There is a dangerous, hidden problem in this world that affects every one of us. It’s not crime, pollution or political scandal. It can be found in any home or family. It crosses all barriers of social status, ethnic background, economic resource, cultural preference, education and life-style. It effects young and old alike, opening the door to personal and social disaster. The problem is lack of quality sleep: more than a third of us don’t get enough of it.
When we don’t sleep well, bad things happen. The consequences of not getting enough sleep range from the annoying to the profound, from simple tiredness and irritability to grim accidents resulting in disfiguring injuries, disability and death. In the workplace poor sleep causes escalating health costs, job losses, bitter arguments among co-workers, poor workmanship, low productivity and bad management decisions. From a corporate standpoint it’s a disaster; from a personal standpoint it’s even worse.
Sleep debt is sneaky and insidious. We may think we’re fine, but as soon as the stimulation levels in our environment drop, we nod off very quickly. A boring speaker, a boring business meeting, a mediocre movie, a TV show (most of them, perhaps), a dull, uninteresting highway unrolling before you—all of these things and more can trigger a burst of sleep. There is almost nothing you can do about it if the debt is large enough.
Below mentioned are some of the factors that affect the quality of your sleep
Do you have sleeping environment problems?
If you answer “yes” to this statement, then this is where you begin if you want to improve the quality of your sleep. Several things like noise, bad mattresses, interruptions (like kids and pets) during the night, too much light and more affect the quality of your sleep. The bald truth is this: if you don’t fix these things, one way or another, you will not get the sleep you need. Solutions range from the simple to the complex, from earplugs to moving away. It’s up to you to do it. Make a list of the things that don’t work in your sleeping environment and then change them.
You can do it, and you have only yourself to blame if you don’t take the trouble required to make your sleeping environment as pleasant as possible. The benefits of improved sleep are great—better sleep, better health and a better disposition as well.
Effects of alcohol, nicotine and caffeine on the quality of your sleep
What all of these substances have in common, of course, is the quality of disturbing or destroying sleep. You can’t expect to have a drink, a cup of coffee or a cigarette before going to bed and then get a restful night’s sleep.
Probably the hardest of these sleep-destroying habits to shift is nicotine addiction, unless you are an alcoholic. Alcohol can be a nightmare, in every sense of the word.
Alcoholics Anonymous works—so does private treatment. You are not alone, and you can find the courage to do it. If you’re still a smoker, there are many different programs to help you quit. Use them. No one can make you do it, but you will not believe the difference once you succeed in getting rid of the habit.
Effects of eating habits and food preferences on the quality of your sleep
You may have wondered exactly what I was getting at with this statement, since there is obviously such a diversity of thought and preference about food. Every culture is different, every individual is different, and everyone’s tastes are different. You can choose to eat whatever you like before bed if you want to—as long as you understand the consequences of that late-night pizza.
Overloading on food of any kind before bed is a sure recipe for sleeplessness and sleep disturbance. Some foods, like dairy products or potatoes, can actually help you sleep. But eating big helpings won’t work. Late snacks have to be avoided unless you are getting so hungry that it interferes with sleep. In that case, use common sense and avoid the spicy, acid, sugar-laden or syrupy concoctions that may find their way to your bedside table.
Eating to sleep better is easy—it just requires a little common sense. If you have dinner at 5:00 in the evening and don’t go to bed until 11:00, you might get hungry before it’s time to lie down. Have a snack around 9:00 or 9:30, but don’t load up on the chips or whatever after that. Sleeping is not the right time for digesting. Remember that and don’t create a sleep problem by asking your body to digest much while it’s lying down.
Importance of making enough time in your day to get a full eight hours of sleep
The problem, of course, is that we tend to get caught up in all of the many activities of work and play that fill up our lives. Our culture promotes this—countless variations of the “work hard, play hard” philosophy fill our work environments and our leisure time as well. Once we get hooked into this kind of lifestyle, time disappears. Work is especially to blame, since today’s business environment seems to demand more and more of our time just to keep even and to keep our job. We can’t be blamed for wanting to spend some time having fun after the grind of daily work. Something has to give, and what usually goes by the board is sleep.
You can train yourself, within limits, to get by on less sleep, but that’s just it—you are getting by, not getting sleep. Your sleep debt will accumulate and sneak up on you when you least expect it. Take a look at your patterns of sleep and wakefulness. If you are consistently getting less than eight hours, you are most likely sleep-deprived. Try to alter the pattern. If you are going to hang out on Friday and Saturday nights, don’t plan a big event early on Sunday morning. Sleep in, try to catch up. Go to bed earlier on Sunday night. Try to keep on an even keel during the week and avoid the temptations that keep you up late, whatever they may be.
Medical condition that makes it difficult to sleep
This is a tough one. There is no simple fix to handle sleep problems caused by things like severe chronic pain, serious illnesses like cancer, or some other medical problem that wrecks sleep. I have a couple of suggestions.
General, overall comfort is critical, no matter what the problem. That means clean, smooth sheets, the right kinds of foods and nutrition and a peaceful environment. It means massage if needed and lotions to soothe tired and dry skin. It means making an effort to take charge of your environment in a way that supports more comfort and better sleep.
