Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Can't Sleep? There is Help! (Part 1)

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Overcoming the Most Common Sleep Disorder on Earth
Posted By Dr. Mercola
February 04 2011
Health.com offers a whole host of ways for you to make sure that you get a good night's sleep. To review all of them, see the source link below.
Your sleeping area
Use your bedroom only for sleeping
Move the TV out of your bedroom
Keep your bedroom quiet and dark
Your evening and bedtime routine
Get regular exercise -- but not within 3 to 4 hours before bedtime
Create a relaxing bedtime routine
Go to bed at the same time every night
Consider using a sleep mask and earplugs
If you can't sleep
Imagine yourself in a peaceful, pleasant place
Don't drink any liquids after 6 PM if waking up during the night to go to the bathroom is a problem
Your activities during the day
Get outside during daylight hours
Don't consume anything that has caffeine in it
Don't drink alcohol before bed
Don't take naps during the day
Don't take medicine that makes you feel energized right before bed
Sources:
Health.com April 24, 2008
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Sleep is such an important part of your overall health that no amount of healthful food and exercise can counteract the ill effects of poor sleeping habits.
Researchers have linked poor sleep to a number of health ailments, from short-term memory loss and behavioral problems, to weight gain and diabetes, for example. According to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), lack of sleep can even adversely impact more serious diseases, such as:
Parkinson disease (PD)
Alzheimer disease (AD)
Multiple sclerosis (MS)
Gastrointestinal tract disorders
Kidney disease
A disrupted sleep cycle also adversely affects your body's production of melatonin, which is both a hormone and a potent antioxidant against cancer, thus raising your risk of breast cancer.
Poor sleeping habits can also raise your levels of corticosterone, the stress hormone associated with road rage. Additionally, when your body is under stress, it releases hormones that increase your heart rate and blood pressure. Your muscles get tense, your digestive processes stop, and certain brain centers are triggered, which alter your brain chemistry. Left unchecked, this stress response can eventually lead to headaches, anxiety, and depression.
Understanding Why and How Insomnia Occurs
I recently interviewed Dr. Rubin Naiman, a clinical psychologist, author, teacher, and the leader in integrative medicine approaches to sleep and dreams. In that interview, we discussed several important factors that affect your sleep, for better or worse.
According to Dr. Naiman, the most commonly reported sleep disorder is insomnia; having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or the inability to get quality sleep throughout the night.
The list provided by Health.com (above) offers many helpful tips to help you get a better night's sleep, but it can be extremely helpful to first understand why and how insomnia occurs in the first place. By addressing the underlying causes of your inability to fall asleep first, you may be able to resolve the situation much faster. In order to understand why you can't sleep, you need to understand that sleep is an outcome of two types of variables:
Sleepiness – Under normal conditions, your sleepiness should increase throughout the day, peaking just before you go to bed at night. This is ideal, as you want your sleep to be high at the beginning of the night.
Making sure you’re exposed to bright sunlight, and high-quality lighting during the day, followed by decreased light exposure once the sun sets, will help maximize your natural sleep cycle so that you’re appropriately sleepy at the end of the evening.
"Noise" – “Noise" occurs in three zones: the mind level, body level, and the environmental level. If the noise is conceptually greater than your level of sleepiness, you will not fall asleep.
The most common type of mind noise is called "cognitive popcorn,” or unstoppable thoughts running through your mind at night. Examples of body noise include pain, discomfort, indigestion, side effects from prescription drugs, or residual caffeine from drinking coffee too late in the day. Environmental noise is usually obvious, such as noises in your room or house, a snoring partner, music, lights, or being too hot.
In order to get a good night's sleep, you want:
sleepiness level to be high, and
the noise level to be low
More often than not, the reason why you can't fall asleep is NOT because you're not sleepy enough, but rather because you're subjected to excessive noise, which, again, can be either mind/body/environmental-type noise, or a combination thereof. Therefore, the FIRST thing you need to ask yourself when you can't sleep is:
"Where/What is the noise?"
