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Sleep is comprised of five stages: Stage 1: NonRapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep for a few minutes as the person moves in transitional sleep with dreamlike thoughts; Stage 2: NREM sleep that is deeper with fragmented thoughts for 15 to 20 minutes; Stages 3 and 4: Deeper NREM sleep stages (delta sleep) lasting 40 to 70 minutes; REM Stage: Follows the first four stages and is sleep (dream sleep) that can be considered as restorative, or as calisthenics for the brain. The cycles of sleep stages are repeated through the sleep period with increasingly lengthening REM stages until the person awakens. Many activities can interrupt the normal circadian rhythms, disrupting sleep, and causing distress. Lack of sufficient REM sleep affects memory and learning.
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How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Believe it or not, there are many contributing factors that can have a profound impact on the amount and quality of sleep in your life. Sleep deprivation can have an imperative influence on function, productivity, and attitude. A significant portion of people struggle with a lack of sleep and the clinical diagnosis of this condition actually affects over 40,000,000 American citizens each year.
Sleep is a vital necessity not only for proper function of our bodily structures, but it also ensures that our cells have ample opportunity for repair and reproduction. So what exactly is necessary for a productive night of rest? How do we prepare our minds and bodies for effective sleep? What can we do to ensure that we are making the most of the time that we allot for sleeping?
If you are having trouble with getting a good night’s rest, consider the following ways in which you can address the issues and potentially improve the duration and quality of your sleeping periods.
Many people might be surprised to learn that how we fuel our bodies plays a huge role in the quality and efficiency of our sleep habits. When we consume food, our bodies pay close attention to the digestion and the initial processing of the structural components that are found within our diet.
Certain ingredients like sugar and caffeine are considered to be stimulants and they tend to make the brain more responsive, reactive, and sensitive to external stimuli. Eating a large meal or consuming caffeine right before bedtime is highly discouraged because it can make it difficult for the brain activity to slow down enough to promote sleep. In fact, to optimize sleep efficiency, avoid any consumption within two hours of your expected bedtime.
Likewise, drinking an excessive volume of fluids right before bed increases the likelihood of interrupted sleep patterns that result from repeated trips to the bathroom. Reduce or eliminate your drink intake right before bed.
In addition, highly acidic foods have a reputation for exacerbating underlying reflux or heartburn, especially when individuals lay down at a horizontal angle. For that matter, it is usually best to avoid anything particularly spicy or high in sodium.
Despite the fact that alcohol is considered a depressant and may help some people fall asleep initially, it does the body no favors in terms of sleep quality. If you want your body to fall asleep and actually stay asleep for the recommended number of hours, avoid adult beverages, especially right before bed.
Some individuals find sleep assistance with the addition of vitamins and supplements that are believed to promote sleep in a more natural manner. Over the counter remedies like melatonin, valerian, and magnesium are the same molecules found within our bodies that stimulate us to go into rest mode.
However, even natural supplements can cause dependency in some people. Always consult with a medical professional before implementing medication into your daily routine. If you are unsure about taking a vitamin or pill as a sleep aid, consider implementing certain foods that are higher in sleep promoting ingredients. Fish, dairy, whole grains, and bananas are great options if you are in the mood for a later snack.
Better Sleep After Exercise
An active lifestyle is certainly more conducive to productive sleep habits. Many research studies have been conducted to determine that maintaining a sedentary lifestyle increase the likelihood of insomnia and other sleep complications. Scientists and medical professionals have also proven that an exercise routine is very successful at improving your overall sleep consistency and quality.
Be advised, there is a very fine line between a healthy level of activity and over exertion which causes intense exhaustion. In other words, don’t overdo it! When your body is overtired, your sleep can be compromised. You might also consider certain exercise routines that are known for reducing stress. Yoga and Pilates are fantastic methods of relaxation as well as a great way to improve your physical well-being.
In addition to diet and exercise, pay close attention to your daytime habits that could be hindering productive sleep. Avoid long naps, especially in the late afternoons and evenings. At the same time, it is important to allow your mind the opportunity to recognize the natural changes in lighting. Changes in the amount of daylight actually trigger our internal rhythms. In other words, let the sunlight in during the day, and turn bright lights off at night so our brains can signal to our bodies that time for sleep is approaching.
Take note of any situations that might be causing you excessive levels of stress. Try to find ways to reduce this mental turmoil because not only will stress reduction improve your sleep habits, but it will improve your overall physical condition as well.
