The Power of Sleep
Dr. Kathy Gruver
Early to bed and early to rise keeps a man healthy, wealthy and wise. Clearly Mr. Franklin didn’t have cats, children, deadlines, a spouse that snored, a neighbor with a loud dog and lots on his mind. Sleep is very important to maintain good health. It’s during sleep that our bodies regenerate and heal, our minds rest andC wander and our subconscious gets to play during dreams. Many ponder how much sleep we really need. There is no right answer to that question. As we grow and age we need different amounts of sleep and it’s a myth that everyone needs eight hours. Some people function fine on six or seven, I find that I need nine or ten. We are all biologically individual and the most important thing is the quality of our sleep and that we sleep when we are tired. More and more people are showing with sleep disorders these days and there are solutions other than prescription drugs. Here are some tips if you have problems; sleeplessness is not just an Ambien deficiency.
Daytime activities matter. Limit your caffeine intake and don’t use stimulants to force yourself to stay awake, especially at night. We have a very delicate system of biorhythms and when you start to force yourself to stay awake later than you should, it messes with the cycle and you’ll start to see problems. Things like RedBull and RockStar are only going to act as a temporary fix. You’ll eventually crash from drinks like this and they can also be highly addictive. If you need a boost during the day try a walk, deep breathing, drinking water or having a healthy snack like nuts. Often when we hit that afternoon slump, we are dehydrated and just need more water…or air. Both those things transport oxygen in our system, which is needed for energy. Don’t reach for the sugary snack, as that too can cause a crash. And don’t have long naps, as that can cause evening wakefulness.
Ok, so we cut out caffeine and still can’t sleep. What now? Well, let’s look at nutrition. Adding things like B vitamins, magnesium, tryptophan and melatonin may help. Make sure you don’t take the B vitamins too late in the day as they can cause disrupted sleep. Tryptophan is an amino acid which is essential for us (meaning we can’t make it ourselves) and is one of the hardest to get, especially for vegetarians. Tryptophan, after a very unfair recall, is finally back on the market and is the precursor to 5-HTP which then converts to Serotonin, the feel good hormone in the brain that helps with mood and sleep. Melatonin is another naturally occurring substance that can be taken as a supplement to help with sleep. Make sure you don’t try tryptophan or melatonin if you are taking SSRI drugs like Prozac and follow any dosing instructions on the label.
So, we’ve cut back on the caffeine, taken some tryptophan and we STILL can’t sleep. Let’s talk about the sleep environment. Make sure the room is dark and quiet; use a white noise machine or earplugs if the space around you tends to be noisy. Try not to do anything exciting before bed, like strenuous exercise or a loud scary movie. (Sex is ok.) Do things to relax and unwind from your day like reading a non-work related book, watching something fun on TV (not the news, it tends to frustrate us), pet your dog or cat, take a bubble bath or soak in the hot tub. It’s time to leave the day behind us and rest. I know that can be difficult for those Type A execs and workaholics, but you have to distract yourself from the day how ever you can. And avoid excess alcohol at night. It is a sedative, but may disrupt sleep and cause dehydration. As far as pillow and bed types? It’s such an individual choice, you just have to experiment and see what works for you.
Our minds seem to be our biggest obstacle to going to sleep. Often when we lay in bed, with the dark and quiet and it gives our mind free reign to run rampant. We dwell on our day, worry about tomorrow, fatalize, wonder if what we did was wrong, question our choices for the future or simply lie there and do work in our heads. We ponder our to-do list or try to solve that one last problem. We have to find a way to shut off that thinker and relax. However, this is the toughest barrier to sleep because the mind can be like an unruly child. And there are times we really DO have work to do. What’s the solution? As I see, there are two options, shut up and sleep, or get up and work. I don’t think it’s bad to get out of bed and deal with things. To lie for hours thinking about something is pointless; get up and finish the paper, write stuff down, make a list for tomorrow, check to see if you actually made the deposit in the bank. These things are just going to drive you nuts if you don’t do them…so go do them and then return to bed. Or just get up and distract yourself, read your book until you’re tired, watch TV, do a Sudoku anything to take your mind off the work.
Or try to change your mind. We can only think one thing at a time. So, if you are thinking about something negative or work related, change the thought to something else. This is what counting sheep was all about; it distracted the mind from repetitive thoughts. I like to use affirmations for this. If I find something is bothering me I’ll change the thought to “I fall asleep quickly and easily” or “I awake feeling refreshed”. These not only distract you from the problem thoughts, but also program the body. Remember the mind-body connection and that we are the boss of them both.
Lastly, I’d like to suggest some herbs and homeopathics. I recommend trying these before turning to the doctor for a prescription. Herbal teas and individual herbs like hops, lavender, chamomile and valerian root are great for sleep. There are also some wonderful homeopathic formulas like MoonDrops that allow you to drift off and not wake up feeling groggy. You might have to experiment and see what works best for you, but I encourage you to. And pleasant dreams!
About the Author
An expert in natural health and wellness, Kathy Gruver has two decades and over 10,000 hours of hands on experience. She has earned her Doctorate as a Traditional Naturopath, her Masters in Natural Health and is pursuing her PhD. She graduated Cum Laude with a BFA in theatre from Point Park University in Pittsburgh and was a working actor in Los Angeles for many years. She served on the faculty of SBBCollege where she taught massage, nutrition and pathology. She has lectured for both the public and universities. Kathy is currently writing two health books and has a Body/Mind/Spirit Workbook available. She also produced, directed and hosted an instructional massage DVD, Therapeutic Massage at Home; Learn to Rub People the RIGHT Way.
Gruver has been featured as an expert in publications such as Massage Magazine, SouthWest Blend, Discover, First for Women, SB Fitness, The Holistic Option, Bottled Water Web, DermaScope Magazine, and Pacific Coast Business Times. She has written over three dozen health and wellness articles as well as business topics. She has appeared as a guest on over 25 radio shows covering topics such as back pain, mind/body medicine, healthy pregnancy, homeopathics, nutrition, herbs, patient advocacy and massage for wellness.
Kathy serves on the advisory committee for The Holistic Option, a website resource for all your natural health and wellness needs. She was their featured expert on a podcast on the Emotional Components of Back Pain. And her business Healing Circle Massage was featured as a Best Practice by Massage Magazine two years in a row.
Kathy has worked with thousands of clients as young as 6 and as old as 103. She has helped people heal, not only on physical level, but emotionally and spiritually as well. Assisting with births, end of life transitions, divorces, losses and celebrations has rounded out her experience and made her a diverse professional that can teach about any healing situation.