Typically, people will find between three to six different factors that contribute to the noise burden keeping them awake. Therefore, don't give up if you've addressed the most obvious source of noise and still can't sleep. Keep looking! You need to really evaluate your environment and your inner- and outer state to determine and address ALL the contributing factors.
Tips to Address Excessive "Noise"
If you're in the habit of spending a lot of time in front of the TV or on the computer at night, you may want to reconsider, as these technologies can have a significantly detrimental impact on your sleep:
TV and computer screens emit blue light, nearly identical to the light you’re exposed to outdoors during the day. This tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime, thereby shutting down melatonin secretion.
Under normal circumstances, your brain starts secreting melatonin between 9 or 10 pm, which makes you sleepy. When this natural secretion cycle is disrupted, due to excessive light exposure after sunset, insomnia can ensue.
They stimulate your brain, thereby preventing you from falling asleep quickly. TV also disrupts your pineal gland function.
These items also prevent you from getting high-quality sleep if you fall asleep with them on. In fact, many teens are now getting “junk sleep” for this very reason.
If you find that "cognitive popcorn" is an issue for you, try journaling for awhile before bed, in lieu of watching TV, or keep a notepad by your bedside. If you wake in the middle of the night with your mind racing in circles, you can transfer your to-do list to the page and return to sleep knowing you can address it tomorrow.
Worries can take great toll not only on your ability to sleep, but it also creates a vicious cycle of stress. If transferring night-time worries onto paper just doesn't cut it, or if you don't know how to overcome them, I highly recommend using the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to release your negative emotions before going to bed.
I also recommend listening to my previous interview with Dr. Naiman for more in-depth details about the various forms of insomnia.
"Cool" and "Dark" -- Two of the Most Potent Aids to Prevent Tossing and Turning
Two very important contributing factors that can make sleep elusive are:
Light – If your bedroom is not already pitch dark at night, I highly recommend installing blackout shades or thick drapes.Even the barely noticeable light from a streetlight, a full moon, or your neighbor‘s house can interfere with the circadian rhythm changes you need to fall asleep. You want your bedroom as pitch-black as possible.
Alternatively, wear an eye mask to block out light, but this is a poor second best option.
Also hide your clock, so that its glow won’t disturb you. Ideally, you’ll want to avoid using electronic clocks in your bedroom, as they emit not just light, but also electromagnetic radiation, which can also disrupt your sleep. In fact, electric clocks have a very high magnetic field, as much as 5 to 10 mG up to three feet away. If you are using an electric bedside clock, you could be sleeping in an EMF equivalent to that of a powerline.
Also avoid electric blankets for this same reason.
Temperature -- Keep the temperature in your bedroom no higher than 70 degrees F. Many people keep their homes and particularly their upstairs bedrooms too warm. Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is quite cool, as low as 60 to 68 degrees.
Keeping your room cooler than 60 degrees F. or hotter than 70 degrees F. can lead to restless sleep. This is because when you sleep, your body's internal temperature drops to its lowest level, generally about four hours after you fall asleep. Scientists believe a cooler bedroom may therefore be most conducive to sleep, since it mimics your body's natural temperature drop.
For an additional boost, try taking a hot bath 90 to 120 minutes before bedtime. This increases your core body temperature, and when you get out of the bath it abruptly drops, signaling your body that you are ready for sleep.
Additional Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Sleep
Last but not least, you can also consider taking a melatonin supplement, which will help boost sleepiness. It likely will not be enough to counteract or override excessive “noise” however, so do make every effort at addressing the various forms of noise, as discussed above, first.
Ideally it is best to increase your melatonin levels naturally, by exposing yourself to bright sunlight in the daytime (along with full spectrum fluorescent bulbs in the winter) and complete darkness at night.
Doing this regularly will promote proper functioning of your natural circadian rhythm, which is essential for a proper sleep cycle. However, if that isn't possible, you can consider a melatonin supplement. It's is a completely natural substance, made by your body, and has many health benefits in addition to sleep.
In scientific studies, melatonin has been shown to increase sleepiness, help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep, decrease restlessness, and reverse daytime fatigue. I prefer to use a sublingual melatonin product because it is absorbed much faster and therefore works more quickly. I offer a melatonin spray on my website that I believe is one of the very best on the market.
