Article - January 28, 2009
Everyone has the occasional sleepless night due to an illness, injury, stress, or otherwise. Having trouble sleeping regularly though, is a problem that requires treatment. Human beings are so reliant on sleep for basic mental and bodily functioning and when this sleep is disrupted if affects us in more ways than we know.
Neuroscientists now believe sleep* is essential for proper brain development and also has an effect on how we perceive our world when we are awake. Our brain converts our experiences into a more permanent form which is stored in our brains as memory and lack of sleep can interfere with this process. Sleeping problems are also linked to mental disorders such as depression, Alzeimer's disease, and schizophrenia. Scientists believe that sleep gives our bodies the chance to repair our bodies and minds as it is impossible to do this when we are still using our bodies. Lack of sleep not only puts stress on the body but it also impairs our basic functioning. Sleep deprivation leads to impaired reaction time, delays in speech, and leads us to make decisions we would not normally make as the human brain cannot function properly without adequate amounts of sleep. In fact, our basic biological need to sleep is so great that our bodies sometimes simply shut down which can be deadly. A prime example of this is when over tired drivers fall asleep at the wheel causing an automobile accident. A human being can only go so long without sleeping before the body simply shuts down.
Adults need about 7-8 hours of restful sleep every night and children need even more. If you have a sleeping problem, try natural sleep aids such as Chamomile tea, meditation, yoga, hot baths, or melatonin.
Sleep* - Sleep Well, Be Well!
The Benefits of Sleep
Why do we need sleep? Scientists believe that sleep gives our bodies the chance to maintain and repair our bodies and minds. Each night we cycle through 5 stages of sleep ranging from light sleep to deep, deep sleep, and finally, to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Then the cycle starts over again with varying times spent in each stage until we are spending nearly all of our time in stages 1, 2 and REM sleep. A complete sleep cycle takes 90 to 110 minutes on average.
While we sleep our brains are using important neuronal connections that might otherwise deteriorate from lack of activity. During deep sleep, brain activity that control emotions, decision-making processes, and social interaction shuts down, allowing us to maintain optimal emotional and social functioning when we are awake. Cell growth and cell repair takes place to combat the affects of stress and UV rays in this stage as well. Hence, deep sleep can truly be called beauty sleep. Sleep also helps our bodies fight infection. This is because our immune system releases a sleep-inducing chemical while fighting a cold or an infection. Sleep helps the body conserve energy and other resources that the immune system needs to mount an effective attack.
Our bodies have a built-in indicator for when we fail to get enough sleep. Lack of sleep affects our nervous systems by leaving us drowsy and unable to concentrate. Not getting enough sleep also leads to poor memory and physical performance. If sleep deprivation continues, hallucinations and mood swings may develop. In the same vein, sleeping problems are common in both mental and physical disorders including depression and schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, stroke, cancer, and head injuries. These sleeping problems may arise from changes in the brain regions and neurotransmitters that control sleep and from the drugs used to control the symptoms of these disorders.
The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation
The average adult appears to function best with 7 to 8 hours of sleep while infants need 16 hours of sleep and teenagers need about 9 hours. If you have been sleep deprived, your body will try to adjust by increasing the amount of sleep that you need. How do you know if you need more sleep? Experts say if you feel drowsy during the day or if you routinely fall asleep within 5 minutes of lying down, you probably have sleep deprivation. Sleep is often the first thing to be sacrificed in our busy lives to get more done. But we are putting our well-being in danger as well as our health.
Bradley University researchers say that overall sleep deprivation strongly impairs human functioning. Moreover, mood is more affected by sleep deprivation than either cognitive or motor performance and that partial sleep deprivation has a more profound effect on functioning than either long-term or short-term sleep deprivation. Therefore, while we may get used to a sleep-depriving schedule, our bodies do not.
We pay the price for sleep deprivation with impaired reaction time, judgement, and sometimes our lives. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driver fatigue is responsible for an estimated 100,000 motor vehicle accidents and 1,500 deaths each year. Moreover, sleep deprivation magnifies the effect of alcohol on the body. Caffeine and other stimulants cannot counteract the effects of severe sleep deprivation. If you are having trouble keeping your eyes focused or if you can't remember the last few miles, you are probably too drowsy to drive safely. What is the solution? Take a nap. According to a study conducted by the Karolinska Institute and National Institute for Psychosocial Factors and Health, Stockholm, Sweden, a 20 minute nap has a definite, marked effect on alertness. In subjects that took a short nap after experiencing sleep deprivation or a shortened sleep cycle, performance of visual vigilance tests improved while self-reported feelings of sleepiness decreased.
Getting a Good Night's Sleep
1. Keep a set sleep schedule. Go to bed each night at the same time and get up at the same time. It's tempting to sleep in on the weekends, but what you end up doing is re-setting your sleep schedule, making it difficult to get up the rest of the week.
2. Exercise helps you fall asleep and can improve the quality of your sleep. Exercise daily and be sure to exercise 5 or 6 hours before going to bed.
3. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. We are all aware that caffeine is a stimulant, but nicotine and alcohol intake keeps you in the lighter stages of sleep and deprives you of deep sleep and REM sleep.
4. Relax before going to bed. Make a relaxing routine such as a warm bath or reading part of your bedtime ritual.
5. Wake up with the sun. Sunlight helps your body reset your biological clock each day. If you are having trouble falling asleep, due to jet lag or mild insomnia, experts recommend exposing yourself to an hour of morning sunlight or using very bright lights in the morning to help reset your biological clock.
