The 6 Part Vital Health & Natural Medicine Mini Series Part 4

Here is Part 4 of our 6 part mini health series. Doesn’t it feel great to get a good nights sleep? Last episode we looked at energy, now we look getting a great night’s sleep, equally important. Are you getting any good hints or tips yet regarding your health yet from this mini series?

You can achieve fantastic sleep, and if you do suffer from restless sleep you are certain to get a few good pointers from this article.

Your Sleep – Part 4

This week we cover sleep – or rather your lack of it. Doesn’t sleep feel fantastic? It is the one thing everybody looks forward to in the evening, but I can tell you that not all of us look forward to our bed. For some patients we see actually have a “sense of dread on going to bed” with regards to their sleep.

One of the most important things you do to maintain excellent health is to get a good night’s sleep. About 30% of people Domenic Pisanelli does see in his clinic cannot sleep properly. What came first, the sleep problem or energy problem?

Do you sleep consistently well, even when you are away in a strange bed? Most folk at some stage during their lives will suffer from insomnia particularly during the rough times, but when it happens for weeks, months or years on end, it needs sorting. Nothing wrecks your health quicker than chronic ongoing insomnia.

Working and thinking too much, stress and sleeplessness feed on each other. When you suffer from stress and fatigue, anxiety or depression, you will have more difficulty in getting a good nights sleep. And unfortunately, the more tired you become, the less you are capable of coping with stress and the more stressful life seems and more you have a problem going to sleep. Many people are victims of the wear and tear of modern 21st century lifestyles, and appear to be caught in this “no-win, no-rest cycle, yet they are probably blissfully unaware that simply doing too much and stress is actually sabotaging their efforts to get a good night’s sleep.

Research in the 1970’s revealed that stress decreases the time spent in the deepest, most restorative sleep stages and disrupts dream or “rapid-eye-movement” (REM) sleep. In one study, chronic insomniacs reported that during the time their sleep problems began, they also experienced a greater number of stressful life events than in previous years. These problems include marital problems, financial worries, and the death of a close person or losing their job.

Many patients cite causes such as “I have not had a regular sleeping pattern since having my children” or “since my separation” , “since my husband died”, “since I became redundant”, “since I was diagnosed with cancer”, etc. These sleeping patterns can be changed, you do not have to be plagued with insomnia all your life, having to stay reliant on sleeping pills. It is so true that you don’t really appreciate good health until you have a lack of it, what bliss it is to sleep deeply and soundly night after night!

Don’t kid yourself, not getting enough sleep can increase your risk of diabetes, heart problems, depression, drug or alcohol abuse and anxiety. It can also make you fat, reduce your sex drive, impair your immune system and make it harder for you to pay attention or remember any new information.

You need sleep, good quality deep sleep on a very regular basis, if not you will soon get sick and will even die. I’m not a pessimist, I just feel that many health-care professionals just pay lip service to this area. Could you imagine if you had a poor sleep pattern for years? I guarantee you, when you learn the real art of getting plenty of sleep and improving your broken sleep-cycles, “miracles” happen – like your health improves profoundly!

There are no hard or fast rules really in terms of exactly how much sleep you need, and it is unfair to say that you need 8 hours each and every night no exception. Thomas Edison, the famous inventor who invented the light bulb amongst other things, slept apparently only a few hours a night yet was one of the most prolific inventors ever. Albert Einstein, on the other hand, said that he needed eleven hours a night and was at his most creative when he slept from eleven to twelve hours.

Winston Churchill would always have his afternoon or midday nap for one hour even during the war years. Each of these famous men was highly successful in their individual endeavors, yet the amount of sleep they each required varied greatly. They would have worked out their individual requirements and throughout their lives maintained similar sleep patterns. Have you worked out your individual needs?

Poor sleep in turn makes coping with a stressful lifestyle more challenging. Try to get into the habit of regular sleep to keep your biological clock in sync. By going to bed at the same time, and getting up at the same time you will soon see that your body starts to fall into the pattern of regularity. Travel can really throw you out, and here again, keep to regular times with eating and sleeping.

Learn to understand how important a good night’s sleep is to your health, it is one of the most important foundations apart from good nutrition and good emotional health. Here are some good tips to get you sleeping and feeling great again:

1. Exercise – Exercise will help by allowing your body to deal with tension and stress more effectively, allowing your body and mind a chance to unwind. It could be something as simple as a twenty minute walk, swim or bike ride at least three times weekly. What’s the big deal? And you tell me that you “haven’t got the time”? There is an old saying that “those who don’t make the time for good health now, will find plenty of time for ill health in time” is a classic. If you get stressed and tensed at work, the ideal time to exercise is later in the day like late afternoon. Exercise when it suits your lifestyle – either early morning or late afternoon. Exercise is an example of investing your time in an activity which is guaranteed to give you rewards later on. A one hour exercise session makes your other 23 hours so much more effective and the spin off is that you will sleep much more deeply and soundly. Just do it.

