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Sleep like a Baby

Six proven tips to help you get the rest you need, without drugs.

Some people were born to sleep. Neither a binge session of Orange is the New Black, an earthquake nor even a driving teenager will keep them from passing out. Insomniacs think about these people a lot, especially at 4:21 a.m. while they watch a bad movie, read a boring book or scan Facebook trying to nod. For instance, I rarely have any trouble falling or staying asleep, no matter what I ate or drank; my friend Sharon is envious. Every day she would come to the office and count the hours since she’d been awake that day. “Two thirty this morning…I finally got to sleep at 3… I slept until 4:30 today!” It was exhausting just looking at the darkness around her poor tired eyes.
She’s not alone. Insomnia affects as many as 70 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) [1], and the problem worsens with age. Eight out of ten adults suffer what experts call “situational insomnia,” meaning that sleep becomes elusive when you’re changing jobs, buying a house, dealing with a relationship gone bad. And if situational insomnia becomes chronic, it may lead to safety concerns and numerous health problems, including depression, weight gain and heart disease [2].
If you’re looking for a super quick, short-term fix, prescription drugs like Ambien work well, but some freaky side effects, such as sleep driving and eating, as well as hallucinations, have been reported. If you seek relief that works efficiently and quickly without drugs, and your doctor has ruled out any medical or psychological causes for your insomnia, read on.

You might need kneading A professional, full-body massage might be a no-brainer; lots of people fall asleep on the table, and if it’s a weekly or even monthly routine, you’ll be more relaxed and less likely to have problems falling asleep [3]. But that can get expensive, and according to integrative M.D. Anne Marie Chiasson, “For insomnia, a light self-massage is also effective,” and might help bring your systems into balance and allow you to fall asleep naturally. Here are some DIY techniques:
1. Foot press Any type of foot massage is extremely relaxing and helps prepare you for sleep, especially if you use a bit of lavender oil. And if you can’t get your partner to rub your feet (sigh), sit comfortably on the floor and put both thumbs on top of one foot near your toes, fingers on the bottom of your foot. Squeeze hard for two seconds, and release for two seconds. Work your way from the toes (and in between them) to the ankles, then switch feet and repeat.
2. Shampoo stroke Lie in bed and gently massage your head and neck as if shampooing your hair.
3. Skull press Cradle the back of your head with your hands so that your thumbs come together at the occipital ridge (the protrusion where skull meets neck). Using your thumbs, gently press upward on the skull in a circular motion, gradually working your way over to your ears. Press with your fingers and find the tender places; when you do, press lightly and breathe into that spot.
If you decide to get a professional massage, visit the American Massage Therapy Association at amtamassage.org; and always call, tell the therapist what you are looking for and have him/her describe their work. If they won’t take time, go elsewhere.

Do yoga Research reported in the Indian Journal of Medical Research showed that yoga and deep breathing helped people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Thirty minutes before bedtime, try the simple posture below, then brush your hair or massage your scalp, and apply soothing oils or creams to your body, but avoid reading or watching a screen.
Lie on the floor, resting your calves on your bed or a chair, knees bent 90 degrees and directly over your hips. Put your arms to your sides, palms up. Observe your breath, inhale deeply and slowly, and start to lengthen your exhalations: With each breath, increase the exhalation by one second until you’ve reached a comfortable max. Stay with that length for 12 breaths, then slowly return to normal breathing and finally, get into bed.

Sup some supplements and herbs Melatonin can induce sleep and enhance the quality of your dreams, which integrative M.D. Andrew Weil says is important for deep, quality sleep. Valerian and kava kava can knock you out quite quickly. Try them, they are safe and some swear by them; others find that they feel a little hung over in the morning. You also can find an herbalist or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner, who may prescribe an herb formula based on your specific symptoms. Go to nccam.org to find one.

Make sure your room is pitch black Research has shown that any ambient light can interfere with good sleep, because your body naturally awakens when it senses sunlight. [4]

Tune in, turn in A 2009 study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found that 45 minutes of music improved sleep for slumber-challenged participants, while another found that listening to music helped women fall asleep faster, experience fewer nighttime wakenings and feel more satisfied with the quality of their sleep. What works best? Anne Marie Chiasson, who teaches at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, Tucson, says she has found the most success with recordings of drumming, chanting and Native American songs for sleep induction. “Find the piece of music that speaks to you and allows you to take deep, relaxing breaths and leave the stress of the day behind [5].

Quiet the chatter Endless, anxious thoughts are a leading cause of insomnia, and the best way to quiet that mind chatter is to work through bothersome problems before you go to bed. If anxieties still keep you awake, talk them through with a friend, your partner or a therapist.

Exercise Getting into a regular workout routine is priceless for good sleep. Find a way to work in 30 to 90 minutes of rhythmic exercise each day. Get up at 5 am if you have to (I row crew four to five times a week at 5 in the morning, maybe that’s why I conk out so easily); eat lunch at your desk; have dinner later if that’s what it takes. Just move.

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1. http://www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep/
2. PubMed: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/
3. The Doctor’s Book of Natural Health Remedies, pp 166-167.
4. http://sleepfoundation.org/bedroom/see.php
5. The Doctor’s Book of Natural Health Remedies, pp 169-171.

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