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How to Get the Sleep You Need
Submitted to the Empowerment Magazine by Gail Erlandson, M.A
 
There is nothing that can compare to a good night sleep for maintaining wellness.  I know that if I am not rested, I don’t enjoy the day like I should.  If I am lacking sleep, my relationships are impacted and the quality of my work is negatively affected.  There’s growing evidence that people who regularly sleep too little are at an increased risk for mental illness, diabetes, and heart disease.  Sleep disturbances and daytime sleepiness are the most tell- tale signs of poor sleep hygiene. There is a science and an art in keeping our minds and bodies rested and strong.  Too often we turn to medication to achieve good rest before we try natural methods.  Here are some  tips that can help in getting a good night’s sleep:

 1)  Fix a regular schedule around sleep.  If we are taking too long to fall asleep, or awakening during the night, we need to evaluate our sleep routine.  Going to bed and waking up around the same time every day is essential.    If we are getting enough sleep, we should wake up naturally without an alarm.  We can nap to make up for lost sleep, but regular sleep patterns, which sometimes include a nap are preferential sleep hygiene.

 

2) Increase light exposure during the day.  Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle.   Melatonin production is controlled by light exposure.  It helps to spend at least 30 minutes time outside during daylight. We can try to take our work breaks outside in natural light.   We can let as much light into our home/workspace as possible.  Our brain typically secretes more melatonin in the evening, when it’s dark, to make us sleepy, and less during the day when it’s light to keep us awake and alert.  

 

3)  Create a sleep friendly environment.     It is best to reserve the bedroom for sleeping and avoid working in one’s sleep space.  Use comfortable bedding and keep the room well ventilated. Keep the sleep environment on the cool side and dark, cave like.    Avoid using the television or computer to fall asleep.    Having too much light in the bedroom while sleeping is not good.  We should not read from a backlit device at night (such as an iPad).  If we use a portable electronic device to read, try using an eReader that is not backlit.  When we sleep it is like returning to the quiet and darkness of the womb. 

4) Taking care with our diet will help us sleep well.  We want to avoid having caffeine after lunch and not have any alcohol within six hours of our bed time.  Alcohol may make one drowsy initially but it interrupts the sleep cycle.  It’s not good to go to bed hungry but we don’t want to have a big meal near bedtime either.   A good old fashion way to help with a good night’s sleep is a warm glass of milk before bed.    Nicotine, just like caffeine, is a stimulant and will not help one sleep, it will keep us awake. 

 

Supplements may also have a place in providing a peaceful night’s sleep.  Always tell your health provider what you are doing and start with low doses of any supplement.
Melatonin, valerian, magnesium and kava have proven to help some people.  For thousands of years, people have used chamomile tea medicinally.  The teas and essential oils are used for their calming effects and to induce sleep.   

 5)  Begin rituals that help us relax each night before bed.   Rituals such as a warm bath, a snack with tryptophan, like bananas or turkey, light reading, listening to quiet music or a relaxation tape can help us ease into sleep.  A comfortable bed and a pillow that won’t cramp our neck is a must.  If there are worries about tomorrow, take time before bed to write down any concerns, and let them go.    Relaxation exercises such as deep breathing can also be helpful.  If we are having trouble sleeping after 20 minutes, then we should get out of the bed and find something to do that will help us relax, like doing some light reading or getting a cup of herbal tea.  Go to another room if possible.  Once we feel sleepy again, go back to bed

 

6) Get regular exercise each day.  A good work-out program during the day can be helpful for a good night’s sleep.  Vigorous, aerobic exercise should be taken in the morning or late afternoon. Avoid any tough exercise within six hours before bedtime.   Relaxing exercise, like gentle yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep.
 

Healthy habits of good sleep take time to develop.  Let’s remember to be patient and gentle with ourselves.  Once we develop good sleep habits we may find less need to medicate for sleep.  Explore online sites to continue honing your healthy sleep habits.  Visit the University of Maryland Medicine Sleep Hygiene site for further discussion on healthy habits of good sleep:  (http://www.umm.edu/sleep)

 

Sound sleep means a sound mind.  Proper amounts of sleep keep our mind and body alert and help us to receive and learn new information.  Sleep allows our body to cure itself because during sleep our body gets the opportunity to repair damaged cells.   Sleep can also help the immune system fight off infection and prevent the development of other health problems.

At the Wellness and Recovery Center North (ph: 916- 485-4175) where I work we have a room dedicated to meditation.  There is also the opportunity for “meditative sleep” in this setting.   At WRCN we recognize that restorative sleep is vital to our wellness journey.   I wish you well on your life journey, both wake times and sleep times, sweet dreams!