Having trouble falling asleep at night? You may be tempted to try sleeping pills to help send you off to la-la land. What’s the harm, right? Dr. Peter Hibberd tells us that short term use of sleeping pills can be a great way to help a person adjust their sleep cycle, particularly if they suffer from jet lag or work schedule changes that have upset their natural sleep cycle. But he and other health practitioners caution that long-term use of sleeping pills can increase the chances of becoming dependent on them to initiate the sleep cycle. Dr. Hibberd points out that even without the side effect of morning fatigue, caution must be exercised in terms of using sleeping pills. He says he favors minimizing drug use, and advises people to check with their physician.
Medication may seem like the magic answer, but it can come with a range of issues. Sleep medication can actually reduce the quality of your sleep, much like alcohol. It can make you drowsy in the morning, the hangover effect. Potency can diminish over time, and your body can actually become dependent on it. Different sleep medications have different side effects, but the advice remains the same. Only take them if you really need to, and for short term. Dr. Hibberd states that once a regular sleep cycle is established, people should seek other ways to improve their sleep habits; and they should wean themselves off of sleeping pills. There are natural supplements one can take to promote good sleep as well. Green supplements like All Day Energy Greens which contains all natural fruits and vegetables can help you feel energized during the day and as a result, you may notice you sleep better at night.
So what is the sleep cycle, and what are these other ways to improve sleep—and avoid the use of sleeping pills? The sleep cycle is a natural bodily process designed to help you gently drift off to sleep at night. Our natural sleep cycle is governed by patterns of light and darkness. Internally, our bodies are designed to fall asleep soon after darkness falls and to wake up naturally with the rising of the sun. However, artificial light has changed the way we schedule our day-to-day lives and most of us sleep for much less than the recommended 6 to 8 hours a night. Built in to this cycle of sleeping and waking is the REM dream cycle. Research has shown that while sleeping helps to rebuild the cells of the human body, dreaming helps to rebuild the human mind.
When our bodies and minds are attuned to the world’s natural rhythms, we feel calmer, more centered, and more energetic while awake. Sleep is also more satisfying when the sleep cycle matches patterns of natural light and darkness because it provides the time we need to restore and rejuvenate our bodies and our minds.
Each of us has a sleep cycle, but there are many bad habits that can stop the sleep cycle from working properly, making it hard to fall asleep at night. Try not to go to sleep with a full stomach. By allowing a few hours to digest a meal, your system can relax and focus on going to sleep, rather than digesting a late dinner. If you must have a bedtime snack, make it something light and low fat, like a piece of fruit or yogurt, or a cup of warm soy milk. Lack of calcium has been shown to impair the ability to fall asleep, so if you take a calcium supplement, take it in the evening. Certain foods, like figs, dates, yogurt, grapefruit, bananas, tuna and turkey, help to promote sleep because they are naturally high in the amino acid tryptophan.
Other foods can inhibit sleep because they contain tyramine, which can stimulate the brain; they include potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, eggplant, sugar, cheese and pork products. Avoid caffeine and sugar; it can take hours to get out of your system and it can keep you awake for hours into the night. Remember that many colas are loaded with caffeine, as well as tea, chocolate and many pain relievers. If you are a coffee drinker, limit yourself to one or two cups, in the morning only. Try to eat a healthy balanced diet incorporating green energy drinks. Green energy drinks contain green supplements such as All Day Energy Greens, which can help supercharge your energy level during the day so that you feel naturally tired in the evening. Avoid alcohol before bedtime, too. Even though alcohol can help you to relax initially, it is known to wake people up a few hours later with thirsty feelings of “dry mouth.” Alcohol, caffeine and sleeping pills are known to inhibit the stage of sleep where our dreams take place. Also, certain medications prescribed to treat depression can create insomnia, so check with your doctor.
If you’re going to have a “hot toddy,” let it be herbal. A cup of herbal tea is very soothing before bed, and can help you fall asleep much more easily. As living creatures, we are sensitive. We are sensitive to everything we put into our systems; they all have some kind of effect, good or bad. The following are many herbs that help to induce sleep, sometimes called nervines or relaxants, and they work. But it’s up to you to inform yourself about how these natural medicines can affect you—good or bad—so be careful! Some natural sleep-aids include: California poppy; catnip; celery seed; chamomile; dong quai; hawthorn; heather; hops; kava-kava; lady slipper; lemon balm; melatonin; passionflower; skullcap; St. John’s wort; valerian root; and wild lettuce.
If you are suffering from a sleep problem and looking for additional help regarding the sleep cycle, consult with a doctor or visit a sleep center for professional diagnosis and treatment. What about insomnia? There are different types of insomnia and various sleep disorders. Insomnia is a symptom of another problem, not a sleep disorder. Different types of insomnia include transient, short-term, chronic, alcohol-dependent, environmental, food allergy, sleep maintenance, and sleep onset insomnia. They all have different causes and different treatments. Common sleep disorders can result from jet lag and shift work, and include delayed sleep phase syndrome, depression, seasonal affective disorder, restless leg syndrome, snoring and sleep apnea, narcolepsy, heartburn, and sleepwalking. Check with your doctor to rule out any medical conditions that may be contributing to your lack of sleep. And if you’re not satisfied or comfortable with their response, get another opinion, and a third if necessary.
Webster’s Dictionary defines sleep as “…the natural periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are restored.” Of the essential elements of life, sleep is probably the most elusive. Sleep is fundamental and usually discounted in our busy, “24/7” modern lifestyle. But sleep restores the powers of the body, and it is necessary to revitalize the mind and rejuvenate the spirit.
Sleep enables us to think and to feel because it clears our minds and freshens our spirits. This incredible element strengthens and restores every aspect of our entire being. Sleep is powerful medicine—and the only side effect of good sleep is good health!