Lya Wodraska: Finding the restorative power of sleep
It only takes a glance at the brilliantly colored leaves gracing our mountainsides to see that nature is in the midst of one of its most dramatic annual transformations from summer to winter. From trees to plants to animals, nature's elements are slowing down their growth and focusing on storage and energy conservation for the cold months ahead of us.
We can take a hint from nature and do the same.
Summer is a time of energy expenditure, the yang of the year, if you will. It's a catabolic time when we expend a lot of energy in long daylight hours. Many are active in sports or other hobbies that keep us up late at night or encourage early morning sessions before it gets too warm.
Such lifestyles are great, as long as they are balanced with some yin, a time in which we nurture and nourish our bodies so they can restore and repair tired muscles and hormonal systems. The easiest way to pay attention to such rhythms of nature is to follow the circadian rhythms of the sun.
In an ideal world, we'd go to bed and rise with the sun. This means longer active hours in the summer and shorter waking hours in the winter.
Sleep is the best time for the yin process of rebuilding our bodies. Often we think of sleep as a time of rest, but in reality it is a busy work time for our systems as they repair themselves.
In general, the time between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. is when our body focuses on physical repair, and the time between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. is when our body focuses on hormonal/neurological repair.
Our waking hours tend to be stretched during the summer, particularly in the Mountain West when it's still light outside past 9 p.m.
Where we get into trouble is in the winter when we don't balance all that yang energy with some restorative yin time. We get sucked into TV shows, computer games, social-media outlets or work and before you know it, it's past 10 p.m., an hour that leads to another short night.
Now is a good time to reset that personal clock and follow healthier sleep patterns. While many studies show you can't catch up on sleep, getting into the rhythm and flow of shorter active days with longer rest in the winter will help your body renew itself.
There is an added benefit, too, that comes with longer hours of sleep. Plenty of research exists that shows those who get more sleep tend to lose more weight or eat fewer calories than those who don't. In general, getting around eight hours of sleep still seems to be a good standard to aim for.
The best way to get into a habit of more rest is to tune into the sunrise-sunset rhythms, since our bodies have long been in tune with this cycle. Make a point of ending your busy time earlier as the daylight wanes. Turn off the computer and TV at a certain point, since these electronic sources create a false light that encourage us to stay awake. Set a period of quiet time before going to bed and spend it reading, meditating or stretching, or any other habit that helps calm you and centers you.
Enjoy the yang moments of your life, but now is a great time to make sure you get some yin, too.
Lya Wodraska is a certified CHEK practitioner and holistic lifestyle coach. Email her at Lwodraska@sltrib.com.