6. If you can't sleep, get out of bed. Do something else until you feel tired, like reading or watching television. Lying in bed feeling frustrated because you can't fall asleep can actually contribute to insomnia.
7. Be comfortable. Maintain a comfortable temperature in your bedroom. Being too hot or too cold can disrupt your sleep or prevent you from falling asleep.
See a doctor - if you suspect you have one of the following sleep problems:
Insomnia - frequent or long-term inability to fall asleep.
Sleep Apnea - interrupted breathing during sleep characterized by loud snoring, obesity, and excessive daytime sleepiness.
Restless Legs Syndrome - unpleasant crawling or prickling sensations in the legs and feet and an urge to move them for relief. Characterized by constant leg movement during the day and insomnia at night.
Narcolepsy - Falling asleep frequently during the day even if you have had a normal amount of nighttime sleep.
Sleep Your Pain Away:
These Tips Show You How
What's the most time-consuming thing you do, day in and day out, everyday of your life? Eating? I hope not. Sitting in traffic? Ditto.Watching TV? Nope. It's sleeping.
You spend between six and 10 hours a night in bed. That's one-third of your life. And when it comes to back pain, those are some of the most important hours in your day. Sleep helps your body heal. It's really the only time your muscles can completely rest and recover. There are a ton of studies linking sleep with healing. They show that, among other things, human growth hormone and melatonin, both of which play a big role in tissue recovery and immunity, are produced during sleep.
So if you're not getting good sleep — whether it's due to pain, anxiety, fear or whatever—you're not giving your muscles, especially your back muscles, time to rejuvenate themselves for
the next day's activities.
Believe me, I know. In my struggles with all kinds of pain over the years, I've come to understand first-hand the importance of restful sleep. In this article, I'd like to share with you what I've learned.
What's the Best Mattress
Is firm better than soft? From a physiological standpoint, a more supportive mattress is better regardless of what sleep position you prefer.
But having said that, the real answer is this: The best mattress is the one that helps you sleep well and wake up without any added pain and stiffness. It's really about personal preference and what you are used to.
In my experience, I have tried them all. I tried a memory foam mattress but it was too soft. (I gave to my parents, and they love it.)
I now use a firm box spring and mattress plus a towel under the sheets to give added support to my hips and pelvis.
Special Secret Tip:
You read that right — I put a towel under my fitted sheet. A small blanket works well too.
Here's what you do: Fold the towel or blanket in half (and in half again if it's thin). Place it under the fitted sheet—so it doesn't move around during the night—under the small of your back and spreading down toward your knees.
This extra support helps prevent your pelvis from sagging into the mattress. It might only make a difference of a few millimeters. But that is a huge difference when it comes to preventing the added stress that comes with remaining in any sleeping position all night long.
What's the Best Position to Sleep In?
As with the mattress you chose, the position you sleep in is based
on your personal preference or physical limitations based on pain or restrictions from your doctor because of surgery. In general, back sleeping is the most stable position for your spine and the least irritating to your muscles. Side sleeping is the next best. Stomach sleep is the least desirable if your back is not adequately supported.
I personally like a modified side-lying position, using full-length body pillow. I sleep 'hugging' the pillow with my arms and legs, which is really comfortable and takes pressure off my lower back. You should try it. Body pillows can be found at most retail bedding stores. They are not expensive and may give you an alternative sleeping position that will make a big difference in your comfort level, thus improving the quality and duration of sleep.
Why am I Sore When I Wake Up?
Typically, those with back pain don't roll over as much as those without pain. You may even find your self with limited movement. And because the hips are the heaviest part of the body, they sag into the mattress over time.That puts undue pressure on the ligaments, joints and muscles of the lower spine. This is why I recommend the added support under the fitted sheet.
Think of it as like stretching the same muscles for six to eight hours straight. Would that feel good? Of course not. So it's no wonder you wake up sore. Find a way to support your body and you will minimize the irritation.
I hope these tips help, and I encourage you to think of your own comfort-enhancing positions and/or techniques.
A Few More Tips
* Don't drink any fluids 60 minutes before bedtime. This is so
you don't have to go to the bathroom and then have trouble falling back asleep.
* No physical activity for at least 45 minutes before bed.Exercising will rev your body up, making it hard to calm yourself and fall into a restful sleep.
* Take 10 deep breaths as you tell yourself you are going to sleep.When you awake you will be feeling great and ready for the new day.
* As you lay in bed ready to go to sleep, reflect on your day.Express gratitude and give thanks for all you have. It helps you look forward to waking up with renewed enthusiasm and the belief that tomorrow will bring you one day closer to your goals.
* Dress in warm bedclothes if you are cold and cool clothes if
you are hot. I have taken this to the extreme and love the results. I wear wool socks, flannel pants, a sweatshirt and a knit hat. It sounds strange, but if you can minimize the stress on the body in this case trying to keep warm your body will be more relaxed. Healing is always better when the body is relaxed.
* Do some reading. In my work on back pain, I scour the latest resources and reference guides. So let me recommend and urge you to read the best book ever written on sleep. It's called 'Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance,' by Dr. James B.Mass. It's available on Amazon.com for about $10. That would be money well spent.
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