In my last newsletter, I described the ways that sleep deprivation affects the body’s essential functions. In short, sleep is a key component to health. Getting under 8 hours of sleep can lead to illness, obesity, and poor overall daytime performance.
Feeling trapped in a cycle of daily fatigue and nighttime wakefulness? Applying the 3Rs will give you some solutions from the integrative, holistic perspective to bring relief, energy, and vitality back into your life.
RECOGNIZE what’s going on. You need to get a handle on why sleep has been elusive before you can make repairs. Here are the most common causes of sleeplessness:
Poor eating habits. If you indulge in heavy meals, devour sugary foods, or eat too close to bedtime, your ability to get a good night’s sleep can be compromised. Instead, have a light dinner. If you’re still hungry later, snack on small portions of foods rich in protein (such as yogurt), tryptophan (turkey), and light carbohydrates (fruit).
Lifestyle choices and behaviors. Begin to wind down earlier in the evening to give your body sleep cues. For instance, you may relax easily when you take a warm bath, keep lights dim (and then completely dark for sleep), or read a boring book. Keep comfortable during this time also. Simple measures such as wearing socks if you have cold feet can make a big difference! And make a habit of keeping the wind-down period calm. Reserve physical exercise and stimulating media such as TVs and computers for other times of the day.
Stress. Find a healthy way to let go of the things that cause you stress. I have one patient who keeps a notebook by his bed and “downloads” all of the day’s stresses by putting them in writing. Another patient keeps a gratitude journal nearby, ending each day by jotting down its pluses. Either method will provide you an emotional outlet and calm your mind.
REFRAME your thoughts and actions.
Are you talking yourself into sleeplessness? It’s possible that self-talk could be making matters worse. I’ve seen patients who wake during the night, then fret about how little time is left to sleep. The cycle of worry and mind chatter sabotages their efforts to get back to sleep.
Allowing yourself to think “I’ll never go to sleep” will only make matters worse, so reframe your thoughts to, “Even though I’m up now, I’ll be able to take steps to fall asleep successfully.” And then do it.
If you awaken during the night and find it difficult to get back to sleep, don’t toss and turn. That only stimulates anxiety. Instead, break the cycle. Get up and go to a different dimly-lit room to journal, read, practice deep breathing, or listen to a guided meditation CD.
Once you’ve turned off the critic in your mind, you’re ready to try additional sleep solutions:
Relaxation therapies such as meditation and biofeedback can put your mind and body in the sleep mode.
Treating physical pain is critical to restoring sleep. Whether you use holistic modalities, such as acupuncture and massage, or your doctor’s suggestions, address pain directly.
Dietary supplements and herbs can help. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer. Melatonin helps to regulate wake/sleep cycles. Ashwagandha helps deal with stress. Valerian, passionflower, and chamomile teas are time-tested traditional aids to relaxation.
Acupressure-to-go is a simple self-treatment solution. Place two fingers on the back of your neck, directly below where it meets your skull, and massage this area. This is a wonderful way to prepare for sleep.
RECLAIM the health you deserve.
Breaking a cycle of sleeplessness or a habit of too-little rest is like any other lifestyle change: It won’t be easy. But by no means is it impossible. You have so much to gain and nothing to lose, so take that first step now. Feeling vibrant, energized, and refreshed—remember what that’s like?—is the wonderful reward you’ll reap. And it’s within your reach.