Monday, July 19, 2010

I Really Need to Sleep but I Can’t Fall Asleep

My sister Rose knows that those who have a hard time falling asleep are often stressed, anxious, in physical pain, sick or experiencing trauma, emotional hardship or changes in one’s lifestyle (like a new home or living in a dorm room). Cures for these causes might mean changing old habits so your mind and body can readjust to its original sleep/wake cycle. Trying to find a solution or breaking bad habits to correct your sleep problem may take time and experimenting with a few methods before you find one that works for you. Other than taking sleep medication, which can be addictive, look at these guidelines that are a natural approach to a sleep easy.

Make a point to go outside at least 15 minutes every day. Not only does the sun provide vitamin D for your bones it also stimulates your retinas and helps restore your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle (circadian rhythm).

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When it comes to your bedroom there are a few no-no’s you should adhere to:

1. NO light, light will only mess up your sleep/wake cycle. Get black out curtains, blinds or an eye mask, if there is too much light in your room.

2. NO external noise such as TV, video games or noisy neighbors. If you can’t control the noise level then either listen to soothing sleep inducing music, white noise or a self-hypnotic sleep CD. A fan or ear plugs will work also.

3. NO eating in bed. Your bed is to be used for intimacy or sleep only and that means leaving the laptop on the desk. Leave your work at the bedroom door. Remember your laptop emits light therefore stimulating your brain and altering you sleep/wake cycle.

4. NO high temperatures. Turn down the temperature in your room to around 65 degrees. If you over heat you will wake up during the night also if you are experiencing night sweats the lower the better.

5. NO old lumpy mattress. If your mattress is 20 years old or older it is time for a new one, but if you can’t afford a new mattress try a memory foam mattress topper. My sister Rose got one for Christmas and she not only sleeps better it helps with her back problems too. And make your bed every day. It’s always nice to get into a made bed, isn’t it? Make sure your jammies are not too restrictive. What is worst then trying to turn over and having to adjust your pj’s!

Try to avoid taking a nap, but if you must take one, take one early in the afternoon (before 4pm) and not for more than 20 minutes. This is known as a power nap which revamps your mind but shouldn’t keep you up at night.

Establish a sleep routine by going to bed at the same time every night and waking the same time every day…even on the weekends. But your routine should be more than sticking to a sleep schedule it should also start at least one (1) hour before you retire. What does this mean? Getting ready for bed is just as important as going to bed, this prepares your mind and body to wind down and get drowsy. This is the time when you relax, take a warm bath, get your comfy jammies on, read a book (the duller the better) and/or have a cup of decaffeinated Sleepytime tea.

Don’t drink too much as drinking too many liquids before bedtime will only cause you to wake up during the night to go to the bathroom. Drinking too much is not the only DON’T……..

DON’T exercise before bedtime and by exercise I mean a work out where you increase your heart rate and body temperature as this will take you longer to wind down. If you do exercise try to do it 3 hours prior to falling asleep. If you find that you have spent up energy and you need to release it before you can relax enough to fall asleep try some light yoga stretches that will help you wind down. See my article: Sleep Aide: Techniques - Add Yoga Stretches to Your Nightly Routine

DON’T eat hot or spicy foods within three (3) hours of retiring as these foods can cause acid reflux, heartburn and/or indigestion that not only will keep you awake but will wake you up throughout the night. If you like to have a snack and want to make it a part of your nightly routine have foods that are high in tryptophan such as nuts, cereal, a slice of turkey or even a warm glass of milk. I have written an article that describes the dangers of acid reflux if you think you are experiencing an increase to acid exposure please see your physician as acid reflux causes a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus which is a precursor to developing esophageal cancer.

DON’T take any stimulants two to three hours prior to bedtime. Stimulants such a caffeine and nicotine can keep you awake even if you are very tired. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, sodas, energy bars, some supplements and even aspirin.

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DON’T lie in bed and toss and turn for more than 20 minutes. You can try (1) to calm yourself and your thoughts with a self-hypnotic sleep inducing tape or CD. Not only will it help you keep your mind off your stress or bad thoughts you will also learn how to fall asleep really fast, OR (2) get your butt out of bed and do something for 20-30 minutes before you try to fall asleep again such as picking up and reading more of that boring book or writing in your journal. You know keeping a sleep journal is a great idea not only is it calming and relaxing you can express your stress, bad thoughts or even nightmares down on paper as well as your sleeping habits. Keep a record of what sleep solutions you have tried and the result of each and if you decide to talk to your doctor about your sleep problem it will help him with his diagnosis.

My hope for you as well as Rose is to help find a natural cure for the cause of your restlessness before it becomes a medical issue. Sleep deprivation can be harmful to your heart and cause other health concerns such as diabetes, obesity and depression. You should also avoid heavy machinery if you haven’t had enough sleep due to lack of concentration and poor reflexes.

If you want to scream “I really need sleep but I can’t fall asleep” after trying the tips above, it is time to talk to your doctor as he may recommend a sleep specialist that may want to perform a sleep study. A sleep study should find the source of your sleeplessness as well as test you for sleep apnea. If your doctor supplies you with sleep medication read up on the side effects and dependency. Some drugs are harder to get off of than others. Try to avoid benzodiazepines for long-term use as they have withdrawal symptoms worse than heroine. Benzodiazepines are Ativan, Klonipin and Valium. Ask him if an herbal supplement might work just as well. There are many on the market and available at your local health food store, pharmacy or drug store. A supplement may take longer to work but you don’t have to worry about the risks. Your doctor will be able to determine what is best for you depending on the severity of your sleep problem.

The content provided is for information purposes only, intended to raise the awareness of different solutions for sleep problems and should not be considered medical advice. For medical diagnosis and treatment, please see your qualified health-care professional.
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