“Sleep is the best meditation.”
That’s a quote from the Dalai Lama that’s been circulating on the internet. I’m not sure I agree with this line, but I do believe that sleep is the best mediCation, the best medicine.
Countless people don’t get enough sleep or don’t get good quality sleep. A host of health problems correlate to inadequate sleep.
I’ve always been a big sleeper. When I got into studying paleo health practices, I started reading about the importance of sleeping – a lot. *
I thought I was doing well on this score until about a year ago when I read a study to the effect that women who take tamoxifen to prevent a recurrence of breast cancer nevertheless have substantially high rates of recurrence if they work a swing shift or if they sleep in a room that’s not totally dark.
My own bedroom, at night, was being flooded with light from my and neighbors’ security lights. I experimented by throwing blankets over my lace curtains, and I noticed within days that I felt more refreshed on awakening.
I then invested in a set of black-out blinds from Three-Day Blinds. These scroll up and down. They’re a pretty white with a layer of something in between each blind that blocks out the light. People who work at night and sleep by day like these. By installing these blinds and also by covering up any gadget source of light – I have a small TV in my bedroom — I get a totally dark room.
Ancient people slept in the dark, except for the light of the moon and stars, which have their own natural cycles that regulate the cycles of those on earth.
In cities, our sky no longer gets dark enough for the celestial bodies to have their natural, healthful effects on us.
But sleeping in the dark and sleeping mostly during the hours of the dark, i.e. going to bed early, allows the body to produce its own melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone needed to get proper sleep. It’s also a hormone we’re starting to understand is essential to warding off cancer.
So the women who weren’t getting enough melatonin because they sleep by day or in light rooms were not getting the full benefit of their pharmaceutical tamoxifen.
We really don’t understand all the ways that good, long sleep aids the body in repair, in keeping good cells outnumbering too many cancerous ones – that’s my non-scientific way of stating it.
We know that improper sleep is connected to the obesity epidemic as improper sleep keeps cortisol levels high, and too much cortisol makes it difficult to keep a normal weight. Then we know that too much body fat is connected with cancer because fat stores some of the estrogens that can fuel cancer.
It’s just a no-brainer that sleeping long and dark is the way to go.
I got more into sleep health when I read a blog by one of the paleo people I respect, Chris Kresser. He wrote about the importance not just of sleeping in the dark, but of spending time in relative darkness in the evening hours.
One way is to keep lights in the house as low as possible. But many of us are now reading on computers and gadgets in the evening. The gadgets give off a particularly harmful blue light that disrupts the body’s own production of melatonin.
Kresser recommended Solar Shield sun glasses. I got them and now wear them in the house an hour or two before going to bed. They’re huge and fit over my regular glasses. I can still read and watch TV but I don’t have that glaring light coming into my eyes. They cause me to become very drowsy and go to sleep and stay asleep easily.
Getting good sleep is also about intention, making it clear to oneself that the dark of night is for the purpose of bodily repair and subconscious mental and emotional digestion.
Taking a bath in Epsom salt, taking magnesium as a supplement, and drinking herb tea, are all good ways to wind down. (Drinking alcohol, bad for your health anyway, may make you pass out, but it’s also linked with the insomnia of not being able to stay asleep all night.)
Years ago, when I was running myself ragged doing political work, I noticed that I simply had to have a cut-off point. I started a practice of not talking after a certain hour. I maintain this practice. Friends know not to call me after 7 as I will not pick up the phone. I may look at email, but I won’t respond. I do read, but I don’t get into anything heavy or dramatic. I often write journal notes as a way of emptying out my mind, letting problems go onto paper and hopefully out of my head for a while.
Then, I use an affirmation as I go to sleep. Currently, I like to synch my breath with a phrase: I enjoy deep sleep and rejuvenation. Within a few breaths, I’m out.
*(As an aside, I should say that while I value a lot from the paleo writers, I’m not a follower of anything. Some paleo people seem unconcerned about non-food toxins: I see that they are tattooed, use toxic hair dye, nail polish, etc. I don’t believe that eating well counters the cumulative hazards of ingesting non-food toxins.)