Bedtime Routine & Relaxation
Your nighttime behaviors and typical routine are incredibly influential on sleep quality. If you have trouble settling into a restful state, consider implementing a relaxing routine that your body will eventually begin to recognize.
Just like our circadian rhythms establish what is considered to be an internal alarm clock for waking up in the mornings, if we are consistent with a nighttime routine, our bodies will start to recognize the sequences and queues that precede sleep.
Allow yourself plenty of time to slowly wind down from your stimulating day. Take a relaxing bath, play soft music, read a book, or practice meditation techniques. Dim the lights and turn off your distracting electronic devices. You may have to experiment with different activities to determine which ones are most successful at relaxing your mind and preparing your body for sleep.
Aromatherapy is another potential practice that many people utilize for inducing sleep and mental relaxation. Lavender, valerian, sandalwood, and chamomile are popular essential oils that have a reputation for soothing and calming.
Research the amount of sleep that is recommended for your age and always make a conscious effort to achieve that number. After all, your body deserves the opportunity to rest and your productivity and focus will be significantly better if you have had a good night’s sleep.
To figure out your average sleep time, simply jot down your best estimate of how many hours and minutes you slept the night before, as soon as you get up in the morning. After fourteen nights, add up your numbers and divide by 14. This will be your average daily sleep time.
You can even design your own sleep schedule by adding a half hour to your average sleep time. Decide what time you want to get up every morning, take your average daily sleep time figure, then work back from this wake-up time by that figure plus half an hour to determine your bedtime. So if you want to get up at 7 AM, and your average sleep time is eight hours, then count back eight hours from 7AM = 11 PM. Subtract half an hour = 10:30 PM. That's your new bedtime.
If your attempts are unsuccessful at improving a sleep deprivation disorder, you might consider seeking the advice of a licensed medical professional. Many sleep specialists have suggestive techniques, equipment, prescription medications, or potential surgery options that are useful at improving sleep quality.
Your doctor or healthcare provider will likely suggest that you have a sleep study conducted to determine the root cause of your sleep issues. This consists of an overnight stay at an office where your neural activity, sleep quality, and breathing are monitored for a certain number of nighttime hours. The information provided by a sleep study is necessary for finding an accurate diagnosis and potential solution for your sleep disorder.
For example, individuals suffering from sleep apnea might benefit from using a CPAP machine which is a device that actively pumps oxygenated air through a facemask. This pressure helps to keep the airways open and reduces wakeful periods that result from the body naturally seeking relief from reduced oxygen.
Other sleep disorders may require a prescription medication that alleviates certain chemical and/or various hormonal imbalances that are usually found within the brain. Perhaps your current medications are actually resulting in a stimulatory effect, so your doctor might suggest adjusting your regimen.
There are a plethora of potential physical and anatomical reasons that might help explain your sleep complications.
Herbal lore is the basis of an ancient healing system, which forms an important part of traditional Chinese healing arts and is still in widespread use today. Quite a number of herbs – primarily Kava and Valerian, but also Chamomile, Lime flowers, Passiflora, Hops, and St. John's wort – are known to have a soothing effect on the nervous system in particular, and, for this reason, can be of substantial help in relieving insomnia.
Teas to help me sleep? Drinking teas made from a variety of therapeutic plants is an excellent way to let mother nature play her role in rebalancing your body and its patterns. The leaves of the plants should be used unless otherwise specified, and can be used dried or fresh, depending on availability.
You can make a simple one-herb tea from any of the individual ingredients, and you can even buy many of them in tea bag form these days. They make an ideal replacement drink for the times when you would previously have had a cup of normal tea or coffee. And you can simply add honey to taste if you prefer a sweeter drink.
Best Natural Remedy for Insomnia
Siberian Ginseng produces resistance to the effects of general stress, and calms nervous anxiety, restlessness, and emotional tension.
Asiatic Ginseng (in small doses) strengthens all the body's systems, increasing resistance to siease and improving efficiency in bodily functions.
Chamomile promotes a calm state of mind at times of stress and irritability. As well as being useful in tea, chamomile can be used to make herb bags which can be placed under the pillow to aid sleep, in the same way as lavender bags are. Simply wrap a small piece of muslin (cheesecloth) around some chamomile and tie it up with ribbon or string.
Hops (Humulus lupulus) induces sleep, soothes headaches, and calms nervous disorders. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it became very popular to stuff pillows with hops in order to promote a restful night's sleep. Hops tea can be used during the day to relieve stress or at bedtime as a sleeping aid. For every cup of water, use 1 teaspoon of whole hops to make a tea.
