Sleep - some helpful tips  1 - 6:

Sleep 1: Overview.
A quote from Shakespeare might be appropriate. "Ah, sleep that unravels the knitted brow." The phrasing may not be exact but the implication is there. A good nights sleep relieves the stress of a tired body and sharpens the mind. The manifestation of a good nights sleep includes a healthier look about one's face, a straighter posture, a spring in one's step and a gusto for food, fellowship, and getting on with the day. The physiological and psychological benefits are too good to dismiss, and the dangers of quality sleep deprivation, too serious to ignore.

Why then do we not give this important restorative process it's proper due. One reason may be, that sleep takes time - time in which we could be having fun, indulging ourselves or just whiling away the hours, in other words satisfying various needs. So there we have the conflict. Quality time or quantity of time. Wide awake and sharp or a sense of having stretched the day to its fullest but with a diminished joi de vivre. Perhaps the question to ask is, at what price? What are the long term effects of being tired, dragged out, lethargic, despondent and even depressed? Memory loss, concentration, improper digestion, poor body cell regeneration and a boss wondering what he/she is paying you for, Not to mention the cost of all those extra cups of coffee, sleeping pills, tonics and sugar fixes and other counter productive conundrums.

If the benefits of sleep are escaping you, may we suggest that preparing for a good nights sleep starts on the day before if not even earlier. It is not just a matter of getting to bed earlier, - not to say that this isn't a bad idea at any time if you want to sleep. Let's suggest this should be the first priority. If your problem is one of not getting to sleep once your head touches the pillow then we have a second point to consider - the state your body is in (once it has gone to bed).

Here are some guidelines which will bridge the above two problem areas. I will list the recommended approach in order of importance so that if you cant work your way through the entire list you will at least have a head start toward better sleep habits.

Getting to bed and getting to sleep. Key point: you cannot sleep if you're not in bed or at least in a sleep position.Get to bed earlier.  An incentive for doing this might be the knowledge that an hours sleep before midnight provides the same benefit as  two hours of sleep after midnight. Now this could mean less time in bed and still feeling alert and having a longer day. 

Sleep 2: Habits overview:
The following list highlights some important routines to develop, that support getting sufficient and restful sleep. 'Go to bed' is the most fundamental part of this process. However, unresolved needs in in our body or mind override our physical needs. This point  highlights the importance of managing your entire day to allow you to finish the tasks  at a reasonable time in order to get good nights rest.

Remember, we don't always go to bed because we are tired at a particular point of the evening. We go to bed so we won't be tired the next day.

Details of each point below are on the following pages with a final overview on the last page to monitor your general well being.

*Note: Should you drink fluids with the meal? Before during or after? The controversy regarding diluting gastric juices with water during the meal is a topic for another discussion. I personally wouldn't worry about the exact timing, but more with making sure that a glass of water is consumed at mealtimes. If there is a rule it would be - don't drink while there is food in your mouth.

Of course the dual benefit will only be realized if we manage to get up a little earlier on the morrow.  But, certainly the approach of an early night starts us off properly.

Sleep 3.
Sleep conducive environments:

Create a restful environment an hour before you go to bed. Start the earlier to bed routine with a commitment to a regular bedtime. The body circadian rhythms send us signals when it's time to retire. Learn to pick up the signals and respond to them. The mid evening yawn is a sign that our diaphragm is not undulating quite as much (it is activated by a large muscle group that needs rest too), and when less air is drawn into the lungs the body senses this and prompts a yawn to try a allow a little more air in. The yawn then, is the sign the body is winding down, and it may be time to start winding down other activities. Turn the music down a little lower and create a more peaceful atmosphere. Read something that doesn't get you fired up enough to launch a campaign.

Sleep 4:
Eating and sleep.

Optimum condition for a good night's sleep is to eat your largest meal of the day at lunchtime (midday). Then a nice light evening supper at about 6 PM. This allows the digestive process to work in harmony with the sleep process. If you are unable to meet this suggestion then try and eat your largest meal by six o'clock in the evening or as early as you can after that.

The worst thing you can do is to eat a large meal, especially if it has animal proteins (meat) just before you go to bed. The blood flow that is needed in your head to promote the flow of sleep inducing hormones, is now in your stomach and intestines aiding the peristaltic action (muscle contractions). Trying to get the muscles to move that last meal into the intestines is not a task needed during sleep. If the digestive process is well under way by the time you get to bed your sleep will also be more restful.

