Both the quantity and the quality of your sleep at night directly affects how well you handle your stress during your day.
Did you know, that you do up to 90% of your healing while you are sleeping? This should impress upon you how important good, quality sleep is for your body so that it can repair the damage that might have occurred during your day.
Why You Need 8 Hours of Sleep Every Night
Sleep research is also showing that the quantity of sleep you get is important too. A psychiatry study out of the University of California, San Diego surveyed more than one million adults and found that the people who live the longest self-report that they sleep for at least 6-7 hours each night. This may be because sleep science has shown that the majority of Growth Hormone is released in at the 6-7 hour mark in the natural sleep cycle. Growth Hormone is the hormone that triggers the processes of growth and repair in the body. Studies show that nearly 50% of the secretion of this important healing hormone occurs during the third and fourth REM sleep stages. This means that not only do you need to spend enough time in bed to get to those 3rd and 4th stages of REM sleep (which occur 6-7 hours into sleep), but you also need to be sleeping soundly enough, deeply enough, without interruptions for you to get into those REM cycles. If you are tossing and turning all night long, you are not getting any REM sleep.
But statistics show that 50-70 million Americans have chronic sleep disorders. Nearly 29% of Americans don’t get enough sleep, meaning they get less than 7 hours of sleep per night and many of these people sleep a lot less than 7 hours.
Sleep deprivation creates many health problems. Of course, it causes fatigue. But also causes irritability, memory loss, concentration problems, metabolism and appetite changes. It interferes with normal immune system function so you get sick more often and you stay sick longer.
In fact, because I believe sleep is so important for your health and healing, the only time when it may be appropriate to temporarily take a pill or a drug is when something is interfering with getting proper sleep. If you up all night because you are in pain or you are coughing and sneezing, taking something to help you sleep might help you recover faster. As long as the drug is only used temporarily and you are doing the other things you need to heal the root cause of what is ailing you.
But it is obvious that sleep aid drugs aren’t the solution. Pharmaceutical drugs such as Lunesta and Ambien are addictive and create many more problems down the road than they solve. If you are not able to sleep well, it means your life is out of balance somewhere – physically, chemically or emotionally. Long term, permanent change comes from finding your imbalance and working with that root cause. It is always better to solve the problem rather than drug the symptom.
10 Tips on Falling Asleep
10-15 minutes is the normal amount of time it should take you to fall asleep. If you are a person that falls asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, it is a sign that you are overtired and you need more sleep. Experiment with going to bed hour earlier the next night or sleep a little longer the next morning to see if this changes it. You want to find yourself taking that normal, healthy 10-15 minute time period that allows your body to wind down properly and prepare itself for your good night’s rest.
But, if you find yourself on the opposite end of the spectrum where you can’t fall asleep for hours and hours, here are some areas for you to look at that might help you:
If you are uncomfortable and you are finding yourself tossing and turning a lot, it could be the temperature in your bedroom. If you are too hot use less covers, or try a sheet only. If you are too cold, add blankets or put on some warmer clothes to sleep in.
2) Bed mattress
Mattresses lose their support over time and that could be causing you discomfort. A typical mattress should last around 5-7 years, longer if you get a high quality one like a memory foam, Tempurpedic-like beds. Finding a new mattress that is supportive and comfortable can be very challenging. It is time consuming, there are dozens of choices to consider, and it can be expensive. But considering you will spend a third of your life sleeping on it, it is well worth the time, the money and the effort you put into this purchase.
Remember Goldilocks and her mattress dilemma? Papa Bears’ bed was too hard. It placed too much pressure on her shoulder and hip joints and irritated her bursa. Mama Bears’ bed was too soft. It hurt her back because her spinal muscles had to work too hard all night long trying to make up for the lack of support in the mattress. But Baby Bears’ bed was it just right – not too hard, not too soft. It was very relaxing and supportive and allowed Goldilocks to get a good, quality night’s rest. Take your time, do your research and find your “just right”.
Neck positioning during the night is also crucial for your body to get proper rest. Your pillows might be making your neck uncomfortable. If you are a side sleeper, your shoulders create a lot more space between the mattress and your ear so you need a thicker pillow to keep your head aligned comfortably. If you sleep on your back, use a thinner pillow because that thick one will push your head up, your chin to your chest and pull on the muscles in the back of your neck.
Obviously if you cannot fall asleep because you are in pain, you must to do something to correct the source of the problem. It is not going to go away on its own. There is no reason for you to keep suffering needlessly with pain and discomfort when a health care practitioner or healer can help with it. There are many effective healing methods available to you. Find a method that can help your body heal itself as soon as possible and end your suffering.
