Read more from Eric Bakker ND
Read Part Two here
How are you sleeping? Many patients I see in my clinic have a sleeping issue; in fact I would say it would be a third to a half of all people. Most people 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. 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 night’s sleep. 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 patients we see in the clinic 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 I have seen have cited causes such as “I have not had a regular sleeping pattern since having my children” or “since my separation”, “since my husband died”, etc. These sleeping patterns can be changed; you do not have to be plagued with insomnia all your life and 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!
Ok, so you are tough and think you can get away with little sleep, night after night? Think again, it will soon catch up on you. But what if you don’t sleep for many hours on end? You’ll go mad, in 1959, a New York DJ called Peter Tripp embarked on a marathon 200 hours without sleep. Within a few days, he became irrational, moody and paranoid, and even began to see imaginary spiders spinning cobwebs on his shoes. When a neurologist arrived to examine him on the final day of his challenge, Tripp imagined the doctor was "an undertaker coming to bury him alive". Screaming with fear, he actually ran for the door and took off down a hallway with doctors and psychologists in pursuit. Tripp conducted his experiment at a time when little was known about the consequences of sleep deprivation. The stunt started out as a joke to raise money for a charity and pull in more listeners, but Tripp’s family said the DJ was never quite the same again. Since Tripp’s experiment, researchers have associated lack of sleep with a range of damaging physical and psychological conditions. Not getting enough sleep can increase your risk of diabetes, heart problems, depression, substance 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. Could you imagine if you had a poor sleep pattern for years?
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?
Ask yourself these 5 key sleep questions:
1. Do you fall asleep within 15 minutes of going to bed, or does it take you ages to go to sleep?
2. Do you always need an alarm clock to wake up to, or do you naturally wake within 15 minutes each day at the same time?
3. If you lie down for a nap in the middle of the day, are you asleep within 10 minutes?
4. How are your sleep patterns on the weekends as compared to during the working week?
5. When you go on holidays, do you sleep a lot for 2-3 days in the first week?
6. How does my partner’s snoring affect my sleep?
1.A healthy person takes about 10 – 20 minutes before they are really asleep.
You don’t generally get into a healthy deep-sleep pattern by sleeping “as soon as you head hits the pillow”. This is because your mind will first go from the beta brain wave (busy thinking & conscious thought patterns) into the alpha brain wave pattern (relaxed, dreamy, “floating”, half-asleep/half-awake pattern) Later on in the night you slide into the very refreshing theta brain wave state, and then into the theta brainwave pattern, called the “rapid eye movement” or REM state. This is the important phase as far as feeling great when you awake is concerned. The delta state is even deeper, and a healthy person is in this state for up to 60 minutes. Those who say: “a bomb can go off and I don’t wake” are generally in the deeper states such as the delta, because arousal is much more difficult in this state than it is in the alpha. Healthy sleep consists of a combination and repetitive phase of the four above mentioned brain wave states. Interrupting a cycle can have negative consequences. Remember sometimes just as you dose off that you remember something important? This is because the alpha state allows your mind to be more creative and think “peripherally” about minor trivial problem-solving issues, and you are less focused on the main problems in your life.
2. A good indication that you are getting enough sleep is the ability for you to wake most mornings without an alarm clock.
This generally means you are getting enough sleep. In my experience, most people simply don’t get enough rest, they tell me they sleep ok, but do they really get the quality of sleep they need? If during the week the alarm wakes you and you turn over, you need more sleep! Using your alarm clock is a good measure for this.
3. If you fall asleep rapidly when you lie down in the day you need more sleep.
This is similar to question 1, if you fall asleep rapidly when you lie down in the day you need more sleep. But only when the tiredness is not in relation to meals, i.e.; well away from meals, because if you get tired after eating a meal containing carbs like bread or pasta, it could mean you are a bit low in blood sugar and you may naturally feel a bit tired, Try sleeping for 8 hours a night for 1 week, and if wake up feeling refreshed then try these afternoon naps and you will find that it takes generally much longer to easily sleep in the afternoon after a 5 minute lie down.
4. If you don’t get quite enough sleep, your brain will want a catch-up in the weekend generally.
If these “catch-ups” continually occur, you may find it harder to function on a Monday morning, because you are starting to shift you waking and sleeping patterns and are pushing them ahead by an hour or two. It is important to get to bed by 9.30pm – 10.00pm at the latest for most people. Get to bed when you feel naturally tired, don’t have a nap at 8 or 9.00pm and then stay up until 12.00pm – 1.00am. This is very common today, as we try to squeeze every last drop out of our day due to our increasing workloads. And we prop these habits up with coffee and tea to keep us “topped up” with energy. Are you starting to “droop” at 9 – 9.30? Then go to bed.
5. If you find that you need more sleep whilst you are on holidays, you are over-working yourself, end of story.
If you are away from the stressors and go “phew” when you are away, it would be best to create a sanctuary at your home, a place where you can escape and relax away from phones, kids, computers, and stop always saying “yes” to people. How much “you” time do you set aside each day or week? Sleeping more on holidays and weekends indicates an underlying problem with “sleep debt”, your sleep back account is going into the red fast and you will soon be bankrupt (burn-out) unless you service this debt.
6. If your husband and you are fine in your relationship but he snores and it drives you crazy, it could be really be affecting the quality of your sleep cycles.
Your brain needs to be in a combination and repetitive pattern of the four above mentioned brain-wave patterns to allow sleep to be refreshing and restorative. If his snoring has bumped you out of a deep delta sleep state, it could have severely interrupted your sleep cycles. Remember, deep sleep improves your daytime serotonin (feel good hormone) cycles, which allows you to wake up feeling positive, happy and motivated. Try separate beds for a week or two to see how the quality of your sleep improves. If there is a marked change for the better, consider him getting his snoring sorted, there is help available and by speaking with your doctor you will be able to get a referral for appropriate help.
Poor sleep in turn 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.
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.
Next week we will look at some good tips to get you sleeping and feeling great again.