Tips for a Restful Sleep
How Not to Lose your Snooze...
It's no secret that Americans do not get enough quality sleep. The average American citizen gets by on less than 5 hours of sleep per night, and we are expected to run on all 12 cylinders every day though we are physically exhausted. Because of the constant stress we are under, we have a hard time sleeping, and because we are sleep-deprived, we are more prone to stress. It's an ugly, never-ending cycle that results in all sorts of health problems. Hypertension, weakened immune system, diabetes, heart disease, exhaustion and certain types of cancer can all be traced back to a lack of sleep, but why then is it so hard for us to get a full nights sleep?
Compartmentalize your life. I know that many professional psychiatrists say to do just the opposite, but when in comes to sleep, we need to learn to stuff our worries into a box and put a lid on it for eight hours or so. The number one reason most people give for why they don't sleep well is that they are worrying about things they need to get done the following day. People also have a bad habit of allowing disagreements and arguments to keep them up at night. Instead of allowing stressful thoughts to ruin your chance of being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning, try this exercise:
Close your eyes and imagine an open box. Every thought that could possibly keep you awake, imagine placing it into the box. That report that's due tomorrow - put it in the box. The fight you had with your nieghbor - put it in the box. Every negative situation in your life needs to go into that box, and once they're all in there, put the lid on it and imagine writing the word "tomorrow" on the top. Now, don't even Think about going back to that box until morning!
If you take this exercise seriously then your mind will be free to think about fluffy clouds and dandelions. Hopefully you can drift off to sleep now, but if not, keep reading.
Build a fort. You may remember how to build a fort from when you were a child, but if not, don't stress. You know all those decorative "throw" pillows that you throw on the floor when you tuck in for the night? Use them to build a nice little fort. Don't laugh! Evolution has taught us that as mammals, we have a subconcious desire to find a protective den from the elements and from other creatures. Shelter isn't just about staying warm - it's also to develop a sense of security. Get creative with your fort! when I was a kid, I used to build "hammock" forts on the lower bunkbed by tying my sheets to the top bed supports, and there were many times I would fall asleep before bed time simply because I was nested up in my fort. Now that I'm an adult, the most extensive my forts will get are a few extra pillows on either side of me. Still, those few extra pillows give me a content safe feeling that make it that much easier to doze off.
Chill out. Warm-blooded animals have a biological response to cold weather - they hibernate. Hibernation is a metabolic process in which the body's need to burn calories decreases and certain systems within the body start to slow down. Heart-rate and body temperature reduce slightly (though not enough to be any danger), and this creates a lethargic feeling. Like animals, humans tend to get sleepy in colder weather. When you're having trouble sleeping, try turning the air conditioner down a few degrees or turn on a fan. Don't worry about being too cold - simply nest into that fort you built earlier. Only a small percentage of your body has to be in contact with the cold (face, hands) in order for the lethargy to kick in, and because the body slows down more in the cold, you're less likely to toss and turn yourself awake.
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Bring the noise. Some people have a really hard time getting to sleep when it's too quiet (I'm one of those people), so a little ambient noise might do the trick and help you sleep better. The first sound that you ever heard was your mother's heartbeat, and even after being born, you most likely associated her heartbeat with comfort and security. Have you ever seen the magic of a fussy baby being lulled off to sleep in its mother's arms? Of course the older we get, we learn to associate other sounds with comfort as well. Some prefer the sounds of waves, others some light classical music. The sounds of rain forests, wind pipes talk radio and even thunderstorms are other favorites among the "slumberly-challenged." If you experience difficulty falling asleep when its 100% quiet, try turning the radio on a low volume and chances are that you'll be drifting off to snoozeville before you know it.
Melatonin - the Prince of Darkness. Melatonin is the naturally occuring hormone in our bodies that regulates our skin color as well as our sleep patterns. Melatonin reacts to the vitamin D in our bodies to make us feel sleepy when the sun goes down (the majority of our vitamin D comes from exposure to the sunlight), but unfortunately many of us don't get to spend enough time outdoors resulting in a vitamin D deficiency. This drop in our vitamin D levels can leave us exhausted yet unable to fall asleep. How then, can we get a natural good-night's sleep without resorting to prescription sleep-aids? Melatonin. Available in capsule form at almost any grocery store with a pharmacy, this naturally derived supplement will help you fall asleep naturally without any notable side effects. Unlike other perscription sleep-aids, melatonin doesn't tend to leave you feeling "hung-over" the next day and is not at all addictive. Melatonin begins to work when your body is deprived of any light source, thus earning the nickname "prince of darkness." Scientifically speaking, any light (be it natural or man-made) contains vitamin D, and when that source is extinguished, the melatonin is released from the hippothalamus resulting in decreased heart-rate, natural muscle relaxation and overall lethargy. As long as your body has a good supply of melatonin, once asleep you should slumber peacefully and wake up feeling refreshed and alive. Melatonin is a huge part of our evolutionary make-up, as it allowed us to stay awake during the day when it was easier to hunt and to burrow in at night when the predators tended to be out. Melatonin is also used to battle the effects of jet-lag and used properly can help ward off certain cancers and heart-disease. While no overdose of melatonin has ever been documented, it is not to be abused. Used in higher than recommended doses can result in liver damage, gastro-intestinal problems and jaundice of the skin. Melatonin should also be used with care when operating machinary or driving.
Hypnotize yourself. This one's kind of like counting sheep... except that it works. Hypnotism is not at all as difficult as it may sound; you simply have to learn to clear your mind enough to focus on a rythmic hypnotic action. Try this one:
Close your eyes and start taking deep cleansing breaths. Imagine a grandfather clock with a swinging pendulum. Don't allow any other thoughts or images into your mind or this excercise won't work. Focus on the bottom of the pendulum as it swings from the left to the right. Slowly start to let go of the image of the grandfather clock and simply see the pendulum swinging from the left to the right and back again. Start to watch the pendulum slowing down but still moving from the left to the right and back again. Allow the rocking motion to become part of you. Allow it to become you. Allow the slowly swinging pendulum to start to fade out completely. As the image of the pendulum fades out, realize that you're still that swinging pendulum. Eventually, the only thing left in your mind will be the feeling that you are a slowly swinging pendulum. Allow yourself to swing even slower. Slower, until you're completely asleep...
If you learn to do this excercise perfectly, you should be able to put yourself to sleep every single time. Realize that just like with any form of hypnotism, caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants can diminish the effectiveness of this technique.
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