Eric Bakker - How's Your Sleep? (Part 2)
Read more from Eric Bakker ND
Read Part One here
Poor sleep makes coping with a stressful lifestyle more challenging. In a UK study, volunteers deprived of a good night’s sleep couldn’t think of creative solutions to a stressful challenge and often fell back on rigid approaches that weren’t as effective. In time, trying to get by despite sleeplessness can lead to depression, anxiety and other psychological problems.
To recap on last week’s article: 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 Helps.
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 a classic 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 too 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 like 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 soft drinks. They were unheard of when I was a teen, I was told I had to be 15 before I could have a cup of coffee, and now we let kids as young as 7 or 8 have cans with as much caffeine as two cups of coffee! Time for adults to “wake up” to the reality of energy drinks with their kids. And you wonder why they are bouncing off the walls at times, funny that!
4. Sleep on a Good Bed.
This is a BIG one. You are less likely to get a good night’s 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 New Zealanders wait up to twenty years! If you go to bed tonight and say to yourself” Eric is right, I hate my bed” then I don’t think it is a silly idea to invest in a nice new bed. You will wonder why on Earth you didn’t get a good bed few years ago. It could mean the difference between a great night’s sleep and a feeling like you woke up after sleeping all night in a tent. Forget the two weeks in the islands 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 New Zealanders has 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. National Party associate health spokeswoman Jackie Blue says: “We should be concerned that more New Zealanders are feeling enough stress to the point where they feel they need medication”. She says stress can lead on to poor health and a reduction in productivity, so the government has a vested interest in sorting out the problem. Dr Blue says we need to be vigilant we are not setting the scene for drug dependency issues down the track. She wants the government to put regulations in place to cover the prescribing of sleeping pills. Dr Blue says the government needs to look at prescribing habits and why numbers of prescriptions have gone up so dramatically. 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. See your naturopath for non-drug options to help you sleep at night; I use herbal medicines like passiflora, avena sativa, valerian, and various others depending on the person’s requirements. 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 heavy 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 red 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. Pot smokers will certainly 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 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”, you have heard me mention this before and find that it really does the trick for me. Try it yourself; these sessions involve lying down on the floor anywhere between the 2.00pm – 3.00 pm. 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. 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, unless I drink wine which I know affects my sleep.
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 work wonders.
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. Is Melatonin 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 very safe; I have fond 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. 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.
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. Have a sleep on it.