For even more helpful guidance on how to improve your sleep, please review my 33 Secrets to a Good Night's Sleep. If you're even slightly sleep deprived I encourage you to implement some of these tips tonight, as high-quality sleep is one of the most important factors in your health and quality of life.
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Want a Good Night's Sleep? Then Never Do These Things Before Bed
Posted By Dr. Mercola
October 02 2010
Sleep is one of the great mysteries of life. Like gravity or the quantum field, we still don’t understand exactly why we sleep—although we are learning more about it every day.
We do know, however, that good sleep is one of the cornerstones of health.
Six to eight hours per night seems to be the optimal amount of sleep for most adults, and too much or too little can have adverse effects on your health.
Sleep deprivation is such a chronic condition these days that you might not even realize you suffer from it. Science has now established that a sleep deficit can have serious, far reaching effects on your health.
For example, interrupted or impaired sleep can:
Dramatically weaken your immune system
Accelerate tumor growth—tumors grow two to three times faster in laboratory animals with severe sleep dysfunctions
Cause a pre-diabetic state, making you feel hungry even if you’ve already eaten, which can wreak havoc on your weight
Seriously impair your memory; even a single night of poor sleep—meaning sleeping only 4 to 6 hours—can impact your ability to think clearly the next day
Impair your performance on physical or mental tasks, and decrease your problem solving ability
When your circadian rhythms are disrupted, your body produces less melatonin (a hormone AND an antioxidant) and has less ability to fight cancer, since melatonin helps suppress free radicals that can lead to cancer. This is why tumors grow faster when you sleep poorly.
Impaired sleep can also increase stress-related disorders, including:
Heart disease
Stomach ulcers
Constipation
Mood disorders like depression
Sleep deprivation prematurely ages you by interfering with your growth hormone production, normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep (and during certain types of exercise, such as Peak Fitness Technique). Growth hormone helps you look and feel younger.
One study has even shown that people with chronic insomnia have a three times greater risk of dying from any cause.
Lost sleep is lost forever, and persistent lack of sleep has a cumulative effect when it comes to disrupting your health. Poor sleep can make your life miserable, as most of you probably know.
The good news is, there are many natural techniques you can learn to restore your “sleep health.”
Whether you have difficulty falling asleep, waking up too often, or feeling inadequately rested when you wake up in the morning—or maybe you simply want to improve the quality of your sleep—you are bound to find some relief from my tips and tricks below.
If you are interested in more information about sleep or any of the 33 items listed, I invite you to delve into the links that follow, which are grouped by subject.
Optimizing Your Sleep Sanctuary
Sleep in complete darkness, or as close to it as possible. Even the tiniest bit of light in the room can disrupt your internal clock and your pineal gland's production of melatonin and serotonin. Even the tiniest glow from your clock radio could be interfering with your sleep. This will help decrease your risk of cancer. Close your bedroom door, and get rid of night-lights. Refrain from turning on any light at all during the night, even when getting up to go to the bathroom. Cover up your clock radio.
Cover your windows—I recommend using blackout shades or drapes.
All life evolved in response to predictable patterns of light and darkness, called circadian rhythms. Modern day electrical lighting has significantly betrayed your inner clock by disrupting your natural rhythms. Little bits of light pass directly through your optic nerve to your hypothalamus, which controls your biological clock.
Light signals your brain that it’s time to wake up and starts preparing your body for ACTION.
Keep the temperature in your bedroom no higher than 70 degrees F. Many people keep their homes and particularly their upstairs bedrooms too warm. Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is quite cool, between 60 to 68 degrees. Keeping your room cooler or hotter can lead to restless sleep.
When you sleep, your body’s internal temperature drops to its lowest level, generally about four hours after you fall asleep. Scientists believe a cooler bedroom may therefore be most conducive to sleep, since it mimics your body’s natural temperature drop.
Check your bedroom for electro-magnetic fields (EMFs). These can disrupt the pineal gland and the production of melatonin and serotonin, and may have other negative effects as well.
