Did you know that sleep is your most productive activity of the day? That’s because our mind and body are using that time to rebuild and repair from the work and stress of the day – an incredibly vital function in order to maintain health and sustain life. Sleep occurs in cycles, alternating between REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) and deep sleep.

REM sleep is when our minds sift through the conscious and subconscious data from the previous day – deciding what to keep and discarding the rest in preparation for next day’s volume of information. During deep sleep the body moves into a restorative state – where all the byproducts of the previous day’s activities are cleaned up and worn tissues are repaired or replaced. The hormone responsible for establishing these important cycles is called melatonin. Melatonin helps maintain this and other biological rhythms that are an integral part of our health. This healing rejuvenation continues throughout the night until the arrival of daylight – which inhibits the secretion of melatonin.

Within an hour of sunrise a new hormonal rhythm emerges – cortisol. Most recognized as the stress hormone cortisol acts as an antagonist to melatonin. Where melatonin was replacing and replenishing the night before cortisol is consuming and expending as we complete the activities of our day. At sundown cortisol levels normally diminish as melatonin levels rise in response to darkness. However, many people experience difficulty falling asleep, waking at night or do not feel refreshed in the morning. Though there are several reasons why your sleep could be disturbed I have found that supporting your natural sleep-wake rhythm can be very helpful.

So what do you do? First, sleep in complete darkness! This means no-light blinds or thick curtains to block any external artificial light sources, replacing electronic devices that constantly display an LED light for the push button variety that only light up manually. Remember, melatonin is very sensitive to light. Second, go to bed and wake up at the same time. Nothing aids in promoting natural sleep-wake rhythms more than establishing a consistent routine. When our body clock is altered our whole being feels the consequences. Third, prepare your body and mind for sleep. This is the tricky part for many of us – with so much to do in so little time – not to mention the television. My favorite way to accomplish this is the castor oil pack. Among other healthful qualities using a castor oil pack shifts our nervous system’s programming into a calm and restful mode – ideal just before sleep. (For the details on how to use a castor oil pack stay tuned for the live demonstration coming to the At-home guide).

Remember, when it comes to your health, sleep is the most important time of the day. So turn out the lights and turn down the t.v. and get busy sleeping.