Find Your Balance, Part 1: Sleep

Photo courtesy: Polyvore

The word balance gets thrown around a lot. We are supposed to find the perfect work/life “balance”, eat a “balanced” diet, and strike a “balance” between … living our lives and thinking about balance all the time!!

Luckily, balance is a natural thing. Your body is actually doing its best to find it for you, 24/7. No matter what hijinks you get up to, your lungs, your heart, your bloodstream, and every other major bodily process will find ways to compensate, helping you to survive. This inner balancing act is called homeostasis, and your body is a total champ at it.

But we like to push harder than we should. We are told that we should behave like superheroes in our own lives, that nature’s balancing mechanisms are pedestrian, boring, even some sort of insult to our awesomeness. “I can get by on 4-5 hours of sleep a night” has become the humble brag of the 21st century and “I live on smoothies and protein bars” will soon be engraved on the tomb of Good Health.

Yes, we can override our natural inner signals, but at a cost. Every time we ignore natural balance, our body has to steal from Peter to pay Paul. Sure, we can still function, but overriding our body’s natural balancing mechanisms is not wise. Running from extreme to extreme makes for bad health, bad moods and even shows up on our faces. Wrinkles and dark circles, anyone?

Our first Balance Topic is SLEEP:

As much as our go-go society denies it, we really need sleep. One of the most mysterious phenomena in our lives, every single one of us does–regardless of race, religion, gender, age, status or even species–sleeps.

During the day, our bodies gets involved in all sorts of antics that produce stress, toxicity, and cause cells to die off. During sleep, our bodily systems discharge toxins and repair themselves. According to the Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine, “major restorative functions in the body like muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, and growth hormone release occur mostly, or in some cases only, during sleep.”

So, when you start to mess with sleep, you start to mess with your body, and your life. So I ask you: How much sleep do you get? Do you feel like a badass when you can function on little sleep? Do you think of sleep as an unfortunate waste of time? Are you currently medicating your sleeplessness with stimulants? Do you try to make up for lost sleep on the weekends? Are there activities you’re currently doing that could be given up to fit in some precious hours of sleep?

Which brings me to how much sleep you need: According the National Sleep Foundation, the recommended amount of sleep for adults between 18 and 64 is 7-9 hours per night. And get this: 10 hours may be appropriate for some older adults, while 11 hours might work for some under 25. That’s no typo: Eleven. The Foundation concedes that some may need only 6 hours of sleep, but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Try this experiment in balance: sleep eight (or more) hours a night for seven days. If you want more on the weekends, get it. Really listen to what your body needs. See how it feels. See how it affects your mood, productivity, relationships, looks, and overall health. Don’t be a snob about sleep. You need it!

Sleep Tips:

  • No caffeine after noon.
  • Soak your feet in hot water before bed to de-stress and ease you into slumber
  • Write down your worries and concerns before bed. Getting them out of your head will relax your mind
  • Remove TV and screens from the bedroom
  • Use a sleep mask to make your bedroom darker
  • Avoid drinking fluids three hours before bedtime so you don’t have to wake up to pee.

Finding balance in the sleep department is a simple, yet profound, experiment. As we continue to talk about balance in the Wellness Department, we will go deeper.

Jessica Porter is the author of The Hip Chick’s Guide to Macrobiotics and The MILF Diet. She can be reached at jessicathehipchick@gmail.com

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