To do this, you need a gauss meter. You can find various models online, starting around $50 to $200. Some experts even recommend pulling your circuit breaker before bed to kill all power in your house.
Move alarm clocks and other electrical devices away from your bed. If these devices must be used, keep them as far away from your bed as possible, preferably at least 3 feet. Remove the clock from view. It will only add to your worry when you stare at it all night... 2 a.m. ...3 a.m. ... 4:30 a.m.
Avoid using loud alarm clocks. It is very stressful on your body to be suddenly jolted awake. If you are regularly getting enough sleep, an alarm may even be unnecessary.
I gave up my alarm clock years ago and now use a sun alarm clock. The Sun Alarm™ SA-2002 provides an ideal way to wake up each morning if you can't wake up with the REAL sun. Combining the features of a traditional alarm clock (digital display, AM/FM radio, beeper, snooze button, etc) with a special built-in light that gradually increases in intensity, this amazing clock simulates a natural sunrise. It also includes a sunset feature where the light fades to darkness over time, which is ideal for anyone who has trouble falling asleep.
Reserve your bed for sleeping. If you are used to watching TV or doing work in bed, you may find it harder to relax and drift off to sleep, so avoid doing these activities in bed.
Consider separate bedrooms. Recent studies suggest, for many people, sharing a bed with a partner (or pets) can significantly impair sleep, especially if the partner is a restless sleeper or snores. If bedfellows are consistently interfering with your sleep, you may want to consider a separate bedroom.
Preparing for Bed
Get to bed as early as possible. Your body (particularly your adrenal system) does a majority of its recharging between the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. In addition, your gallbladder dumps toxins during this same period. If you are awake, the toxins back up into your liver, which can further disrupt your health.
Prior to the widespread use of electricity, people would go to bed shortly after sundown, as most animals do, and which nature intended for humans as well.
Don't change your bedtime. You should go to bed and wake up at the same times each day, even on the weekends. This will help your body to get into a sleep rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep and get up in the morning.
Establish a bedtime routine. This could include meditation, deep breathing, using aromatherapy or essential oils or indulging in a massage from your partner. The key is to find something that makes you feel relaxed, then repeat it each night to help you release the tensions of the day.
Don't drink any fluids within 2 hours of going to bed. This will reduce the likelihood of needing to get up and go to the bathroom, or at least minimize the frequency.
Go to the bathroom right before bed. This will reduce the chances that you'll wake up to go in the middle of the night.
Eat a high-protein snack several hours before bed. This can provide the L-tryptophan needed for your melatonin and serotonin production.
Also eat a small piece of fruit. This can help the tryptophan cross your blood-brain barrier.
Avoid before-bed snacks, particularly grains and sugars. These will raise your blood sugar and delay sleep. Later, when blood sugar drops too low (hypoglycemia), you may wake up and be unable to fall back asleep.
Take a hot bath, shower or sauna before bed. When your body temperature is raised in the late evening, it will fall at bedtime, facilitating slumber. The temperature drop from getting out of the bath signals your body it’s time for bed.
Wear socks to bed. Feet often feel cold before the rest of the body because they have the poorest circulation. A study has shown that wearing socks reduces night wakings. As an alternative, you could place a hot water bottle near your feet at night.
Wear an eye mask to block out light. As discussed earlier, it is very important to sleep in as close to complete darkness as possible. That said, it's not always easy to block out every stream of light using curtains, blinds or drapes, particularly if you live in an urban area (or if your spouse has a different schedule than you do). In these cases, an eye mask can be helpful.
Put your work away at least one hour before bed (preferably two hours or more). This will give your mind a chance to unwind so you can go to sleep feeling calm, not hyped up or anxious about tomorrow's deadlines.
No TV right before bed. Even better, get the TV out of the bedroom or even completely out of the house. It’s too stimulating to the brain, preventing you from falling asleep quickly. TV disrupts your pineal gland function.
