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Sleep...Nourishment for the Psyche

Sleep...Nourishment for the Psyche

Sleep...Nourishment for the Psyche

By K.C. Craichy

We tend to think of insomnia as simply the inability to get to sleep. But actually, waking often throughout the night, early (premature) rising, or sleep that isn’t refreshing also qualify as insomnia. Stress can be one of the primary factors involved in insomnia, but other conditions, such as depression, joint and muscle pain, asthma, etc., can cause sleep problems.

Insomnia affects one in ten Americans (approximately 40 million) and about 30% of healthy seniors.

Don’t admire people who brag of how little sleep they need to function. They are deceiving themselves. Sleep deprivation has been linked to weakened immune systems, depression, cognitive impairment, fatigue, and mood swings.

What happens when we sleep?

Contrary to popular belief, although our minds are in a state of rest when we sleep, they are still very active. Our brain organizes and stores memories, and repairs damaged tissues and nerve cells when we sleep. Our muscles relax, and our body temperature drops, along with our blood pressure and rate of breathing. Most important is REM sleep, the stage of sleep in which people dream. About 20% of the time we sleep, we are in REM sleep. It is during REM that the brain regions used in learning are stimulated. This sleep is also associated with increased production of proteins.

Many people, desperate for a good night’s sleep, turn to synthetic drugs (sleeping pills), antihistamines, or alcohol to get them to sleep. But these drugs are addictive and can also disrupt REM sleep. They might have successfully gotten you to sleep, but they will also leave you feeling fatigued and “dopey” during the day.

When health professionals discuss insomnia, they often talk about “sleep hygiene,” or healthy sleep habits. Here are a few natural, non-invasive ways to get some shut-eye.

Healthy, Organic Tips for Getting to Sleep and Staying Asleep

· Do not consume caffeine, alcohol, or a heavy meal before bed. Nicotine can also cause insomnia, and should be avoided.

· Exercise appropriately. In general, regular exercise can help to regulate your sleep. However, you should not exercise directly before retiring for bed (some experts say even 3 hours is too close). Some milder forms of exercise, such as yoga or progressive tensing and relaxation of muscles, can actually relax the body and mind before bed. Yoga, in particular, because it involves meditation, breathing techniques, and balance, can be a soothing way to unwind.

· Meditate or perform deep breathing exercises. [See Golden Key #7—Meditation and Prayer]

· Avoid over-stimulating activities, such as television or work, before bedtime.

· Try an organic sleep aid, such as Valerian, Chamomile, Catnip, or California poppy herbal tea.

· Take a warm bath, and add rose, lavender or passion flower to your bath water. You can also massage these essential oils into your neck and shoulders.

· Decompress. Make sure to take some wind-down time before retiring. Some people like to take a leisurely walk before bed or read for a while. It slows the body down and puts us in a more reflective mood.

· Calcium and magnesium, taken before bed in a 2:1 ratio can induce sleep.

· Consider taking a Melatonin supplement. Melatonin, which is a hormone produced by the brain’s pineal gland, helps to regulate REM sleep. It is also a powerful antioxidant that can be taken as a supplement or in foods such as oats, sweet corn, rice, Japanese radish, ginger, tomatoes, bananas, and barley. Tryptophan, which is a melatonin precursor, is found in foods such as spirulina seaweed, pumpkin seeds, turkey, almonds, chicken, and yogurt. Start taking this supplement at a low dosage, say 1 mg or less. Large doses of melatonin can have unpleasant side effects, such as daytime fatigue.

· Design a comfortable sleep environment that works for you. Uncomfortable sleep environments can also cause insomnia. Create a blissful sleep sanctuary—the right thermostat, a comfortable mattress, soft sheets, too much or too little light, too much or too little sound, stuffy air quality, etc. all have an impact on our bedtime comfort level. Find what feels right for you.

· Maintain good nutrition. Internal toxins from the foods we eat can affect our sleep hygiene. A healthy diet (see Four Corners of Optimal Nutrition—Golden Key #1) can help our bodies better detoxify and to operate more efficiently throughout the day.

· Keep your feet warm. Invest in a cozy pair of socks or massage the soles of your feet with mustard oil at bedtime.

Did You Know?

More than 181,000 children and young adults in the United States between ages 10 and 19 were given sleeping pills in 2004, out of the more than 41-million people in that age range, according to a study by Medco Health Solutions, a managed care company.

[Citations]

1 Greene, Lisa. “Sleeping Pill Use by the Young Soars,” St. Petersburg Times Online/World and Nation, October 19, 2005.

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