In the last few years I’ve had uncharacteristic and occasional sleep difficulties. It’s origin: stress, hormonal changes and bad sleep hygiene. The day after a bad night’s sleep I am irritable, forget tasks and am generally inefficient.
I’m a fairly good observer of my own behaviour and those weary days made me very aware of the wonderful world of sleep and how essential it is for my wellbeing. After a good nights sleep I wake in morning and spend relaxing time taking in the light and season of the new day, I stretch and get up slowly allowing my body to orientate, I feel great. After a poor night’s sleep I wake groaning, stiff, irritable unable to take in the light ambiences from my bedroom window. The only thing I want to do is pull the bed covers around me and curl back to sleep. I carry that feeling of weariness all day.
I started to consider the how’s of getting enough sleep and enough quality sleep. Apparently the most physically healing, restorative part of sleep is the deep sleep that you have more of at the beginning of your sleep period. Towards the end of the sleep period you have more REM (rapid eye movement sleep) and that indicates a dreaming state. Dreams have been described physiologically as a response to neural processes during sleep and psychologically as reflections of the subconscious. The significance of dreams depends on the person having them and the cultural context. Suffice to say good REM sleep enhances your good mood during the day.
Sleep stages and brain activity
Stage 1 (Drowsiness) – Stage 1 lasts just five or ten minutes. Eyes move slowly under the eyelids, muscle activity slows down, and you are easily awakened.
Stage 2 (Light Sleep) – Eye movements stop, heart rate slows, and body temperature decreases.
Stages 3 & 4 (Deep Sleep) – You’re difficult to awaken, and if you are awakened, you do not adjust immediately and often feel groggy and disoriented for several minutes. Deep sleep allows the brain to go on a little vacation needed to restore the energy we expend during our waking hours. Blood flow decreases to the brain in this stage, and redirects itself towards the muscles, restoring physical energy. Research also shows that immune functions increase during deep sleep.
Stage 5 REM sleep (Dream Sleep) – At about 70 to 90 minutes into your sleep cycle, you enter REM sleep. You usually have three to five REM episodes per night. This stage is associated with processing emotions, retaining memories and relieving stress. Breathing is rapid, irregular and shallow, the heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, males may have penile erections, and females may have clitoral enlargement.
Dreams may be the retrieval and reordering of long term memories or a physiological repair mechanism, no body really knows.
If you are interested have a look at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dream
Research suggests that common aspects of modern lifestyle suppress dreaming or REM sleep. Many widely used medications legal and illegal – especially antidepressants and sleeping pills, as well as evening alcohol consumption and cannabis, constrain normal dreaming. And now, new findings are establishing a clear connection between the loss of dreaming and serious illness.
Sleep problems – insomnia
Insomnia means difficulty with either falling or staying asleep. Usually, people keep themselves awake by worrying about going to sleep. Insomnia can be treated at home, but chronic or long-term sleep problems may need professional treatment.
Insomnia is a symptom, not a disease. It means having trouble with how much or how well you sleep. This may be caused by difficulties in either falling or staying asleep. Self-reported sleeping problems, dissatisfaction with sleep quality and daytime tiredness are the only defining characteristics of insomnia because it is such an individual experience. Long-term chronic insomnia needs professional support from a sleep disorder clinic.
The concept of ‘a good sleep’ differs widely from person to person. While the average night’s sleep for an adult is around seven or eight hours, some people only need four, while others like up to 10 hours or more. What seems like insomnia to one person might be considered a good sleep by another.
A common complaint
Over one-third of people experience insomnia from time to time, but only around five per cent need treatment for the condition. Such things as stressful episodes, jet lag, and changes in sleeping environments, some acute illnesses and stimulant medications typically cause transient or short-term insomnia. Normal sleeping habits return once the acute event is over.
If a person has experienced sleeping difficulties for a month or more, this is called persistent or chronic insomnia. There are many causes of persistent insomnia. These include:
• Secondary insomnia – due to a range of medical and psychiatric problems and the chronic use of drugs and alcohol.
• Primary sleep disorders – include circadian rhythm disorders, central sleep apnoea-insomnia syndrome, inadequate sleep syndromes and periodic limb movement or restless legs syndromes.
• Idiopathic insomnia – sleeplessness without a known cause, formerly called childhood onset insomnia.
Keep sleep in perspective
People who suffer from insomnia are normally frustrated or annoyed by it. Paradoxically, this emotional state contributes to keeping them awake. It helps to stop expecting a set amount of sleep every night. Having less sleep than you’d like doesn’t cause any harm. Allow yourself to fall short of the ideal without getting anxious about it.
Simple remedies for short-term insomnia
Reducing anxiety and sticking to a day–night routine can improve sleep quality.
• Don’t nap during the day.
• Cut down on smoking and drinking.
• Avoid tea, coffee and other caffeinated drinks before bed.
• Take regular exercise each day but don’t exercise strenuously just before bedtime.
• Do something to relax, such as meditate or have a warm bath.
• Learn to relax with Yoga Nidra relaxation techniques
• Only go to bed if you feel sleepy.
• A magnesium supplement taken in or with a hot drink can relax your whole body.
• Numerous plants have a sedative action. Herbs commonly prescribed as aids in promoting sleep include: passion-flower , hops, valerian , skullcap and chamomile. Take as a tea.
• Hop flower sachets. The scent of hop flowers are soporific, so if you can get fresh hop flowers put them in a muslin bag and put it under you pillow.
• Lettuce soup, taken as the last meal at night, is very sleep inducing.
• Go to bed later.
• Stop reading, worrying or watching television in bed and limit your activities in the bedroom to sleeping and sex.
• If you can’t sleep, get up, go to another room and do something else until you feel sleepy again.
• Get up at the same time every morning regardless of how much sleep you have had.
• Avoid ‘judging’ your sleep on a day-to-day basis.
Treatment for long-term insomnia
Insomnia that has persisted for years needs professional support and a lot of patience. It might take some time to re-establish normal sleeping patterns.
Some of the techniques used by a sleep disorder clinic might include:
• A sleep diary, to help pinpoint the pattern of insomnia
• A program of mild sleep deprivation
• Medication to help set up a new sleeping routine
• Exposure to bright light in the morning
• Behavioural therapy.
Things to remember
• Insomnia is a symptom not a disease. The cause (or causes) of insomnia needs to be identified and corrected.
• Insomnia means having trouble with how well or how much you sleep.
• People keep themselves awake by worrying about going to sleep.
• Long-term chronic insomnia needs professional support and a lot of patience.
I sleep well most nights now. Experiencing transient insomnia left a very positive effect on me. Rather than just take a good nights sleep for granted I have come to value it as one of my best tools in feeling good. I’ve come to regard sleep as important, if not more important, than sex. For me a good nights sleep is worth altering my behaviour, it’s like a valued and loved partner in my quest to feel fabulous and is my greatest tool in looking good and not aging.