What a difference good sleep makes. I‘ve had an ongoing battle with insomnia for over thirty years, and when stress is high, it’s at its worst. Last night was the first decent night’s sleep in a month. What a relief! It’s night and day, so to speak. I’ve had insomnia since I was eighteen. So I can definitely speak about the effects of not sleeping well. And sleep is very important.
We live in a tightly-wound, Puritanical society where a feverish rushing and busyness, getting and spending, consumerism, status-seeking, social climbing and productivism reign; so there is generally a great deal of stress, to put it mildly, and we live in a sea of stress, in a culture which is systematically stressed-out as a routine habit – and not only do our health and quality of life suffer for it, but also, often, sleep does not come easy, even though it is essential to our health, our clarity of mind, and also our ability to get things done.
When we don’t sleep well, or enough, then we are likely to feel tired and have less than optimum energy, the mind is less clear, little stresses hit us harder, big stresses can easily overwhelm us, and even very small stresses can overwhelm us, and it is much harder to be at our best. And on top of that, when we don’t sleep well, or don’t get enough sleep, the body, including the brain, can’t properly regenerate itself, as it naturally does, so our health begins to be strained, and that can lead to other serious problems.
Recent studies have shown that people who get less than six and a half hours sleep a night on a regular basis have significantly higher risk of heart attack. And other studies have confirmed the obvious: that when we don’t sleep well, our memory, concentration, mental functioning and learning ability are all greatly impaired. Mood disorders, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other troubles common to our deeply stress-filled and unbalanced society, can also be greatly aggravated simply by a lack of good sleep. So our body and our mind are both at risk, and not nearly at their best, when we don’t sleep well.
So what can we do for good sleep, since it is very important to our health, our peace of mind, our ability to get things done, and our general feeling of happiness and well-being?
There are a lot of things that help with good sleep, fortunately. For those who have difficulties sleeping, or sleeping well, here are a few that have been shown to be very effective, most of which I’ve tried myself; and for most of them, I can confirm that they most definitely help. And yes, they generally involve something more than taking a pill.
Habits are number one:
A sane society would value, and be structured to promote, health, well-being, and the fulfillment of our highest potential, as well as justice, freedom, peace, culture and the arts, and the life of the mind. We don’t live in such a society. Modern society is frankly insane, as many people are well aware. But while we strive to create a better world, and a wiser, and more sane society, we can move our own lives in a positive direction. And among the habits we should cultivate in order to do that, and as a result, live with greater peace, health, happiness, fulfillment, and better sleep, are these:
Avoid worry, hurry, blame, resentment, self-recrimination, or dwelling on the past or the future.
Abandon all notions of control and powerlessness – they are both illusions, and they will only bring pain, suffering, stress, and sleepless nights. We always have power. We never have control.
Do the things that are important to you, and don’t put them off – take big leaps, or take baby steps if necessary, but move forward toward your goals and dreams, every day.
Make space every day for quiet, solitude, nature, stillness and reflection.
Rejoice in every victory, be it yours or another’s, no matter how small.
Laugh a lot, and keep a sense of humour, as well as a sense of perspective.
Eat well, and take good care of your health.
Forgive everything and everyone – including yourself.
Do your best, and at the end of the day – and all day – be at peace with that.
Forget about what other people may think or say – it doesn’t matter. Just be yourself, and be at peace.
Practice gratitude and appreciation.
Take delight in small joys and little things – like a sunrise, or a cup of tea, a flower, or a smile, or a piece of your favourite music.
Cultivate patience. Without patience, little of significance can be accomplished, and much stress and frustration can result. With patience, everything is possible.
Get lots of sunlight and fresh air every day.
Learn to love cooking, and cook wholesome, nourishing foods for you and your family – and take your time cooking, without rush, and enjoy the process, as well as the meal.
