels different to 8pm. We don’t need to read this stuff in a textbook, we know this, on a cellular level. Each cell in our body has an internal clock that regulates our metabolism and other bodily functions and these internal clocks are linked to the rhythms of nature.
We can ignore this of course, and set our own rhythm, but why struggle upstream when you can plug into a force greater than yourself and get carried along ease-fully?
If you feel like life is a struggle and you don’t have enough time or energy for the things you want to do, then why not let mother nature lend her hand? She’s got this covered, we just have to plug in and follow her lead.
Ayurveda sees the world through the lens of the five elements. These are grouped into three qualities: kapha (water + earth elements), pitta (fire + air) and vata (air + ether). Each of these qualities predominates at certain hours during the day and those same hours in the nighttime.
Kapha dominates between 6am-10am and 6pm-10pm. Because Kapha is earth and water these times of day have earthy and watery qualities; they’re heavier, slower, more grounding, more mellow, there’s a downward moving energy at these times. These are the optimum times in the day to take care of the physical body; either through exercise in the morning or rest and sleep during the evening.
Between 6pm-10pm cortisol and adrenaline are naturally decreasing, our whole system starts to slow down, including our digestive system. If we give ourselves a chance to unplug from our screens and slow down to savour the sweet quality of this time we set ourselves up for an immunity-boasting daily rejuvenation via oh so sweet deep sleep.
Some will argue that they aren’t tired enough to go to bed before 10pm, or that they are inherently night owls.
If that’s you then maybe check out the research on night owls (some of it linked below). Night owls are more likely to be depressed, suffer from other mental issues and have a greater tendency towards obesity. Also, people who go to bed earlier actually need fewer hours sleep. Our bodies thrive on efficiency and that means acknowledging we’re a part of nature and aligning with nature’s rhythm, not wasting energy fighting it. So if you’re staying up late because you have ‘too much stuff to do’ then this is extra important for you. Start going to bed earlier and waking up earlier, you’ll find you have more time to do things in the morning and your brain will be functioning optimally so you’ll be more productive overall.
If your current bedtime is way late then try shifting bedtime back by 15 minutes a week until you’re on the mark.
If you’re not feeling tired at night try unplugging from the electronics and give yourself a chance to tap into the heavy, sweet energy of post-sunset kapha-time.
How to harness the power of sleep
Aim to be asleep by 10pm
Why? Because the heavy and sweet kapha-energy predominant between 6pm-10pm will draw you into the most nourishing kind of sleep. If you stay awake past 10pm you enter into the pitta phase of the night. Pitta is related to the fire element. The energy between 10pm-2am is a rising energy, if you stay awake into this time you’ll notice you get a second wind. This is bad. Very. Very. Bad. This rising energy is supposed to be clearing out your system and recharging you for the next day. If you decide to use this energy to do more today you’ll be starting your tomorrow on a half-charge.
Have an earlier and lighter dinner
Ideally you want lunch to be your main meal of the day, allowing supper to be supplement, as initially intended.
Having the bulk of your calories at lunch gives you the whole day to digest and absorb the goodness. Having an earlier and lighter dinner means the whole of you, including your digestive system, will be ready for deep rest and restoration come 10pm. You also won’t have undigested food floating around with nowhere to go and nothing to do.
If you’re trying to lose weight these simple shifts…
- making lunch your main food event
- eating an earlier and lighter dinner
- going to sleep by 10pm
…should help you shift towards a healthy weight.
Create a bed time ritual
A ritual is something you do consciously. So take a moment to decide on the yummiest bedtime ritual for yourself. What is going to be conducive to a good night’s sleep? This is a beautiful gift to yourself for a day well lived.
For me, this involves turning all electronics off by 8pm. No more texts, emails or TV after this point. Electronics override the relaxing and sweet energy of this time of day and disturb our ability to unwind. One of the practices of yoga is tapas, which means discipline. I used to think this meant showing up on your mat each day for a serious physical workout, pushing your body through more and more challenging positions. Now I realise that the real tapas is having the discipline to care for yourself properly. It takes discipline to know when enough is enough and to resist the urge to check ‘just one more email.’
