Sleep Is An Essential Part Of Optimal Health

Research has shown that sleep is important for a number of different reasons, from improved performance and alertness to improved immune system function, and increased creativity. We all desire these benefits so what's stopping us?

The most commonly reported sleep disorders are having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep and the inability to get quality sleep throughout the night. These problems often occur because of something called - cognitive popcorn. Cognitive popcorn happens when you put your head down, trying to go to sleep or trying to get back to sleep in the middle of the night, and suddenly your mind starts to produce unwanted thoughts and uncontrollable thoughts. It's as if the mind has a mind of its own. Or perhaps you have body pain, discomfort, indigestion, side effects from prescription drugs, or residual caffeine from drinking coffee too late in the day. And check your environment for noises in your room or house, a snoring partner, music, lights, or a bedroom that's too warm. If you're still awake...

Just Take A Pill

You might have one of these drugs meant to help you sleep in your cabinet right now – Rozerem, Lunesta, Xanax, Valium, Restoril or any of the benzodiazepines. And they're being used by millions of people. A lot of sleep aids impair motor skills and brain function the same way heavy drinking does, increasing your chances of falling or having an accident. They can even give you a "hangover" the next day or at least some serious grogginess. Doctors see lots of frustrated, frazzled, and addicted insomniacs who have tried every pill available. They still can't sleep. On average, sleeping pills increase total sleep time about 15 to 20 minutes. It has been suggested that most sleeping pills simply create amnesia for awakenings and poor, fragmented sleep. In other words sleeping pills disrupt memory formation making you think you had a good night's sleep but in reality you had a poor sleep.

There Is Hope

Here are some things to try to improve your sleep habits. This can be a little challenging at first, but like any routine you'll be surprised how quickly and easily you can adapt.

  1. Read before bed: Most people think it's your body that needs sleep. But it's your brain. Reading is relaxing for your body, but requires a fair amount of cognition. Because you're working your brain, you're more likely to grow tired enough to sleep soundly through the night.
  2. Sleep in quiet and darkness: If you sleep with the TV or the light on, you are interfering with your brain's natural sleep cycle and production of sleep hormones like melatonin. Turn it all off and sleep in total darkness. Even blocking the light from under a door or covering the blue glow from an electronic device could keep you from waking up.
  3. Try some Jamaican dogwood extract: The leaves and bark of the Jamaican dogwood tree have long been used in the tropics to relieve pain like headaches and toothaches, but also as a treatment for insomnia and anxiety – talk to your Naturopath.
  4. Increase your thiamine intake: You might know it better as vitamin B1. It's well known for supporting healthy circulation in the brain. But studies show thiamine improves sleep patterns when you have enough. The best food sources are organ meats, yeast, peas, pork, beans, and sunflower seeds.
  5. Learn to meditate yourself to sleep. When electrical brain activity is monitored from waking into deep stages of sleep, the changes parallel those seen when people go into deeply restful states such as meditation. Accomplished meditators have been shown to be able to access brainwave activity that looks very much like deep sleep.
  6. Stay healthy. A strong immune system together with good sleeping habits provides great protection from the cold and flu season lurking just around the corner.

Something to ponder: Perhaps it's time to think of sleep not as the absence of waking but another kind of experience in its own right. We could view sleep as a positive process, as opposed to a temporary shutting-down from waking life. And this could help relax our 'I can't sleep' anxiety.