If you are relying on caffeine throughout the day to compensate for the lack of sleep you are getting, start to cut it down. This may seem counter-intuitive, but after a few difficult afternoons, you will begin to fall asleep easier. You will get more sleep at night and you won’t have to drink as much caffeine to function during the day. Stop drinking caffeine after 2pm and go to bed earlier to break the caffeine habit.
6) Mind Racing
If you are replaying the day in your head or if you are preparing for the next day (or both), try journaling for 15-20 minutes before you go to bed. Put all those thoughts down on paper instead of keeping them up in your head. Let your journal hold on to those worries for you for the night. You can always pick them back up again in the morning if you really want to. But don’t feel like you have to…
Try it for a week. It might not work the very first night, but the more you get into the ritual of putting your thoughts down into your journal and then closing the book on them for the night, the easier you will find it to be able to fall asleep.
7) Set up a regular routine
This is a great practice to help you sleep better. Start 30 minutes before you want to fall asleep. Brush your teeth, wash your face or you may even want to take a shower or a bath. Change into comfortable sleeping clothes. Sip some warm chamomile tea while journaling or read something peaceful and inspirational. Right before you go to bed is NOT the time to read a thriller or a horror story that will just get you wound up again. And while that boring technical material from work might put you right to sleep, if it is something you need to pay attention to for your job, it could wake you up. Furthermore, if work is particularly stressful at this time, it might only serve to bring up those work worries or concerns that are interfering with your sleep. Find something peaceful and soothing to read to help you drift off.
8) Turn off the TV
Do not lie in bed watching the news on TV before you go to bed. There is nothing on the news that will help you fall asleep peacefully. It is sensationalized negativity that will prevent you from get a good night’s rest. If you fall asleep with the news still on, your unconscious mind will be bombarded with all of that negativity without your conscious mind switched on to help filter it. You will never get any restful sleep that way.
Furthermore, I suggest you get rid of the TV in the bedroom altogether. The bedroom is for only 2 things: for resting and for bonding and TV doesn’t have a place in either one of those things. Your bedroom should be a sanctuary – a place that you come into that you love and that relaxes you.
9) Bedroom Decorations
Feng Shui has lots of suggestions on how to soften the energy in a space and make it a healthier environment for you. Close all of your closet doors and dresser drawers before getting into bed. Pick up any clothes on the floor or that have been thrown on the chair and put them away. Move all exercise equipment out of the bedroom and obviously, get rid of the TV in the bedroom or at least close it behind doors. Do anything you can to declutter the room. Making it look and feel more tidy will calm the room for you energetically. You could darken the windows if they let in too much light, use a fountain or a white noise maker to drown out neighborhood sounds if they are unpleasant or listen to relaxing music or even guided meditations to help you fall asleep.
If you are used to taking prescription medications to fall asleep, work with your doctor that prescribed them to you on how to safely wean yourself off of them. Consider using natural remedies to help you fall asleep such as melatonin, herbal teas (chamomile or passionflower), herbal supplements (valerian root, hops and lavender).
4 Tips to Help You Stay Asleep
For many people that suffer from insomnia, falling asleep is not the problem. Staying asleep is the problem. It is common to wake up one or two times during the middle of the night, but you should be able to fall back asleep within just a couple minutes.
If you are the type that wakes up in the middle of the night stays wake for hours and hours on end, tossing and turning, watching the clock get closer and closer to when the alarm is supposed to go off, then you are probably miserable. Practicing one or a few of these relaxation methods will help you:
1) Mind Racing
If when you wake up in the middle of the night, you find that your mind starts thinking of all that you have to do the next day or all that you didn’t do the previous day (or both), don’t give it time to kick into that gear. The next time that happens, decide to concentrate your mind on a relaxing scene and picture yourself relaxing and smiling there. Try counting backwards from 100 or counting sheep if that works for you.
2) “Watching the Black”
This sleep tool involves you “Watching the Black” behind your eyes. Instead of staring at the ceiling or the wall of your bedroom, simply close your eyes and actively look at the darkness on the back of your eyelids. This gives your mind enough “to do” but it is not stimulating to your brain and it can be very relaxing.
3) Get Up
But if none of these techniques are working for you and you still find yourself wide-awake, then get up. Get out of bed and move around. Do something for a little while – go to the bathroom, drink a glass of water or try listening to your relaxation CD again.
