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The Restorative Benefits of Sleep

 Rest = Restoration. It makes sense, doesn’t it? While exercise and movement are essential for stimulating circulation and the elimination of toxins, rest and sleep provide an opportunity for the body to cleanse, repair, and rejuvenate on a deep cellular level. Most people in our society are chronically sleep deprived. Nourish your body with plenty of healing sleep and rest.

Date: 04/03/05
Source: Laurel Vuckovic


Napping for more energy
Many people allow themselves the luxury of a nap only if they are sick. But the body has natural cycles of rest and activity, and the desire for a few minutes of rest in the mid-afternoon seems to be an inherent physiological need. Although most people in our culture fight the desire for rest and even view it as a sign of indolence, in many cultures, a midday siesta is regarded as a necessity.

Taking a few minutes out of the day for a nap can be wonderfully restorative. When you stop all activity to close your eyes and rest, both your body and your mind have an opportunity to relax deeply.

The best time to nap is usually in the mid-afternoon, approximately 8 hours after you arise and 8 hours before you go to bed at night. For most people, this coincides with the time that they naturally feel the desire to nap-somewhere around 3:00 PM. If you nap too late in the afternoon, you may have difficulty going to sleep at night. Try to cultivate the habit of napping at the same time each day, and for the same length of time. This helps to get your body into a comfortable napping rhythm.

When you nap, make yourself as comfortable as possible. Take off your shoes, loosen tight items of clothing, find a comfortable chair or couch, and dim the lights in the room. Even if you don’t sleep, take a few minutes to treat your body and your mind to a deep relaxation exercise. For example, focus on your breathing and progressively relax every muscle in your body, beginning with your toes and moving slowly up through your body to your scalp. For most people, naps between 15 and 30 minutes are the most refreshing. Upon awakening, take a minute or two to stretch, walk around, and spritz your face with cool water or an aromatherapy toner/spray to help relieve any momentary feelings of grogginess.

The Healing Power of Sleep
Much of the body’s healing work takes place while you sleep. Without the need to attend to all of the functions of daily life, your immune system and organs of detoxification can focus attention on cleansing and restoration. This is the time when your body does major housecleaning, taking care of wastes that have accumulated during the day and repairing cellular damage.

Cultivate the habit of going to bed early, before 10 PM. When dark falls, the body naturally wants to sleep. Overriding this desire for sleep interferes with the natural rhythm of cleansing. According to traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, as well as Western naturopathic healing philosophy, the most important hours for detoxification and rejuvenation are before midnight.

The earlier you go to bed, the better. For the most restful and restorative sleep, make sure that your sleeping environment is as healthful as possible. Use natural cotton bedding to allow your body to breathe, and wear comfortable, loose cotton sleepwear. Keep your window open at least a few inches year round to provide plenty of fresh air.

Avoid eating for at least two hours before sleeping. This ensures that your body’s energy can be used for healing and rejuvenation instead of for digestion. If you do want to eat something before bed, a piece of fruit is a good choice. Fruit is cleansing and is quickly digested. If you have difficulty getting to sleep, there are a number of factors to consider that can help you to get a good night’s rest. First of all make sure that you are getting sufficient exercise during the day.

A 30-minute walk either before or after dinner is especially helpful for ensuring deep sleep. Avoid caffeine in all forms. While caffeine late in the evening is particularly disruptive for sleep, even a morning cup of coffee can cause nighttime sleep disturbances for some people. Avoid stressful mental activity in the hours right before bed, and spend time relaxing with a good book, enjoyable conversation, soothing music, or meditation instead.

Make sure that your sleeping environment is peaceful and quiet. If you can’t escape noisy neighbors or traffic sounds, invest in a sound machine that created soothing background “white noise” that masks disturbing sounds. Natural remedies for restful sleep include soothing baths and herbal teas. Try a warm bath just before bed with 2 cups of Epsom salts and 10 drops of lavender essential oil diluted in the bathwater. Epsom salts are rich in magnesium, which helps to relax the muscles and the nervous system, and lavender has soothing effects on the body and the mind. A cup of chamomile or passionflower tea also promotes relaxation. Brew a strong tea by pouring boiling water over 2 teaspoons of dried herb and steeping in a covered pot for 15 minutes. Strain, and add honey or lemon if desired. For serious insomnia, check with your local herbal store or naturopath about taking valerian, kava kava, or any of the many other herbal remedies that exist.

Practicing calming breathing and deep relaxation exercises can also help to promote restful sleep by quieting the body and mind. Cultivate the habit of taking a few minutes to purify your body and your mind with your breath when you first get into bed. Simply focus on your breathing, taking 3 deep, relaxing cleansing breaths, and then mentally scan your body for any areas of tension. When you find a pocket of tension, gently breathe into that area, imagining the tension leaving your body with your exhalation.

You’ll most likely fall asleep in the middle of this deeply relaxing exercise, which is just fine! Waking up in a pleasant way is just as important as getting a good night’s sleep. Leave your shades or curtains open so that the early morning light will signal your body that it’s time to rise.

If you’re going to bed at the same time each night, you’ll find that you’ll naturally awaken at a regular time each morning. If you do need the help of an alarm, make it a gentle introduction to the day with pleasant music or a soothing chime. Don’t leap out of bed, but take a few minutes to stretch and breathe, appreciating the blessing of another day of beautiful life and opportunities that await you.

Resource: 14-Day Herbal Cleansing by Laurel Vukovic.