“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” ~ Irish Proverb ~
“There is only one thing that people like that is good for them; a good night’s sleep”
~ Edgar Watson Howe ~
“Sleep is the best medicine”
~ Dalai Lama ~
“Now, blessings light on him that first invented sleep! It covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak; it is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot. It is the current coin that purchases all the pleasures of the world cheap, and the balance that sets the king and the shepherd, the fool and the wise man, even.” ~ Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605 ~
Good, refreshing sleep is essential for optimal health. However, sleep difficulties occur in about 75% of the population. Although a short-lived bout of insomnia is generally not worrisome, chronic sleep loss can contribute to health problems such as high blood pressure, weight gain, impaired learning and memory, mood disorders and cardiovascular issues. Sleep deprivation can also lead to chronic degenerative disease by altering immune function. There is evidence that insomnia is linked to early death and serious declines in quality of life. Safety may also be a concern since sleep debt can cause lapses in alertness leading to mistakes, such as medical errors, traffic accidents and other work accidents. Psychological factors such as depression, anxiety and tension account for about 50% of insomnia. However, dietary and lifestyle factors can also play a major role. Sanoviv recommends trying natural sleep remedies as outlined below prior to considering prescription sleep aids.
A number of aspects of your health and quality of life are linked to sleep, and these aspects are impaired when you are sleep deprived.
Your Learning, Memory, and Mood
Students who have trouble grasping new information or learning new skills are often advised to “sleep on it,” and that advice seems well founded. Recent studies reveal that people can learn a task better if they are well rested. They also can better remember what they learned if they get a good night’s sleep after learning the task than if they are sleep deprived. Exactly what happens during sleep to improve our learning, memory, and insight isn’t known. Experts suspect, however, that while people sleep, they form or strengthen the pathways of brain cells needed to perform these tasks. This process may explain why sleep is needed for proper brain development in infants.
Not only is a good night’s sleep required to form new learning and memory pathways in the brain, but sleep is also necessary for those pathways to work well. Several studies show that lack of sleep causes thinking processes to slow down. Lack of sleep also makes it harder to focus and pay attention. Lack of sleep can make you more easily confused. Studies also find that a lack of sleep leads to faulty decision making and more risk taking. A lack of sleep slows down your reaction time, which is particularly important to driving and other tasks that require quick responses. The bottom line is: Not getting a good night’s sleep can be dangerous!
Even if you don’t have a mentally or physically challenging day ahead of you, you should still get enough sleep to put yourself in a good mood. Most people report being irritable, or downright unhappy, when they lack sleep. People who chronically suffer from a lack of sleep, either because they do not spend enough time in bed or because they have an untreated sleep disorder, are at greater risk of developing depression. Some experts think depression after childbirth (postpartum blues) is caused, in part, by a lack of sleep.
Tips for Improved Sleep
Your diet can play a role in the quality of your sleep. For example, the quality of sleep may be affected if your body is working hard to digest food rather than preparing for cellular repair and the next day’s energy needs. Therefore, be sure to eat at least 3 hours prior to your sleep time. Here are a few additional dietary tips:
- Limit your intake of caffeine, including coffee, soda, tea, hot cocoa and chocolate. Caffeine can sometimes peak up to 18 hours after ingestion.
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol intake, especially prior to sleep. Alcohol impairs serotonin production and disrupts normal levels of this important neurotransmitter, making sleep more difficult.
- Avoid drinking too much water or tea close to bedtime to prevent night-time urination.
Make your bedroom a sanctuary for sleep. Avoid eating, watching television, or working in your bedroom. Be sure your room is dark, clean, quiet and comfortable. It is important to have a comfortable mattress and pillow for good structural alignment during sleep. Note: Sanoviv recommends a natural memory foam mattress. In terms of biomechanics, memory foam is best but the most common memory foam is highly toxic and made with petroleum-based chemicals. Since you sleep and breathe the fumes for 7-9 hours in a row, it is important to make a safer decision about the toxicity of your mattress. One company that makes the world’s only natural memory foam mattress is called Essentia. You can find their products on http://www.myessentia.com .
While creating a healthy bedroom for sleep, be sure to follow these tips:
- Move your clock out of sight during the night. Waking up and looking at the clock can produce anxiety and prevent sleep.
- Clear your nightstand of any electronic gadgets such as cell phones, cordless phones, chargers and alarm clocks. Blue light displays and other electronics can interfere with sleep.
- Regular daily, moderate physical activity is known to improve sleep.
- Avoid excessive exercise or stimulating activities too close to bedtime. Even a stimulating television show or movie or a stressful phone call can affect sleep quality. Be sure to allow your body and mind plenty of time to “wind down” prior to sleep.
- Maintain a bedtime routine and do the same relaxing activities each night. Go to bed and rise in the morning the same time every day, including weekends.
- Get checked for sleep apnea disorders which can interfere with quality sleep.
- Gentle stretching before bed may help improve sleep.
- Consider chiropractic care to help balance the nervous system and assist with any structural alignment issues.
How Stress Affects Sleep
Insomnia has a strong link with and is often rooted in how we handle stress in our life. Sometimes insomnia lasts just a few days, other times it can persist for months or years, depending on how well we deal with stress and if the stressful situations in our life are within the bounds of what we can handle in a healthy way. This can create a state where we are unable to “shut off” our minds at night and think, worry or ponder about things, instead of relaxing into sleep and rest which our body might sorely need. Once you have eliminated other contributing factors to insomnia, like certain foods, activities and medications, you can focus on creating sleep rituals that can support deeper, more restful sleep. Practice deep breathing, meditation or centered prayer. Listen to a relaxing audio tape with sounds of nature or soothing music or a guided meditation. If this does not work, get up and go do something else until you feel sleepy and try again.
When sleep loss due to insomnia is a chronic, pervasive condition, it is highly recommended that you see a mental health professional or sleep disorder specialist to seek more comprehensive solutions.