We all know that when we sleep great, we feel great and our days seem to float along much more smoothly than an unrestful night. Our sleep is directly related to our health-better sleep equals better quality of life. With proper, quality rest comes increased energy, improving our capacity to make choices that are good for us in both the short and long term, such as healthy food choices, exercise, and self-care, as well as navigating relationships and work. Sleep strengthens our immune system and our body’s ability to defend against disease. It also heightens our alertness, focus, and creativity. Sleep improves our mood, reducing feelings of anxiety, irritability, and mental fatigue. It even increases our libido!
With proper, quality rest comes increased energy, improving our capacity to make choices that are good for us in both the short and long term, such as healthy food choices, exercise, and self-care, as well as navigating relationships and work.
Sleep deprivation brings with it a laundry list of immediate and lasting impacts on our health and wellbeing — from lower cognitive function, weight gain, and higher stress levels, to increased risk of chronic disease, inflammation, high blood pressure, poor immunity and decreased fertility.
How much sleep do I really need every night?
18+ years — 8-9 hours
11-17 years — 8.5-9.5 hours
6-10 years — 10-11 hours
3-5 years — 11-13 hours
3-11 months — 14-15 hours
0-2 months — 12-18 hours
Sleep strengthens our immune system and our body’s ability to defend against disease. It also heightens our alertness, focus, and creativity.
Sleep is important for everyone — as adults, we need good, quality sleep just as much as babies, children, and teens do, even though our bodies use the nighttime for slightly different functions. But while sleep quantity matters, sleep quality does too. So, especially for those of us with busy routines and responsibilities that make getting that 8-9 hours a struggle, taking the proper steps to make the most of our sleep hours is key.
The Yin and Yang of Waking and Sleeping
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the 24-hour day is understood in terms of the ebb and flow of Yin and Yang energy. You’ve probably seen the Yin-Yang symbol — a white and black circle, divided into two halves by a curved line, with each side containing a small dot of the other color. The symbol and the philosophy represent the flow and balance opposed by complementary and interconnected forces — the duality in all things. Symbols representing the yin-yang concept date back at least to Neolithic times and are present in the book of the I Ching. Yin represents grounded energy — earth, matter receptivity, coolness, darkness, winter, contemplation, the moon, rivers and oceans, and the feminine. Yang represents masculine energy — action, light, heat, expansion, summer, movement, the sun, brightness, productivity, the heavens, and the mountains.
In today's culture, it seems Yang energy is more highly valued — what we can accomplish, do, achieve. Add to that the nuances of living in a mountain town full of weekend warriors, dawn patrollers, and weeknight adventurers — and the height of summertime, post-solstice days beginning to shorten, and the impending restart of school and fall routines, it’s natural to feel both internal and external urgency around working hard, getting out there, and making the most of every waking moment.
But as TCM tells us, yin and yang are critical for balance in life and in health. Taoist texts compare yin energy to the oil in a lamp and yang to the flame. The flame is usually what we focus on, but the oil sustains it from the background, and the lamp needs both to function. Western medicine parallels this concept with the two aspects of the nervous system — the sympathetic, which handles stress, problem-solving, reacting to unexpected events and situations, and navigating our days — with the parasympathetic, which guides “rest and digest,” our feelings of calm, and our capacity to process both food and emotions. If our sympathetic and parasympathetic / yin and yang are in proper, balanced flow, we feel fully alive during the day, and experience deep sleep at night. But between work stress, life stress, and the drive to maximize our productivity, many of us struggle with “turning off” our yang at night and relaxing into yin.
If our sympathetic and parasympathetic / yin and yang are in proper, balanced flow, we feel fully alive during the day, and experience deep sleep at night.
Thankfully, there are steps we can take to support our yin energy, leading to better, more restful, quality sleep — and all the benefits that come with it.
Eat for better sleep
When we get the nutrients our body needs to sustain energy levels throughout the day, we reduce the likelihood of blood sugar crashes that tempt us to rely on sugar or caffeine to keep us going. Ayurveda tells us that lunch should be the biggest meal of the day, and dinner should be a bit lighter, which helps us take advantage of the body's natural nighttime repair process and allows our digestive system time to take its own rest while we sleep.
