HABITS OF REST AND SLEEP
When sleep problems occur, a common mistake is to make a habit of sleep medication or drinking alcohol for sleep. Both of these can become problems in themselves and not really improve one’s sleep. There is much you can do for yourself to improve your sleep and rest.
Rest and sleep are neglected by many of us who are workaholic and highly productive, just as we neglect nutrition, exercise, and emotional self-care. When the job or task is the most important thing to us, we lose the perspective that allows us to do our best. If we never feel rested when we awaken, if we feel tired periodically or throughout the day, then our rhythm of meditation, rest, sleep, nutrition, meditation, work and activity probably needs attention and adjustment.
Having a “regular” bedtime ritual, time, and place for sleep, helps establish a restful sleep pattern. A bedtime ritual takes a little time and allows you to separate your thoughts from the trials of the day in preparation for a night of restful sleep.
The bedtime ritual is often established in childhood. If this did not happen for you, you can begin by starting to get ready for bed at the same time every day. This would include brushing your teeth, washing your face with warm water, perhaps a warm bath, reading a pleasant but not stimulating book or thinking about all the good things that happened today and thanking God for them.
If problems keep coming to mind, bundle up your thoughts and place them in God’s hands for safekeeping overnight. Then you can do as the Psalmist says, “ In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for thou alone, O Lord, makest me dwell in safety.” Ps. 4:8 RSV.
Feeling rested in the morning depends upon going to bed early enough the night before to get the needed rest. Falling asleep depends on having had enough exercise and activity to tire oneself physically and having sufficient peace of mind that your thoughts do not intrude with unresolved problems or things to do.
If thoughts intrude when you are needing to sleep, check to see if anything HAS to have immediate attention, such as letting the cat out, or locking the door, or turning down the furnace, or calling your boss about tomorrow’s breakfast meeting that was cancelled while she was gone.
Assessing your feelings, I mean taking time to think about what you are feeling and why, then solving any problems with your “significant other” well before you go to bed is very important. Some people agree with their spouse or roommate to awaken each other to talk about whatever is bothering them.
Marital tension and sexual tension can be causes of sleeplessness. Having a partner who is responsive regardless of the time of day is a special blessing. Not all are able to be responsive when tired, sleepy, or when children are awake. The willingness to “set aside time for each other” is necessary, enough time to discuss one issue, understand each other’s viewpoints, and select a mutually agreeable solution. You may need to negotiate the day and hour to work on a problem. Likewise, agree on a time to have fun together.
You may need to state your position and concerns in writing where you can edit out hurtful implications before sharing it with your partner. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert Paperback – May 5, 2015 by John Gottman Ph.D. and Nan Silver is one of the few resources that has specific suggestions for resolving problems in the sexual aspects of a relationship.
Many people are very sensitive to sleep potions and medications. They may produce a kind of “hangover” the next day. That leads some people to follow sleep medications with another drug to stimulate them during the day. Rather than medications, they may sleep better and feel better the next morning simply by drinking a glass of milk before going to bed. It has no ill effects in the morning. Milk has tryptophan in it and increases the available serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is one of the chemicals that calms us and encourages sleep. Some psychiatric medications work primarily with serotonin. Camomile tea is another aid for sleep.
UCLA Healthy Years article “Say Good Night to Poor Sleep” in their newsletter of September 2015 lists the following “Sleepy Foods”: Bananas for the potassium and magnesium that helps relax muscles, milk with tryptophan turning into melatonin, cherries as a natural source of melatonin, decaf tea with its theanine amino acid sleep promoter, oatmeal which has sleep promoting calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, and potassium, and jasmine rice as a high glycemic food to increase the ratio of tryptophan in the blood. I have noticed that potatoes, especially mashed potatoes makes me sleepy.
High glycemic foods tend to be the ones that are white in color. They must be carefully used or even avoided by people who have diabetes or have family histories of diabetes. Monitor your blood sugar to learn what foods are particularly bad for you.
The UCLA article says that melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland that maintains circadian rhythm…the sleep/wake cycle…and is released around 9 p.m. It quotes Dr Alon Avidan, MD, MPH, director of the ULA Sleep Disorders Center, “Set a cutoff time and avoid looking at electronic screens two to three hours before bedtime.” All light sources need to be dark when you go to bed in order to have the most restful sleep.
You may need to purchase heavy liners for your bedroom drapery or curtains, turn all glowing items away from your bed and even purchase eye shields or use some other eye covering to achieve the best results. Dr. Avidan advises that you do your exercising at least 6 hours before bedtime.
If you have done these things and still have thoughts racing through your mind, you can deliberately slow them by consciously slowing your breathing, “turning down the volume” of your thoughts, and picturing a place that gives you a sense of peace and quiet while you snuggle into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and pretend you are sleeping. Any thoughts that persist longer, you can turn over to God to remind you of when you are able to do more about them.
One “trick” I learned from one of our online physicians, (I’m sorry I do not remember who it was, if you know, please email me) is to stop intruding thoughts by doing this breathing exercise. INHALE slowly while slowly counting from 1 to 4, HOLD your breath while slowly counting from 1 to 7, SLOWLY EXHALE while counting from 1 to 8. Repeat until you can no longer…(now you are asleep). You can vary this pattern by exhaling entirely before inhaling again to the fullest possible extent.
If thoughts still persist in their intrusion when you need to sleep, and you can do nothing about the problem at the time, you may wish to write down your ideas for solving the problem. If your thoughts are truly creative you may need to get up and write them down. But, be aware that lost sleep may decrease your effectiveness the next day, and be willing to pay the price. Rather than get up, you may keep a penlight and pencil and paper on your nightstand so that you can jot down the main themes or ideas.
Or, you may wish to distract your mind by reading something relaxing, or something boring, not something very interesting or exciting. Certain passages of scripture are tranquilizing, and you can find some sections that are boring, if necessary. The exciting and challenging passages should be saved for when you wish to be alert, can make notes, and can profit from their guidance and inspiration. You should not blame yourself for falling asleep while reading the Bible if you are reading at bedtime. Falling asleep while reading is a natural phenomenon and being at peace induces sleep.
Dreams are a normal part of sleep. When the body is so stressed and fatigued that sleep is extremely deep, the mind is deprived of dreams. Dreaming is thought to be necessary to mental health. It occurs during “light sleep” and is accompanied by rapid eye movements (REM sleep). People who do not remember their dreams may need more sleep. They also may need more Vitamin B6 and additional B Complex vitamins to work with the B6. Large amounts of B6 are toxic, so remember to monitor the amount according to your dreams and decrease the amount if dreams become so vivid that they disturb sleep. The consensus is that we should be able to remember some of our dreams when we awaken if we are having the full benefit of restful sleep.
Several months ago Web MD had a page with additional ideas for promoting sleep and I recommend that you look for it.