2. Never go to bed completely worn out or very hungry – Going to bed over tired will mean that you are not going to get a good night’s sleep. Eating a big meal too late will interfere with your sleep as well. Your digestive system may well play up too, giving you plenty of gas, flatus and tummy rumblings. Another tip is not to go to bed on an empty tummy; you may well wake up due to low blood sugar levels, especially if you suffer from adrenal fatigue. Sometimes eating a small snack, even a little piece of cheese can do the trick.

3. Watch the caffeine. No coffee at least 6 – 8 hours before bedtime if you have sleeping problems and particularly if you enjoy coffee. Coffee, tea or chocolate may stimulate you for several hours after, causing a disturbed or a restless sleep. Be aware that caffeine containing foods or drinks may in addition clash with certain prescription drugs causing sleep issues, so check in with your doctor here. Are your teens up at all hours? I’ll bet they have developed a taste for those caffeinated energy drinks as well af Facebook. These things were unheard of when I was a teen in the 60’s, I was told I had to be 16 before I could have a cup of coffee, and now we let kids as young as 10 have cans with as much caffeine as two cups of coffee. Work on building your energy levels naturally, forget caffeine. Good energy = good sleep.

4. Sleep on a good bed. This is a BIG one. You are less likely to get a good nights sleep on a worn out old bed, or one that is too hard or soft or too small. I know from experience, I replaced my bed recently and what a huge difference it has made! Do you wake up regularly with a sore neck or back, is your bed sagging or creaking? Time to replace it, and remember, you spend so much time sleeping why do you put up with a crappy bed? Apparently, American folk on average replace their bed every ten to twelve years, but Australians wait up to twenty years! You will wonder why on earth you didn’t get a good bed years ago. It could mean the difference between a great nights sleep and a feeling like you woke up after sleeping all night in a tent on a stretcher. Forget the two weeks in Fiji this winter, buy the bed instead.

5. Are you a sleeping-pill taker? A 30% increase in the number of sleeping pills being taken by Australians in 2009 has had the National Party calling on the government to look at prescribing habits. In 2005 more than half a million prescriptions for sleeping pills were dispensed, up by a third on 1999 figures. We should be concerned that more people are feeling enough stress to the point where they feel they need medication like antidepressants and sleeping pills. Get your stress sorted sooner rather than later, because stress leads to sleeping issues, which in turn stimulate stress. A real “catch twenty two” situation. Try 400mg of Magnesium citrate about half an hour before bed instead of the popular sleeping pill Immovane® (Zopiclone). Magnesium works well, especially if you drop the coffee and chocolate and alcohol from lunch time onwards.

6. Smokers don’t sleep as deep as non-smokers. Research has shown that those who smoke take longer to fall asleep, awaken more often and spend less time in the REM (deep) sleep phase. Because nicotine withdrawal can last two to three hours after their last puff, smokers may actually wake in the middle of the night craving a cigarette. Ask a reformed smoker, and most will tell you how much their sleep has improved since they kicked the habit.

7. Drink in moderation. Many people think that a drink will help them get to sleep and stay asleep, but drinkers don’t sleep as well as those who drink in moderation or not at all. According to many different studies, even moderate drinking can suppress REM sleep, the deep sleep we need in order to wake up refreshed. Ever noticed that the nights you drink moderately heavy you wake up feeling “groggy”? Too much booze with dinner can make it hard to fall asleep, and too much later at night can harder to stay asleep. You end up sleeping in fragments and often wake in the early hours in the morning.

If I have two glasses of wine I generally never seem to sleep all that well and wake up at 1.00am and sleep lightly the rest of the evening, almost guaranteed. Those who smoke pot will find that their sleep improves, the hormone melatonin increases substantially in regular cannabis smokers. But yes, there is a downside – the next day dope smokers will find that they are much more tired in afternoon as a consequence and will also crave more sweet foods, the “munchies”, which will create fatigue, lethargy and low blood sugar levels.

8. Go for quality of sleep, not quantity. I tell my patients that it is the quality that really counts, and six good solid hours is better than eight or even ten hours of light or disturbed sleeping patterns. Don’t feel that you need eight solid hours every night anymore than you need to drink “eight glasses of water every day”. If five hours does the trick several times a week, you may well find that a nap here or there for twenty minutes may be all you need. Quality counts, so experiment what is right for you.

