“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.”
E. Joseph Cossman
Have you had a night when you were tired, exhausted, and spent -- but still couldn’t get to sleep?
Insomnia is the most common yet underrecognized disorder worldwide. More than 15 percent of people report difficulty falling or staying asleep. Even worse and staggeringly worrisome? That number rises to more than 30 percent among war veterans and the elderly.
And many people don’t realize that sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity, heart attacks, type 2 diabetes, reduced immunity, low testosterone levels in men, depression, and early onset dementia.
In other words, bad sleep causes a lot of problems. A good night’s sleep is the body’s best way to heal physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
Unfortunately, there are common misconceptions attached to insomnia. While often perceived as a sleep-deprived state, it’s actually a state of extreme wakefulness gearing us up for doing more and being productive. We turbocharge our senses by drinking coffee, energy drinks, and pills sold at eye-level shelves. We buy into a “go, go, go” modern attitude that keeps us wanting more and more.
This -- coupled with heightened levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline, and cortisol -- makes our body a supercharged machine on the fly that needs a long runway to land.
Methods that just don’t work
Some people try drinking a glass of wine or hard liquor to help calm them before going to bed. Others take an over-the-counter sleeping pill such as Diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Nytol, Eal-Dry, Unisom, etc.) or a prescribed one such as Zolpidem and Eszopiclone. These can often make the problem worse!
Sleeping pills are actually “non-waking” pills that lead to poor-quality sleep and early awakenings. Coffee, alcohol, and most sleeping pills also interfere with the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep when your body heals the most. Not to mention the risk of falls linked to the use of benzodiazepines.
A lack of good sleep causes fatigue the following day, leading to a quick-fix: more coffee, more energy drinks -- continuing the vicious cycle of awake/hyper awake state.
Be gentle. Respect your sleep
It’s time to be nicer to yourself. I tell my patients to have a gentle approach toward sleep -- a more forgiving and surrendering approach when you stop making it happen and, instead, let it happen.
Respect your sleep. Don’t treat it as a second cousin to your awake state, but make sure it’s an equally important part of your day that rejuvenates your body, restores your mind, and balances your emotions.
How do I do it?
Start with curtailing coffee to one cup a day and avoiding it after lunch. Avoid energy boosters and sleeping pills. This helps restore sleep to the way it is intended to be.
Everyone knows about sugar highs, right? Cutting back on high glycemic foods absolutely makes you less edgy. Adequate daytime activity also helps improve sleep. For people who do shift work, the use of melatonin at a recommended low dose may help initiate and maintain sleep. Valerian root is a non-addictive botanical that may help WITHOUT impairing cognitive or psychomotor performance.
Make sure to always check with your doctor or health care provider before starting a supplement.
And, of course, we’ve all heard about making your bedroom or sleep environment the best, most comfortable place it can be. Optimizing your space supports a healthy circadian rhythm – that’s the natural 24-hour cycle we all live in, otherwise known as your internal clock. Make sure you have a regular bedtime, a nightly practice of dimming your home and electronics (using night mode on phones and computer screens), and lowering your ambient temperature to 68-70 degrees. Doesn’t it sound lovely and restful just thinking about it right now?
Someone rightly said, “When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.” Breathing practices such as 4-7-8 breathing (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds) and relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, and guided imagery will calm your mind and lay a solid foundation for a restful sleep.
Lastly, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) – which helps change your habits, scheduling, and help you rethink misconceptions about sleep -- is highly effective. Discuss these options with your doctor! There is so much out there that can help you feel better, stronger, and livelier every single day and give your body and mind the rest it so richly deserves. Sleep well!
Dr. Aastha Parsa is a board-certified nephrologist with Associates in Nephrology, which is affiliated with Lee Health. She is also passionate about Integrative Medicine as well as overall health and wellness.
Find a sleep specialist today!
Want more information? Check out http://www.leehealth.org/sleep-medicine/index.asp.