If you are still up and you are still wide awake, try doing something productive then. If you are not sleeping you might as well not sleep and do something else with your time rather than spending it tossing and turning in bed.
I have done this many times when I have been working on projects. Some nights my head would be full of new ideas and would stay awake thinking about them or trying not to forget any of them. Sometimes the counting backwards or watching the black techniques worked for me to get back to sleep. But on the nights when they didn’t work, I just decided to get up and work with those ideas that were bouncing around in my head until I got tired again. Writing for an hour in the middle of the night was much more effective than twisting and turning in bed for three or four hours. Sure I was a little tired the next day. But I got my ideas down, that positive stress was dissipated and I slept great the rest of the week.
4) Body Clock
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each of the body’s organ systems perform some clearing or detoxing at certain times during the night. So if you are waking up at the same time every night – it seems like every night you wake up at exactly 3:30am or that every time you wake up and rollover to look at the clock says 5 am – Traditional Chinese Medicine says to look at the particular organ that correlates with that time. It may be that your insomnia may be linked to stress in one of your organ systems.
This does not necessarily mean that you have pathology in that certain organ. In this system, each of the organs is also associated with certain emotional states so some emotional support in this area might be the key to helping you with your insomnia.
For example, if you are repeatedly waking up between 1-3am, then maybe your liver needs some attention because the Liver dominates the 1:00-3:00am time period. Again, this does not necessarily indicate that you have liver disease or that your liver is failing. But since the liver is a major detoxifying organ in your body, you might benefit from doing some detox or cleanse work. The liver is also associated with the emotions of anger, frustration and rage so getting some emotional support and/or tools to help process these feelings you may be experiencing at the time could help you as well.
This is great resource for you to explore that might shed some more light onto your sleep problems. Ask your acupuncturist about it.
Finally, a Tip on Waking Up Better
How you wake up from your restful sleep can have an enormous impact on your day. You don’t want to undo all of your efforts to sleep soundly throughout the night by waking up on the wrong side of the bed.
Change Your Alarm Clock
One way that you can do this is by not using a traditional alarm clock. The majority of alarm clocks have a blaring, screech sound to them. Do you really to be shocked out of bed each morning by the sound of a fire alarm?
Feeling like an ambulance is driving into your bedroom is not the healthiest way to get you out of bed. An alarm clock adrenaline rush is one way to begin your day but there other ways that will ease you out of your gentle sleep and set you up for a more peaceful, more energetic day.
The Zen Alarm clock is a bedside clock that sounds a chime to wake you up. It has a soft, gentle, low-pitched Tibetan gong sound – not a screech. It even uses a mathematical logarithm that progressively eases you out of sleep over a 9-10 minute period. It also doesn’t have a snooze alarm on it, so it helps you break that habit of setting the clock for a half hour before the time you actually want to get out of bed so that you can keep hitting the “snooze” over and over again.
You can also use pleasant music to wake up to instead of an alarm. There are alarm clocks that play a CD of your choice and Apps on your phone that allow you to select songs as your alarm. You can choose mellow, soft tracks to wake up to – like the chime of the Zen Alarm Clock. Or you might choose some high energy, rocking tunes to help you start your day with some toe tapping under the covers and get you dancing out of bed.
There is also a clock on the market that progressively lights up your room over a 20 or 30 minute time period to help ease you out of sleep. They say it helps because simulates your body’s natural pattern of waking up with the sunrise. The possibilities for a more pleasant experience first thing in the morning is endless.
However, you might not naturally be a “morning person” that bounces out of bed every morning with limitless energy. In Ayurveda (the healing tradition from India), the Kapha body type tends towards stagnation and so it is harder for Kaphas to wake up after the body has been immobile for so long.
Maybe you have got some Kapha in you and if so, do some stretching or light movement as soon as you get out of bed to get those fluids moving. Maybe putting that energetic music back on and dancing to it will help get your blood pumping. You can also review “The Linden” stretching and movement routine from the Move Well section as well.
*Exerpted from the Being Well Lifestyles Home Study Course by Dr. Jay Warren.
Drawing on over two decades of experience as a hands-on holistic practitioner, Dr. Jay Warren is a primary healthcare provider and licensed chiropractor in the San Diego area. He has spent tens of thousands of clinical hours helping his patients achieve their optimal health potential through holistic approaches bolstered by years of personal experimentation, education and research. Dr. Jay creates customized plans integrating exercise, nutrition and stress management strategies to overcome a myriad of health challenges. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.DrJayWarren.com.