9. Become a napper. Some people, like my wife, actually feel worse for naps. Not me, I have a chill-out session at least three times weekly for twenty minutes in my office on a carpeted floor. I call it my TPM sessions, or “twenty peaceful minutes”. Try it yourself; these sessions involve lying down on the floor anywhere between the 2.00pm – 3.00 pm for twenty minutes only. This time slot is probably the best, due to the naturally lower level of cortisol your body produces at this time. I tell my receptionist to hold all calls for this time and relax, do some deep breathing and can feel my mind “slipping away”. By the time I get up, I feel very refreshed and relaxed. It’s what I call a “defrag of the mind”. It is not that I lack the sleep; I need these sessions to help me re-focus and get my mind from the busy beta into the relaxed alpha state. And guess what? You will find that these relaxation sessions make you a more pleasant person to be around.

Try it, you may find that irritability levels drop off and you become more “humane” around people if you are a bit anxious, easily stressed or simply try to squeeze too much into your busy life. I make it a habit of going to bed between 10 – 10.30pm every night. I wake at 6.30 every morning feeling refreshed. Staying up too late at night is a sure fire way to throw your body clock right out.

10. Time outs. Here is a simple way to break out of the stress-sleeplessness cycle. Take regular “time-out” sessions during the day. It could be something as simple as closing your eyes. Several times a day close your eyes, take a few deep and relaxed breaths and meditate on a relaxing scene. It can literally work wonders.Move away from the computer, take a brief walk and take some deep breaths while you are at it. Sit in the sun for 5 minutes and enjoy the moment. Take some time out of your hectic daily schedule.

11. Don’t worry & be more organised. Some folk lie in bed thinking of what they should have done during the day, or about tasks they have to perform the following day. Try to deal with work related distractions before you hit the sack. Make a list of tasks before you go to bed may help. Write out anxieties or worries and possible solutions, this will save your mind having to do this whilst you are supposed to be resting. Tell yourself that you will sort it the next day.

I tell my patients this: “when you lie down, don’t think about any problem that requires a solution”, it is easier said than done, but with a little practice it is easily achievable. Try not to go to bed until you resolve disagreements you care about. It is true; we all have disagreements or arguments with our partners or loved ones from time to time.

The trick is in resolving the matter before bed so your mind can rest. Do you go to bed after an argument and lie there churning things over in your mind? Relax before you go to bed to get yourself in the right frame of mind, and if you do have indifference it is important to resolve the issue as much as possible in order to have a “clear head”.

12. Melatonin is NOT the answer for insomnia. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain which facilitates sleep, it is available freely on the internet and I have found that many insomniacs have tried melatonin at some stage. Melatonin is safe, I have found no evidence of adverse effects even in those who use it for extended periods of time. When you are asleep, melatonin, which is made from the “feel good” hormone called serotonin, is released from the pineal gland in the brain. When you are awake, serotonin aids in many different functions including muscular contractions.

Restless and fidgeting at night are often the result of a confused sleep-wake cycle and can point to a serotonin (too much) or melatonin (not enough) imbalance. Although Melatonin supplements appear to help with better sleep, it is not necessarily better quality or longer sleep. A recent study demonstrated that the differences between 0.01 and 10mg dosages were not significant at all. In comparison, the average adult human produces 1mg of melatonin in a 24hr period whereas most tablets available online come in 2, 3mg or more. Melatonin is still a controversial subject, and my advice before you take melatonin is to try other things first such as the suggestions above. I used to prescribe Melatonin for a few years when I worked in a medical clinic, and personally I found it NO better then recommending magnesium citrate.

Conclusion: By working on getting to bed on time, having regular breaks during the day and thereby improving the quality and quantity of your sleep you will be amazed at how your health can improve. Isn’t it funny how we always want to “take” things to improve our sleep, when what we really need to be looking at is improving the simple things first like going to bed when we are actually physically or mentally tired, avoiding stimulants (and alcohol) if we have regular sleeping issues, and also trying to exercise regularly?

Poor sleeping patterns affect so many people in this country, is your poor sleep affecting you? By following the above mentioned self help tips you will be surprised how much the quality of your life can improve – maybe have a sleep on it.

Domenic Pisanelli

Domenic Pisanelli

Domenic Pisanelli is a qualified Naturopath and has helped hundreds of people regain their health back as an experienced naturopath with over 18 years of clinical experience.

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