Drinking your daily required allotment of water is also important to enhance the above process. There isn't any point in eating a lot of fiber rich foods to promote good bowel movement if there isn't enough liquid  for the fiber to assimilate - which causes it swell and press on the intestinal walls , which in turn assists in the movement of bulk through the intestines in response to the peristaltic action. So, if there is a lot of hard work going on in the intestines during the night, your habits are not promoting a comfortable environment for sleep. The digestive process should be over by the time you get up and you're ready for that meaningful trip to the bathroom before you head to work. All related.

Milk and meat contain a sleep promoting chemical called L-tryptophane. With sufficient L-t  in your body sleep should come easily. The meat should be eaten early in the day as previously indicated. The glass of milk can be taken an hour or so before bedtime.

Eating complex carbohydrates also produces chemicals that promote sleep. At this point will just say that serotonin and melatonin are two neurochemicals involved in the sleep process. A couple of cookies with a glass of warm milk or a bowl of breakfast cereal (non sugared) will contribute to the flow of  serotonin  and promote the desired effect of sleep.

Other dietary factors:

Now, in case you think you are off the hook because I haven't mentioned coffee yet, let's give it the attention it deserves. Plenty, no not coffee, but attention. If  you want to fall asleep within minutes of your head hitting the pillow you are going to have to cut down and hopefully eliminate coffee or any form of caffeine in your system. Check your diet, routines, habits, treats or whatever other method or form that you are getting your caffeine in. More than one cup of coffee a day or two weak cups of tea can spell trouble if you are not falling asleep within five to ten minutes of wanting to sleep. Caffeine will stimulate the sympathetic nervous system on a cyclical basis and this promotes that awful state of circular thinking where you can't get your mind to shut down so your body can go to sleep. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant. If your having problems sleeping  eliminate it from your system, How to break the habit is another topic.

Sleep 5:

Physical activity/exercises and sleep:

When you are trying to increase your sleep hours your physical exercises needs to be maintained on a regular basis.  These will promote a healthier sleep pattern if there aren't too many overrides such as caffeine, anxiety, caffeine induced anxiety, and disruptive routines. An exercised body will want to go to sleep; try to exercise at least three times a week, ideally in the morning and at least by early evening.  Preferably not just before you go to bed. As a general guideline: the amount of exercise leading to physical tiredness during the day will be directly proportional to the depth/quality of your sleep. In other words if you want to sleep deeply then be very physically tired by the time that you get to bed.

Physical relaxation:

These exercises are to relax the body and can be done just before you get into bed. Stand with your feet together and raise yourself onto your toes on both feet and then lower your feet to the ground. Raise yourself up onto your toes again and then lower yourself until your feet are flat on the ground. Repeat this action until your calf muscles feel very very tired, almost to the point that you couldn't raise yourself one more time. Then get into bed. The feeling of relaxation comes from stopping. You should be asleep within minutes - as long as there aren't any other overriding factors.

Take a warm bath before bed.  The hot/warm water increases the blood low to the brain area where serotonin is released. (See page on neurotransmitter).

Mental relaxation:

Do this exercise while you are waiting to fall asleep. Count down from 100 to zero while you are taking regular but deeper breaths. At the same time visualize each number being counted - make sure the image is distinct, e.g. created in some type of material or fabric or form. If you drift off from the countdown start again at 100 and repeat the process, and again until you fall asleep. Make this a regular practice, it also helps develop concentration and visualization (mental faculties).
Sleep and mental and physical states:

Analyze your behaviours to determine if there are underlying anxieties in your life that cause poor digestion or a need for depressants or stimulants including coffee. Some warning signs might include, a constant fidgeting, knee tremors or jerking, sugar consumption habits, always snacking, lack of interest in most things, no interest in challenges, a feeling of general lethargy or general anxiety.

Monitor your health indicators:if your answer is not yes to all of the questions below your state may impact on your sleep quality and quantity.

What is the colour of your tongue? Should not be coated in a white or grey. Pink is ideal.
Do your cheeks have good colour - a nice red glow when you exert yourself? When you splash cold water on your face do your cheeks turn red? Try this in the bathroom at the start of day. A lack of colour response may suggest that you need to take some remedial action - see my write up on health for some tips.

Do you maintain good personal hygiene on a daily basis?
Do you take care of and pride in the way you look?

Do you keep your alcohol consumption to a minimum and use it only on limited occasions?
Do you exercise three times a week for a minimum of 40 minute periods?
Do you have a quick recovery rate after exertion? Check with your local Heart and Stroke Foundation for a chart that monitoring the process.

