Many years ago, I heard Chief Oren Lyons, faith keeper of the Turtle Clan for the Iroquois Onondaga Nation, speak to a group of children about the winter months from his Native American perspective. His story relayed how our Mother Earth falls asleep during this time of year, and covers herself with a big white blanket of snow to keep her well covered and warm. As the winter months fade the blanket gets thinner and all the water from the melting snow goes into feeding her so that she can wake up in the spring, after a proper amount of rest, and provide us with an abundance of life. He told this story as a way to help the children understand that the blanket was getting thinner every year, that Mother Earth was not getting the amount of rest that she was once able to, and that this affected her ability to provide as much as she once did. As I think about how to introduce the topic of sleep and its importance to us all, I felt this story was particularly important. Like the earth that sustains us, we too need this time to replenish our energy reserves, and we too must consider the implications if we don’t.

In the fall, we transition to shorter days and longer nights. As soon as our brains internalize that it is getting dark outside, the pineal gland shifts the serotonin production in the brain into melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone that helps induce sleep. If we do not take advantage of the pattern that naturally occurs within our brains, we might experience difficulty getting to sleep because after an hour of melatonin secretion, the amount of melatonin slows down and we get our “second wind”.

Sleep is the time when your body repairs itself. We produce more protein cells while we are sleeping. We also produce an appetite suppressor called leptin, which helps us curtail our hunger the following day. Any disruption of sleep or not having enough of it, wreaks havoc on the rise and fall of blood sugar which is directly linked to weight gain, obesity and diabetes should blood sugar levels become compromised over a long period of time.

In addition to all these specific reasons to build more sleep into your life, fall is when we are making up for the energy we have put out all spring and summer long. Sleep is more than just catching up with our daily needs, it also about keeping up with our yearly needs. While we sleep, the body is working hard to restore and create health.
Surveys conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) revealed that 60 percent of adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more. Sleep deprivation was linked to problems with:

• Brain and nervous system
• Cardiovascular system
• Metabolic functions
• Immune system
• Increase in appetite linked to obesity and diabetes

According to “sleep experts” – stress is the number one cause of short-term sleeping difficulties. Stress comes in many forms: school or job related stress, family problems, exercise too close to bedtime, and foods (specifically, alcohol, sugar, and caffeine). Lack of sleep alone is a stressor. This causes our bodies to go into “fight or flight” which increases blood pressure (associated with heart disease), and releases stress hormones (associated with fat storage, inflammation, early aging, and weight gain). When stress disappears, usually the sleeping problems dissipate or disappear.

I admit that I am probably one of the biggest offenders of not getting enough sleep. Many of us have responsibilities to our jobs, children, spouses, and we often forget that this responsibility should also include ourselves. If what we want is a lifestyle of health where our work is a pleasure, our need for food is a celebration and not a dependency on sugar to get us through the day, and we wake up wanting to live our lives, not avoid it, then sleep is the easiest way to build in this lifestyle model as a sustainable long-term plan.

Author's Bio: 

Odette Worrell is a certified Holistic Health Counselor, certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP), and founder of Organic Soul. Odette's work encompasses supporting and empowering individuals to regain their physical health, improve the quality of their lives, and reach their personal goals. Odette and Organic Soul offer newsletters, online health and self-growth classes, and one-on-one as well as group health counseling sessions (privately and online).