Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tossing and Turning?

Night after night of tossing and turning may sound like a dramatic way to mourn and agonize in the movies:  the heroine emerges from a sleepless night looking disheveled, but glamorous in a tousled-hair "sexy-bed-head" fashion with glowing pink cheeks.  In real life it can be a commonplace torture for many people leaving us looking and feeling drained and exhausted, dreading the day and the ensuing night, wondering if tonight will be THE night we finally get some zzzzzzz's.

If you are struggling with the inability to sleep on a regular basis, consider examining your daily AND nightly routine to see if you are actually doing something to contribute to this malady.  More often than not, by making some simple adjustments you can naturally recapture a restful sleep pattern and give up those prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids once and for all.

1.  Consider your caffeine in-take.  Many people don't realize the connection between consumption of caffeine and the inability to sleep.  Caffeine causes us to produce the stress-chemical adrenaline.  Ever drink a cup of coffee and then run for your life?  If not, it's likely that the excess adrenaline is sitting in your system for hours.  Even in small doses, caffeine can have long-lasting effects.  Unfortunately, once you begin the cycle of sleepless nights remedied by "energy" boosting caffeine-filled days it can be hard to break out of it.  If you are a regular consumer of caffeine, try limiting yourself to no more than one serving of caffeinated beverage, and ONLY first thing in the morning (especially avoiding it after 11:30am).  Gradually tapering off to NO caffeine can yield the best results.

2.  Exercise.  Exercising helps to burn off stress-related chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol.  These substances are geared toward keeping us on "high alert" during times when we need to be ready to run or fight for our lives.  Rarely do we produce them for those purposes, however.  Driving in busy traffic, overwhelming deadlines at work or an argument with our spouse can cause our body to react in the same way it would in a life-or-death situation - heightening our production of the life-saving chemicals.  Regular exercise that allows us to burn those chemicals off helps to prevent them from lingering in our system long after the car's been parked in the garage or the argument has been resolved.

3.  Eat "balancing foods".  In macrobiotics, foods are categorized by their yin or yang qualities.  Some foods can actually make you feel more tense (yang) while others can make you feel too "spacey" (yin).  When we don't realize this connection, we tend to counter-balance an extreme on either end of the spectrum with foods on the opposite end of the spectrum.  For example, when we've had too many yang foods like salt, meat, cheeses we might feel tense, irritable and have difficulty sleeping.  We might remedy this by answering our body's need for balance through craving sugar, chocolate and alcohol.  If we've had too many yin foods (sugar, chocolate, alcohol) we might feel lethargic, spacey, forgetful or confused (alcohol actually can cause a "rebound" effect - enabling us to quickly fall asleep only to wake up a few short hours later).  To create balance for these conditions, we often crave the more stimulating foods and even caffeine.  More balancing foods are foods that don't cause these drastic swings in either direction:  dark green leafy vegetables, brown rice, beans, seeds and nuts.

4.  Create a night-time routine that is conducive to sleep.  Going to bed at the same time most nights is one of the best ways to help set your internal alarm clock.  Lights from your computer, TV and smart phones all mimic daylight, tricking your brain into thinking sleep is far off on your horizon, suppressing the production of melatonin.  By turning off these devices at least an hour before your expected bedtime, dimming the lights, or having just enough light for some relaxing reading, you help your body prepare for what's next:  sleep.  

By becoming more mindful and proactive in your routine during the day, you can help equip yourself for success in achieving great sleep at night.  Experiment and see what works for you.

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