Some ideas for your bedtime ritual: take a bath, a short walk, journal, spend some quality time with your favourite people if you happen to live with them, meditate, reflect on the day (‘what did I learn today?’ is a nice simple question to ponder at the end of the day) or give yourself a nice self-oil massage.
There’s a concept in yoga called spanda, pulsation, the nature of the universe is to pulsate. We can see this pulsation everywhere, right from our very breath. The inhale follows the exhale, the exhale follows the inhale. If we don’t exhale fully, we can’t take a full inhale. It’s the same with sleeping and waking. If we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to release into deep, restorative sleep each night, we can’t expect to give ourselves fully in the waking part of the cycle that follows. If you want to greet each new day at the edge of your potential make sure you’re optimising your sleep.
Here’s the science bit:
Good sleep staves off depression and other mental disorders
Adolescents with set bedtimes of midnight or later were 24% more likely to suffer from depression and 20% more likely to have suicidal ideation than adolescents with set bedtimes of 10:00 PM or earlier, after controlling for covariates. – http://journalsleep.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=27679
A bedtime routine is awesomely good
A consistent bedtime routine was associated with better sleep outcomes…results indicate that having a regular nightly bedtime routine is associated with improved sleep in young children, and suggests that the more consistently a bedtime routine is instituted and the younger started the better.
Not having a regular, early-to-bed habits mucks up your hormones and makes you fat:
In cross-sectional models, greater variability in bedtime and greater bedtime delay were associated with higher HOMA-IR (homeostatic model assessment-insulin resistance,) ) and greater bedtime advance was associated with higher BMI (β = 0.095; P = 0.047). Prospectively, greater bedtime delay predicted increased HOMA-IR at Time 2 (β = 0.152; P = 0.003). Results were partially explained by shifted sleep timing on weekends.
Frequent shifts in sleep timing may be related to metabolic health among non-shift working midlife women. http://journalsleep.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=30447
More evidence to suggest later bedtimes increases your BMI:
Later average bedtime during the workweek, in hours, from adolescence to adulthood was associated with an increase in BMI over time in later bedtime per 6 years. These results remained significant after controlling for demographic characteristics and baseline BMI. Although sleep duration, screen time, and exercise frequency did not attenuate the relationship between workday bedtime and BMI over time, fast-food consumption was recognized as a significant partial mediator of the relationship between bedtimes and BMI longitudinally. The results highlight bedtimes as a potential target for weight management during adolescence and during the transition to adulthood.
More on the link between later bedtime and increased BMI
Late-bed/Late-rise adolescents were 1.47 times more likely to be overweight or obese than Early-bed/Early-rise adolescents, 2.16 times more likely to be obese, 1.77 times more likely to have low MVPA, and 2.92 times more likely to have high screen time. Conclusions:Late bedtimes and late wake up times are associated with an unfavorable activity and weight status profile, independent of age, sex, household income, geographical remoteness, and sleep duration. – http://journalsleep.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=28265
In the largest, most diverse healthy sample studied to date under controlled laboratory conditions, sleep restriction promoted weight gain. Chronically sleep-restricted adults with late bedtimes may be more susceptible to weight gain due to greater daily caloric intake and the consumption of calories during late-night hours. – http://journalsleep.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=29022
Early to bed, early to rise is more efficient as you spend less time in bed overall:
In retired seniors, a morning-type orientation and regularity in bedtimes and rise-times appear to be correlated with improved subjective sleep quality and with less time spent in bed. – http://journalsleep.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=28033
More on mental health issues and BMI
Children with reduced amounts of sleep (≤ 7.5 h/night) had an increased risk for higher body weight in early adolescence. Similarly, children who slept ≤ 7.5 h/night had higher risk of being anxious or depressed or having learning problems in early adolescence. http://journalsleep.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?pid=28251