April 9, 2015

Sleep: the Final Frontier to Mind-Body Health.


Trouble sleeping?

If so, you are not alone. Difficulty with sleep, often due to an overactive mind, is extremely common. Adults who go too long without sleep compromise their immune system and emotional wellbeing. Sleep deprivation contributes to postpartum depression, psychosis and mania.

Thus restful sleep is a vital ingredient in optimal mind and body health, and it needs to be on everyone’s self-care list.

Below, I offer a few sleeping tips that have helped me, my family and my clients.

First, this is a quick mind-body tip to fall asleep or go back to sleep upon awakening:

1. Practice slow, even breathing. Establish a comfortable rhythm.

2. Then, with each slow, deep breath (complete exhalation and inhalation) count backwards, silently, from 100: breathe in and out—100; breathe in and out—99; breathe in and out—98, and so on.

It is important not to rush the process. If your mind wanders or you lose track, just go back to 100 and start again without judgment.

The effective process of this technique is three-fold: your body relaxes from your deep, even breathing; the counting serves as “thought replacement”—inserting a benign “thought” and keeping out intrusive thinking; and each time you practice this technique and are successful, your body-mind is conditioned to fall asleep in response to it (like a hypnotic suggestion). Your mind-body learns, “When I slow my breath and count in this manner, I go to sleep.”

Most people achieve near-immediate results with this technique. The trick is persistence. Don’t give up! Your health is worth this effort!

Next, take a broader look at your habits and sleep environment. Here are a few basic sleep hygiene practices:

1. No caffeine after noon (I know, I know). Drink plenty of water instead of more caffeinated tea or coffee.

2. Make your bedroom a quiet, dark, relaxing haven free of stressful clutter, work items and distractions. The bed is for sleep and (consenting, adult) intimacy only. When you enter the bedroom, you want your body-mind to connect to that space of joyous restful sleep. It is a myth that television, electronic “devicing” and the like help you sleep. It may “zone you out,” but the brain is still being stimulated.

Think you have to have the radio or TV on to sleep? Every time a laugh track sounds or there is a commercial, at some level your sleep is interrupted even though you may not be conscious of it. These disruptions interfere with sound, restful sleep. You may have trained yourself to go to sleep to those things, but you can retrain yourself and get better sleep quality because of it.

3. If you must get up in the middle of the night and read or engage in another activity, do it in another room so you don’t reinforce that it is okay not to sleep in the middle of the night in bed. Prior to leaving the bed, give the breathing technique a good concerted effort; hopefully you won’t have to leave because you’ll fall asleep.

4. No vigorous exercise after 6 p.m. (or four hours before bedtime) to give your body time to readjust to an optimally relaxed state.

5. Keep a paper and pen by your bed. Many mid-night awakenings are because we remember something that we need to attend to the following day or in the future. If you put it on paper, you can let it go, knowing you have the details recorded. Otherwise, you might find that your brain continually wakes up so that you remember when you fully awaken.

6. Use white noise or silicone earplugs. The earplugs will not prevent you from hearing your child call, but they will prevent you hearing when the hamster passes gas or a window creaks with the wind—symptoms of what I call “parent’s ear.” And they conveniently block the sound of snoring.

7. Avoid drugs and alcohol. Self medicating will have a rebound affect that increases insomnia over time.

8. Get your sleep cycles on track. For those with a day schedule: Even if you had a bad night’s sleep, stay up all day and don’t go to bed before 9 or 10 p.m.. You need to be physically tired so you will sleep during the night.

9. Get up at the same time every day. Be consistent and eventually your sleep cycles will normalize.

10. Don’t nap for longer than an hour and be awake by 3 p.m..

11. Make the breathing/counting exercise above part of your nightly routine. Earplug bonus: when you have them in, your breath becomes the “white noise.”

12. If you have children, start them with good sleep hygiene early. I’ve had teachers complain about children having ADHD when, upon further investigation, it was simply sleep deprivation. Young children often don’t know when they are tired, so it’s your job to teach them. Them sleeping well will ultimately allow you to sleep without being woken up by them in the middle of the night!

These tips work!

Stick with them, make your sleep a priority for your self-care plan.

Sweet dreams!


Author: Becky Aud-Jennison

Editor: Caroline Beaton

Photo: Flickr


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