When was the last time you had a truly great night of sleep? One that you awoke from easily, refreshed, and ready to take on the world? Unfortunately for many people this is rare. Most people, at some point in their lives, find it hard to fall asleep, and sometimes to stay asleep through the entire night. In fact, a recent survey found that more people are sleeping less than six hours a night, and up to 75% of us deal with sleep difficulties at least a few nights each week.
If this sounds familiar, don’t worry. There has been a lot of new research around insomnia, and there are many solutions out there for a better night’s rest. The first step in figuring out what will work for you, is discovering what is causing your sleeplessness in the first place. The following are everyday things that can get in the way of your best sleep possible:
Lack of exercise: Our bodies are designed to move, and move a lot. Our survival has depended on physical activity for thousands of years, and we’re simply not designed to be sitting for hours at a time. So even if you feel like you’ve been running around all day, if your heart rate hasn’t been elevated for a certain length of time or you haven’t broken a sweat, your body will have a hard time shutting down at night. So an hour or so of exercise will go a long way towards a good night’s sleep, and also help reduce mental stress at the same time.
Racing thoughts: Let’s face it, between work, family, friends, and even watching the news, our brains get quite a work out. All this activity can make it hard to settle our thoughts at night, making it nearly impossible to fall asleep. To give your mind a break, try writing down your top five or ten stresses, both good and bad, before bed. This will help to relieve stress, and put your mind at ease for the night.
What you eat and when: These days sugar is everywhere, especially in processed foods- it’s hard to avoid, and causes a lot of health problems. It can also put your adrenal glands on a roller coaster ride, and bring your energy along. Other stimulants, like caffeine, or relaxants like alcohol, make it hard for our bodies to recognize patterns of rest and activity. These are all okay in moderation, but if you find yourself overdoing it, your sleep will be affected. For some, a morning cup of coffee can actually affect their night-time sleep!
Prescription drugs: Sleeplessness is a side effect of many prescription drugs, so talk to your doctor about your medications. Or look them up on-line, for starters. Even prescription sleep aids can cause problems over time. These drugs basically knock you unconscious, then rob you of your precious restorative REM sleep. They disturb your sleep in the long run and then you have to deal with drug withdrawal. So if you can address these common causes, turn the television off, take a warm bath (and even better, with some relaxing, magnesium-laden Epsom salts and calming lavender oil) and top it off with a little warm milk night cap, (yes, it really works!) you should be soon be sleeping soundly.
Natural Remedies: If you still have issues, then there are natural remedies, including amino acids: tryptophan, 5 –hyroxytryptophan (5 HTP), theanine; melatonin which is technically a hormone, and the herbs – valerian, passion flower, and lemon balm.
I developed a combination formula called Nightly Calm that’s been helpful for many insomniacs.
Article Author: Hyla Cass M.D. is a physician practicing integrative medicine and psychiatry. She combines the best of natural medicine with modern science in her clinical practice and appears regularly on TV, radio, and has been quoted in many national magazines. A member of the Medical Advisory Board of the Health Sciences Institute and Taste for Life Magazine, she is also Associate Editor of Total Health Magazine, she has served on the boards of California Citizens for Health and the American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM). She graduated from the University of Toronto School of Medicine, interned at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, and completed a psychiatric residency at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center/UCLA. She is the author of several popular books including: Natural Highs, 8 Weeks to Vibrant Health, and Supplement your Prescription: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About Nutrition.
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