Why is sleep important?
You cannot survive without sleep it is as important as air, food and water! You need to be able to sleep well.
It enhances health as you body heals and rejuvenates as you rest. It also helps lower risks of serious illnesses such as heart problems and cancer. Some research suggests that it may help with weight control. Sleep also gives you energy, aids memory and learning, reduces stress and helps maintain a positive mood.
Why is sleep important to mood?
A normal sleep pattern comprises cycles of slow wave and rapid eye movement (REM). REM sleep is short periods when we dream and the purpose of REM is to wipe the slate clean from the previous day.
If you have been feeling low, depressed or anxious your sleep REM periods may be longer and that reduces the healing (slow wave) sleep. This can lead to being susceptible to colds and feeling run down and waking up exhausted.
It would seem that the more negative thoughts and feelings you have during the day, the more time the sleeping brain has to spend wiping clean the slate (REM) and the less time it can spend in renewing and rejuvenating (slow wave) our energy.
If we can lead calmer, more relaxed lives, perhaps this is the way to achieve to sleeping well.
As part of this series, I have written a post 9 ways to help you fall asleep using your mind and 8 behaviours you can change to get a good night’s sleep.
Today I am going to give you 9 more ideas, this time how you can help your body help you to sleep.
There is some evidence to suggest that herbal remedies can be effective for insomnia. The most commonly used ones to treat insomnia are valerian, passionflower, hops, lavender, lemon balm and Jamaican dogwood. As far as I am aware that their benefits have not been proven in medical trials.
If you are taking any other medication, check with your GP, pharmacist and herbalist before taking any herbal remedies.
Prescribed sleep medication
If you are considering the use of sleeping tablets, or are already taking them you might want to consider that not all sleeping medications are the same. They each work a bit differently and may have different side effects.
If you are thinking of using sleeping tablets it is important to ask your GP these questions:
How long do they last for?
How long does it take for the sleeping pill to work?
What’s the risk of becoming addicted physically or psychologically?
Prescribed sleep medications can provide temporary relief but it’s important to understand that they aren’t a cure for insomnia. It’s best to use them as a last resort and only on an as-needed basis.
There are plenty of over-the-counter remedies these are available in supermarkets, online and at a chemist. Make sure you check the ingredients as many of the tablets contain an antihistamine that causes drowsiness. So it may be that whichever you choose you will be getting the same thing.
As with herbal remedies always check with your doctor or a pharmacist as many over-the-counter sleeping remedies can have side effects and interact with other medication you are taking.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that your body produces at night. It’s what helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle and like other supplements, it is available over the counter.
It doesn’t work for everyone, particularly if you go to bed and get up much later than others. But it may be an effective insomnia treatment for you.
Whilst you may be using caffeine to keep you awake during the day it can be affecting how well you sleep. Make the change to decaffeinated coffee, tea and fizzy drinks.
If you give up completely you may find you have a headache for a couple of days but this will soon pass. If you find it difficult then do reduce your consumption to only having drinks that contain caffeine in the morning only.
Stay clear of caffeine tablets and read the packets of pain killers as some of them contain caffeine to enhance the effect of the pain relief.
You may think that having a drink will relax you. It’s not quite the case as although alcohol can make you sleepy it is actually a stimulant. It will disturb you sleep throughout the night. It’s also a diuretic so you may find you have to get up to use the loo.
Make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day. At night you’ll lose some body fluids simply by breathing. Not so much if you breathe through your nose but if you sleep with your mouth open, snore or have sleep apnea you will lose quite a lot through your breath.
A particularly overly dry or warm bedroom can also cause fluid loss during the night. Lack of fluids can also cause nighttime cramps. It’s a fine balance though as too much will have you up to use the toilet.
Regular cardio exercise is the best, but even light exercise such as stretching is beneficial. Some is better than none. You can exercise at any time of day, but not right before sleep time or at the expense of sleeping.
It’s better to only eat a light meal in the evening, make it something easy to digest. Also, reduce your intake of sugar and salt
Eat foods containing tryptophan eaten with carbohydrates. These include chicken breast, turkey, tuna, soya beans and salmon.
Include more thiamine (vitamin B1) and magnesium in your diet. Studies indicate that deficiencies in these correlate with sleep disorders. Thiamine deficiency causes magnesium deficiency. Good sources of both of these are whole grains, nuts and green leafy vegetables.
What are you prepared to change?
If you want things in your life to change – you have to change things in your life.
If you’ve tried all of the self-help techniques in my blogs without any success make an appointment to discuss this with your GP. When you see your GP they will need as much information as possible. Take notes of all the techniques you have tried and it will help to keep a sleep journal too.