Do you drink at least one and a half liters of water a day? If you include the the intake of fluids from a variety of sources the quota can be as high as eight liters. The key is to drink water and eat foods that contain large amounts of water liquid.
Do you eat three balanced meals a day at approximately the same time each day?
Do you have a maximum of two cups of coffee a day?
Do you have a maximum of three cups of tea per day?

Is your urine clear most of the time (not dark yellow)? Dark yellow is an indicator of either the body is fighting an illness and discharging more than the usual amount of chemicals or that your fluid intake is insufficient.
Do you have daily bowel movements at almost the same time each day and within a few minutes of going to the bathroom? A body that is struggling to discharge waste matter is not is a state that facilitates sleep.

Do you have fresh breath?
Do you have a minimum amount of flatulence( gas)?
Do you seldom burp after meals?

Do you get angry quickly?
Do you use negative phrasing as part of your vocabulary?

Do you plan events and activities as part of your daily routine?
Have you got at least two things you enjoy doing each week to look forward to?

Do you have a way of solving problems on paper not just in your head?
Do you write down things that need attention in your life?
Do you use a diary planner? Writing thoughts down and having a written plan is an effective way of minimizing circular thinking - the kind of thinking that keeps you awake.

Do you have a good friend of confidant you can talk to about personal matters?

Have you developed a network of personal and professional contacts that you can call on in a time of need? Remember, you can provide support to other in need. Sometimes shifting focus from ourselves to others provides a reality check of how serious our problems are.
Do you spend time each week getting/staying physically organized? An uncluttered environment is preferable when are lives are in upheaval.


Sleep 6:
What to avoid - drugs/sleeping pills.

The following is sample of information on L-Tryptophan from a commercial web site promoting a chemical supplements. I have added it as an example of how we can be encouraged to buying products instead of changing the patterns and lifestyle components that are the cause of the problem.

"  Product:               5-HTP (5-Hydroxy L- Tryptophan - a natural antidepressant ). L-5-HTP Natural Sleep Aid.

From the article: scientists have discovered that depression, anxiety, and sleeplessness are all related to a deficiency of the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-hydroxy-tryptophan, 5-HTP) in the brain. Restore the serotonin, and your mood improves , anxiety melts away, and you sleep restfully through the night. Other symptoms of serotonin deficiency can include: carbohydrate cravings, migraines, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and other behavioral disorders.

Depressed levels of serotonin are also associated with sleep problems, low threshold for pain, and anxiety. Tryptophan was used by millions around the world for this purpose. We can now increase serotonin levels by supplying more of the the raw materials for manufacturing of serotonin, namely L-tryptophan and
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) which the body uses to make 5-Hydroxy Tryptamine, also known as serotonin.

Depression results, in part, from the lack of serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter. The leading antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. By blocking the reuptake of serotonin, they increase the serotonin available to stimulate serotonin receptors. These include Prozac¨, Zoloft¨, Paxil¨, and Effexor¨. While they may be effective for depression, they are not without side effects, including the loss of sex drive." End of article.

Fred's note on taking drugs and supplement for sleep disorders:
If drugs cause a loss of sex drive I would be very relectant to take them. I think losing your sex drive would be depressing. Sex drive is a quick indicator of overall health. Ingesting a product that diminishes natrual function has to be suspect. Drugs are also expensive. Health should not have to be prescribed, but practised. Although I believe the above statements of the scientists to be reasonable, the need for dietary supplements and drugs is always suspect. I believe that a well balanced diet, exercise and good sleeping habits will establish the right foundation for the body to produce and assimilate what it needs, including serotonin. Or, at least the above regimen can eliminate these factors as possible causes of poor health. This can help make a physician's diagnosis better focused.

Action quickly causes a change in perspective. 'Do something' when thoughts become debilitating. Fresh oxygen through the body system helps stabilize imbalances. When you just don't feel 'right' get moving! I have avoided taking any type of medication throughout my life. Occasionally I have agreed to an antibiotic for a nagging (hospital aquired ) infection. Therefore I am not plagued by the build up of chemicals that may occur if one is prone to take medications and supplements.

Final words:

That's it. One persons' opinion on a topic that affects everyone at sometime. How will I sleep tonight? Quite well, I'm sure. I followed all the guidelines today. I also swam a mile in the pool in under 40 minutes and that should help-I will be physically as well as mentally tired. And, I also am looking forward to my day tomorrow - anticipation produces some good chemistry in the body too. Thanks for reading this. Please pass it on to someone who looks as though they could use a good night's sleep. They might thank you.