Listen to relaxation CDs. Some people find the sound of white noise or nature sounds, such as the ocean or forest, to be soothing for sleep. An excellent relaxation/meditation option to listen to before bed is the Insight audio CD. Another favorite is the Sleep Harmony CD, which uses a combination of advanced vibrational technology and guided meditation to help you effortlessly fall into deep delta sleep within minutes. The CD works on the principle of “sleep wave entrainment” to assist your brain in gearing down for sleep.
Read something spiritual or uplifting. This may help you relax. Don't read anything stimulating, such as a mystery or suspense novel, which has the opposite effect. In addition, if you are really enjoying a suspenseful book, you might be tempted to go on reading for hours, instead of going to sleep!
Journaling. If you often lay in bed with your mind racing, it might be helpful keep a journal and write down your thoughts before bed. Personally, I have been doing this for 15 years, but prefer to do it in the morning when my brain is functioning at its peak and my cortisol levels are high.
Lifestyle Suggestions That Enhance Sleep
Reduce or avoid as many drugs as possible. Many drugs, both prescription and over-the-counter, may adversely effect sleep. In most cases, the condition causing the drugs to be taken in the first place can be addressed by following guidelines elsewhere on my web site.
Avoid caffeine. At least one study has shown that, in some people, caffeine is not metabolized efficiently, leaving you feeling its effects long after consumption. So, an afternoon cup of coffee or tea will keep some people from falling asleep at night. Be aware that some medications contain caffeine (for example, diet pills).
Avoid alcohol. Although alcohol will make you drowsy, the effect is short lived and you will often wake up several hours later, unable to fall back asleep. Alcohol will also keep you from entering the deeper stages of sleep, where your body does most of its healing.
Make certain you are exercising regularly. Exercising for at least 30 minutes per day can improve your sleep. However, don't exercise too close to bedtime or it may keep you awake. Studies show exercising in the morning is the best if you can manage it.
Lose excess weight. Being overweight can increase your risk of sleep apnea, which can seriously impair your sleep.
Avoid foods you may be sensitive to. This is particularly true for sugar, grains, and pasteurized dairy. Sensitivity reactions can cause excess congestion, gastrointestinal upset, bloating and gas, and other problems.
Have your adrenals checked by a good natural medicine clinician. Scientists have found that insomnia may be caused by adrenal stress.
If you are menopausal or perimenopausal, get checked out by a good natural medicine physician. The hormonal changes at this time may cause sleep problems if not properly addressed.
If All Else Fails
My current favorite fix for insomnia is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). Most people can learn the basics of this gentle tapping technique in a few minutes. EFT can help balance your body's bioenergy system and resolve some of the emotional stresses that are contributing to your insomnia at a very deep level. The results are typically long lasting and improvement is remarkably rapid.
Increase your melatonin. Ideally it is best to increase levels naturally with exposure to bright sunlight in the daytime (along with full spectrum fluorescent bulbs in the winter) and absolute complete darkness at night.
If that isn’t possible, you may want to consider a melatonin supplement. In scientific studies, melatonin has been shown to increase sleepiness, help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep, decrease restlessness, and reverse daytime fatigue.
Melatonin is a completely natural substance, made by your body, and has many health benefits in addition to sleep.
I prefer to use a sublingual melatonin product because it is absorbed much faster and therefore works more quickly. I offer a melatonin spray on my website that I believe is one of the very best on the market.
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Do High-Fat Foods Disrupt Your Body Clock?
By Dr. Mercola
December 01 2007
Mice that ate a high-fat diet gained weight and experienced a disruption in their circadian clocks, which regulate metabolic functions such as when they go to sleep, wake up and become hungry.
The disruption threw off the timing of the animals’ internal signals, including appetite control. As a result, the mice ate extra calories during the time when they would have otherwise been asleep or resting. For humans, this would be the equivalent of raiding the refrigerator in the middle of the night.
The high-fat diet and resulting weight gain also triggered diminished expression of genes that encode the clock in the brain and in peripheral tissues.
The findings suggest that changes in metabolic state that occur with obesity and diabetes affect not only circadian rhythms of behavior but also physiology.
Past studies have found that a misaligned body clock can throw off your metabolism, and increase your risk of obesity and diabetes.