Chronic pain has to be addressed, one way or another. Biofeedback techniques can be very effective and are completely natural, requiring no drugs. You remember that our brain waves change when we start the process of going to sleep. The busy and fast Beta waves change to Alpha waves, slower and of longer duration. With biofeedback the patient learns to adjust his or her internal rhythms. Typically, blood pressure is lowered, stress levels drop dramatically and a pattern of Alpha waves appears, resulting in a calm state of mind and a reduction in perceived pain.
I think there is an excellent option for supporting people who have chronic pain or serious illness, but it is not always understood or supported by all caregivers. That option is hypnotherapy. A competent and well-trained hypnotherapist can help you learn to control and moderate pain. A good hypnotherapist can also possibly alleviate pain on the spot.
Complimentary Therapies to Support Sleep
Massage and Body Oriented Therapies
Body therapies are effective at reducing stress, relieving pain and even helping with early diagnosis and discovery of potentially disruptive or dangerous physical conditions. A skilled and experienced body person, regardless of the discipline he or she may follow, knows through intuition and training when something is out of kilter.
The most common form of body work is massage, which includes several different methods and approaches. The benefits of massage are many. Good, professional massage “gets the kinks out” and leaves the recipient feeling rested and very relaxed. It is a great stress reducer.
Some body therapies are designed to bring about a deep and permanent shift in the physical body. This can be a good choice if your sleeplessness is being caused by chronic pain resulting from old injuries (sports, accidents), the aftermath of surgery (foot, back, etc.) or just the effects of years of accumulated stress in the body. While massage brings temporary relief, deep therapies are aimed at changing things permanently.
More and more chiropractors include a broad range of alternative approaches in their practice to compliment the traditional techniques of spinal manipulation that form the core of all chiropractic training. Many employ acupuncture to help their patients, either in the traditional sense by placing needles or by using modern electronic devices that stimulate the meridians with an electrical current. They are often knowledgeable about diet and nutrition needs and may be trained in either Eastern or Western herbal medical practices. The best way to find a good chiropractor is to ask around until you get a great recommendation from someone. As with all others you consider for your health care, ask a lot of questions and make sure you feel comfortable with the person you are considering.
Nutrition, Exercise, Vitamins and Minerals
Eating to improve health and stay healthy seems to be a subject of great controversy. You can find a diet and a recommendation for just about any life style or philosophy you wish. Use common sense. Eat some vegetables, don’t eat tons of fats and carbohydrates, but don’t eliminate them either. Don’t believe everything you hear. If you have high cholesterol levels, then eat according to the recommendations of your doctor in a way that will reduce your cholesterol levels.
Guidelines are not always correct. For example, if you seem to have an allergy to certain grains, why would you follow government recommendations about the proportions of grains in your diet? Use common sense! Try to vary your diet, take it easy on the heavy meats, add in good levels of protein foods like fish and poultry (unless you are vegetarian—that’s another story), and don’t over eat. Eat salads, eat fruit if you like (not all fruits are good for all people), drink lots of water (bottled and filtered water is better), don’t chow down before bed or stuff yourself at lunch and you’ll be fine.
If you need to lose weight, don’t get crazy about it. Be gentle on yourself but develop some kind of disciplined approach that will help you lose what you need. Easier said than done, but a little goes a long way when it comes to sleep problems like apnea where weight may be a contributing factor. As little as five pounds can make a difference.
Exercise in moderation. Even a walk around the block will help. You don’t have to have abs, buns or anything else of steel unless you really want them. There are plenty of programs and techniques for achieving physical fitness, and a lot of different definitions of what that means. Choose the one that works for you, but choose one.
Vitamins and minerals are an essential component of both physical health and trouble-free sleep. For sleep B6, Calcium, Magnesium and Niacin are all recommended, but I personally don’t think it’s a good idea to take your vitamins right before bed—take them in the morning. Probably if you are taking a good multivitamin/mineral supplement you are getting most of what you need. Calcium and Magnesium can be taken about an hour before bedtime. These minerals reduce blood pressure slightly and help to relax the body.
Sleep Well, Sleep Deep
I’d like to end this article with a vision for you to consider, a dream that can become real. In this dream you don’t experience any problem sleeping. In fact, in this dream you sleep so well and so deeply that it almost amazes you when people tell you how tired they are or how they have been spending so many sleepless nights. You can sympathize with their plight, but for you it’s different. When you get ready for bed, it’s in anticipation of a peaceful, relaxing night. You fall asleep almost as soon as your head touches the pillow. You sleep through the night. Perhaps you wake briefly once or twice but it’s not a problem: you quickly and easily fall back asleep. When you awaken in the morning you feel refreshed and alert, ready to begin your day and meet the wonderful possibilities that life offers.
Sound like a dream? It can become your reality, if you set your desire and intention to make it so. Your natural state of being includes sound and peaceful sleep. In our modern society things are far from being in a natural state. We have to adapt and learn to make our own island of calm sanity in the midst of the chaos around us. Deep sleep is the key to many other things. Better health, happiness and well being, better relationships, improved abilities in every way and a cheerful disposition are all founded on deep sleep. Sleep alone will not make us happy, but without sleep happiness will almost surely elude our outstretched hand.