Avoid late night beverages
Focus on staying hydrated in the morning and afternoon so you do not have to feel like you have to catch up at the end of day by drinking lots of water right before bed, causing middle-of-the-night bathroom visits which can interrupt good, quality sleep.
Cut back on caffeine and alcohol
50% of caffeine is still in your system 6 hours after consumption, meaning a 3 pm cup of coffee can still be impacting energy levels come bedtime. While alcohol helps us fall asleep sometimes, it also has the potential to negatively impact sleep quality. It especially impacts our REM sleep, which is when our dreaming happens, emotional detoxing and healthy brain development occurs. Our livers are already working hard to detox our systems during the middle of the night, so adding alcohol to the mix taxes the liver even more.
Create a restful sleep environment
Clear out the clutter in your bedroom to streamline and soothe the energy. Remove all electronics, including TVs, computers, and tablets. If you can, leave your phone plugged into a charger in a different room; if you need to sleep next to your phone, put it on airplane mode and turn off the Bluetooth/wifi. Watches and sleep monitoring devices can provide great data, but some people may find that the additional signals disrupt their sleep. Consider blackout or sound-dampening curtains, an eye mask, a fan, or other white noise, keeping distracting sounds to a minimum. Choose quality bedding and inviting, natural fabrics that help maintain a comfortable body temperature, and if the temperature is right, open the windows at night or turn your air settings in your bedroom somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees.
Limit blue light exposure
Blue light is the light that comes from our computers, phones, tablets and TVs. It can be very hard on the eyes. If you are going to be on your computer a lot throughout the day, it is important to purchase a pair of blue blocker glasses (I like the brand Caddis ) as they not only block blue light, but they look cool too. Blue light blocks melatonin production (which is the hormone that cues us for sleep) as it makes the brain think it is daytime out so it messes with our natural circadian rhythm. A great rule of thumb is to limit your exposure to blue light 30 minutes before bed so your natural melatonin process can begin.
Explore a nighttime routine
Before bed, consider a warm bath with epsom salt, a hot shower, or, try listening to some relaxing music. Meditation is another option. It helps calm the mind, letting those daytime distractions and worries be acknowledged, pass through, and be released. If you are having trouble letting go of thoughts, tasks, or worries, write them down or make a list of to-dos for the following day — getting them out of your head, and trusting yourself to handle challenges in the morning with a restored, rested mind. A restful tai chi, chi gong, or yoga routine can help ground our energy and soothe the nervous system. Try legs up the wall, or a supported savasana, with a bolster or pillow beneath the knees. Let go and feel the earth supporting you — you are held and safe in the here and now. I love the free Insight Timer app, with thousands of nighttime meditations to choose from, searchable by length, topic, or keyword — such as yoga nidra, breathing, singing bowls, and more.
Essential oils can promote relaxation
Our High Desert Perfume is formulated with calming organic lavender and sage, bringing a true sense of peace to the soul. Try inhaling this right before bed to evoke a sense of calm to your nervous system.
Get plenty of movement throughout the day
When we are more sedentary throughout the day (sitting at desks, sitting in cars, sitting on airplanes) our body isn't getting the movement it needs to be tired. Although our day can make our brains sleepy, our physical body is not quite ready for rest which can lead to interrupted sleep. Make sure to move as much as you can throughout the day. All movement is good-just keep moving! For more information on movement, you can visit my most recent blog post here.
Cultivating a healthy balance of yin and yang can truly transform our energy, vitality, happiness, and health. By intentionally and lovingly supporting ourselves as we ease into the yin of sleep, we can make the most of our nighttime hours — and wake feeling refreshed and ready for the day, for years to come. What helps you get a restful nights sleep? Share in the comments below!
Thank you for this insightful post. I’ve read myriad articles on ways to improve sleep. The articles all regurgitate the same basic information. Your post breathed a breath of fresh air into my life RE: the possibility of attaining a full, restful night of sleep. The explanation of yin-yang energy was a true eye opener. Thank you for providing a thorough understanding of the dynamics and energy pull we face both within and without. Additionally, I’ve already downloaded the Insight Timer app you mentioned and look forward to exploring it today. Have a wonderful day, Stephanie, and an even better weekend. Thank you for being you.