Basil clears the mind, helping to still unwanted thoughts. It is particularly therapeutic for exhaustion brought about by physical exertion.
St. John's wort calms and strengthens the nerves, as well as bringing relief from irritability, anxiety, insomnia, and cramps.
Kava induces sleep and calms the nerves. It also reduces irritability and anxiety.
Valerian relaxes muscular tension, lowers high blood pressure caused by nervousness, and considerably strengthens the nervous system.
Passiflora is deeply relaxing and sleep-inducing and has a beneficial effect on any muscular tension produced by excess anxiety. To improve insomnia, make a tea with 1/2 teaspoon of the dried herb in 1 cup of hot water.
Catnip is a great remedy for irritability and nerve-related headaches and insomnia.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) relieves irritability and decreases high blood pressure. According to Chinese tradition, make a tea with 1 to 3 teaspoons of dried skullcap root for every cup of water.
Lavender is a gentle tonic for the nervous and digestive systems. It is especially helpful in calming nervous anxiety, exhaustion, tension headaches, and depression.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is often used as a tea to relax the body and induce sleep. Steep 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried herb in a cup of hot water.
Rose petals can be used to make a very soothing brew, which is of particular benefit for hormonal imbalance.
Add a teaspoon of each of the following herbs to 1 ¾ pints (1 liter) of boiling water: peppermint, passiflora, chamomile, and valerian. Allow this mixture to infuse for 20 minutes in a covered container before straining it. Add honey to taste. It is especially useful to sip your way through a warm cup of this about half an hour before going to bed.
Add a teaspoon of each of the following herbs to 1 ¾ pint (1 liter) of boiling water: celery seeds, catnip, valerian, and skullcap. Then add a teaspoon of vitamin B-rich oats, cover the container, and allow the mixture to infuse for 20 minutes before straining it. Sip one warm cup of this wonderfully relaxing tonic 3 times a day, between meals, and one in the evening before retiring. Or take when feeling anxious or “overcharged”. The celery provides a delicious savory flavor, but honey can be added if preferred.
Add a teaspoon of each of the following to 1 ¾ pints (1 liter) of boiling water: St. John's wort, hops, basil, chamomile, and lime flowers. Allow the mixture to infuse for 20 minutes in a covered container before straining. Then add honey to taste. Sip the warm tea at intervals during the day, especially during moments of stress or anxiety, and just before going to bed. It is very beneficial for the adrenal glands – inhibiting the overproduction of adrenaline.
For a really potent tonic, simply add a teaspoon of Siberian or Asiatic ginseng to a cup of hot water. When taking ginseng, it's important to follow the guidelines on the packaging, indicating how much to take and how often, because this herb varies in strength according to the form in which you take it. Generally speaking, a low dose will act as a soother, while a large dose will act as a stimulant.
Mix the following dried herbs in equal amounts for a calming tea: 1 part dandelion leaf, 1 part linden flower, and 1 part passiflora
Aromatherapy: Essential oils for restful sleep
(How to use oils: add a half a dozen drops of your chosen essential oil to water, and burn in an oil burner to fragrance the room; a fragrance room-spray can be made by adding a few drops of essential oils to water; add about 5 or 6 drops of oil to a warm bath and relax for about 20 minutes; sprinkle a few drops of oil on your bed sheets or pillows so that you breathe it in as you drift off.)
Buy the best bed you can afford:
"If you've been sleeping on the same mattress for 9 or 10 years, it needs replacing. Choose a mattress that's comfortable and supportive. A less-expensive alternative may be to top your old mattress with a 3-inch memory-foam pad, which is made from the same material used in expensive Tempur-Pedic mattresses. Good memory-foam pads cost about $80 for a twin size and more for queen or king. Also choose a pillow that is comfortable and supportive. If you sleep on your side, you may need a thicker pillow to support your head and neck. If you encase your pillow in an inexpensive allergy-proof cover, you'll be less likely to develop allergy symptoms during the night, which can keep you awake." (p.89)
Disease Proof Your Body: 4 Weeks to Maximum Immunity by the editors of Prevention with Kim Galeaz, RD, CD, 2008.
Cover the mattress and especially the pillows. Dust mites are everywhere in everyone's home -and one of their preferential living spaces is your mattress. Zipping up the mattress and pillows in a mite-proof cover ensures that the little mites can't interfere with your sleep.