This represents a “vicious loop,” according to researchers, because once weight is gained, your internal clock is disrupted, and a disrupted clock makes the original problem worse.
"Timing and metabolism evolved together and are almost a conjoined system," said one of the study’s authors Joe Bass, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and neurobiology and physiology at Northwestern and head of the division of endocrinology and metabolism at ENH. "If we perturb the delicate balance between the two, we see deleterious effects."
Sources:
Science Daily November 7, 2007
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
The problem with virtually all diet studies like the one above is that they tend to ignore a profound foundational element of human physiology. The very foundation of their study presumes that all humans have similar food requirements.
If you have been reading this site for a while you will know that nothing could be further from the truth. Some were designed to eat high-fat, high-protein diets while others thrive on low-fat, low-protein diets.
Analysis of these premises becomes a bit more cloudy when you switch to animal models, as they tend to have a more homogenous genetic background, especially the animals that are bred for scientific experiments. The researchers are assuming they can generalize their findings to humans, but for this type of research I do not believe the science supports it.
So Just What Can You Do to Improve Your Sleep Cycle?
Your sleep/wake cycle, regulated by your circadian rhythm (or your body’s internal clock), has evolved over many years. If you violate these very powerful biorhythms, you are asking for trouble.
What may surprise you is that your body has many internal clocks -- in your brain, lungs, liver, heart and even your skeletal muscles -- and they all work to keep your body running smoothly by controlling temperature and the release of hormones.
Your heart rate, body temperature and hormone production vary with your personal internal clock. This, in turn, influences such things as:
The easiest time to detect disease in your body
The times when you’ll be less sensitive to pain
The times when you’ll be more productive at work
However, this is a very delicate system, and it is easily thrown off kilter.
Does your diet also impact your internal clock? Definitely.
What you eat sends your body signals about when to wake up and go to sleep. Your meals, which are typically at relatively consistent times throughout the day, also help to reinforce other time-setting activities.
In terms of foods themselves, protein-rich foods help your body to produce chemicals that tell you to wake up. High-carbohydrate foods, meanwhile, produce chemicals that tell you to go to sleep.
This is why jet lag, which occurs when your body's inner clock is out of sync with the time cues it receives from your environment, can be significantly reduced by eating the right foods.
Another questionable aspect of the study is the fact that the mice were kept in darkness for the entire duration.
Changes in light dramatically impact your health and your biological clock. Mice do not typically live in complete darkness, so I question whether this impacted the results.
How to Keep Your Circadian Rhythm in Balance
Aside from being linked to obesity and diabetes, a disrupted circadian rhythm may influence cancer progression through shifts in hormones like melatonin, which your brain makes during sleep. So it’s crucial that you support your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle.
The following tips will help to keep your body’s internal clock running smoothly:
Sleep in total darkness!! If there is even the tiniest bit of light in your room it can disrupt your circadian rhythm and your pineal gland's production of the hormones melatonin and serotonin.
This is the “hidden” secret that most people tend to ignore. This was recently brought to my attention when the highly knowledgeable chiropractor who works in my clinic, Dr. Lloyd Fielder, told me that he never fully appreciated the power of this intervention. He recently installed black out drapes in his bedroom and was shocked at how much better he felt -- it radically improved the quality of his sleep.
So do yourself a favor this holiday season and purchase yourself some black out drapes. You will be shocked at how much better you feel, and you will also radically lower your risk of cancer.
Sleep when it’s dark outside and get up when the sun comes up. This is another largely ignored -- yet vitally important -- health principle. You should at least strive to sleep between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. This means you should be in bed, with the lights out, by 10 p.m. and be up by 6 a.m. If this is difficult for you, keep in mind that people naturally followed this pattern before the advent of electricity. This has been an important part of Ayurvedic medicine for over 5,000 years.
Avoid working the night shift. It’s been linked to significantly lower levels of serotonin, which may cause sleep problems, anger, depression and anxiety. If you currently work the night shift, I would strongly suggest trying to switch your hours, or at the very least not keeping the night shift for longer than a couple of months at a time (and giving your body a chance to readjust in between).
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