Chew your food. This seems simple, maybe even silly, but it is far more important than most people imagine. More broadly, we should take good care of our digestion, because if our digestion is off, if it is poor, and whether or not we know that it is poor, then we will be malnourished no matter how much we eat, or how healthy our diet is, because we are not properly digesting our food, and not properly assimilating the nutrients in our food. So digestion is extremely important. And if our digestion is poor, not only will we be malnourished, and our general health will suffer, and our susceptibility to disease will be high, but our mood, energy, and also our sleep, will suffer for it. So chew your food. Eat slowly. Never watch, read or talk about stressful things during or after meals if you can possibly help it. And eat lots of foods that aid digestion: sauerkraut, pickles, pickled beets and pickled eggs, yogurt, buttermilk, kimchi and kefir, bananas, basil, mint and pesto are a few to include in your diet. Longevity studies repeatedly show that people who regularly eat fermented and digestion-aiding foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut live the longest lives. And it’s not just about living long, of course, but living well. So chew your food! And learn to love pickles!
Consider taking up gardening. Spending time with green life and plants, caring for plants and working with the soil, is deeply therapeutic, and deeply relaxing, and it will definitely improve sleep as well.
Take regular saunas, sweats or steam baths.
Try meditation. Everyone is capable of doing it, unless they are in a coma, and even just 10 minutes a day of simple meditation on the breath has been shown to have tremendous benefits for health and peace of mind.
Do yoga – 10 minutes to an hour a day (I have difficulty with that one, I must admit) plus one class or more a week. It is life-changing. Only meditation and saunas bring this depth of relaxation and peace as yoga gives. And yes, everyone who is not in a coma can do it. (Modify the practices as needed, and do only the ones you can do comfortably as a start.)
Get lots of exercise of some kind or another on a regular basis – on a daily basis.
Keep your bedroom dark when you sleep – get black-out curtains that block all light, don’t keep any lights on in the room or even in the hall, and maybe try a sleep mask.
Try ear plugs or white noise – a humidifier, air cleaner or fan, or best, a fountain – to help you sleep and to block out noise.
If your partner snores, try ear plugs, white noise, Breathe-Right Strips, a jaw strap for snoring (I have read these work well and are surprisingly comfortable) and/or a sleep clinic for both of you. (Testing at a sleep clinic for sleep apnea may be a good idea if you’ve had sleep problems for a long time, or if you snore or your partner snores, since sleep apnea is very common, and it disturbs sleep, as well as having negative effects on the mind, mood and health.)
Don’t read, work or watch TV in the room where you sleep.
Don’t read, watch or talk about stressful things after 9pm – or after dinner prep starts, if you have serious troubles with sleep.
Do your day-planning during the day – don’t think about schedules or things you have to do tomorrow or in the near future, in the evening before bed: that’s a sure way to have a sleepless night, if you’re prone to that.
Keep regular sleep times as much as possible.
Try to follow the rhythms of the sun and sleep close to the times of darkness, between 9pm and 5am, as much as possible – yes, we are a part of nature, and our sleep cycles still work best when we follow nature’s rhythms (and few of us are true nocturns, by nature, but only by habit).
The ideal sleep cycle for most people, for optimal health and well-being, is to be asleep by 10pm, and to get up at 6am, or 5am; and if need be, take a nap or siesta in the early afternoon. This is not always possible, but we should approximate this sleep cycle as closely as we can.
Naps or siestas are very healthy – and we should not feel guilty about taking them. In fact, we should incorporate them into our lives and our culture. They have been shown to improve energy, mood, mental clarity, productivity, creativity, and general mental and physical performance. If we take 20-30 minutes for a nap, chances are that afterward we will not only feel better, but will get more done than if we hadn’t taken time for a short rest. The more sensible businesses and workplaces already incorporate and allow naps. That may be shocking to some, but it simply works, both in terms of human health, and also in terms of increased productivity, creativity and innovation, as well as employee job satisfaction, employee retention, and lower stress and sick leave. A half hour nap can be very regenerating; or a 90 minute nap can give a full sleep cycle, and deep rest and regeneration. Just remember to keep naps to before 3pm if they are longer than 20-30 minutes, or you may interfere with sleep later that night.
If you can’t sleep after half an hour of laying in bed, get up, leave the room, and go do something very relaxing: like some light reading – emphasis on light; or watch something relaxing; or take a hot bath; listen to some soothing music; do some very gentle yoga; or go for a walk; or have a cup of herbal tea with honey – preferably an herbal tea that will help with sleep, and there are many of them to choose from.
Make sure your home and your bedroom get lots of fresh air.
Keep your living space clean, tidy, uncluttered, harmonious and peaceful, as much as possible.
Learn to love plants, and surround yourself with green.
Natural health care for good sleep:
Try to stick to a plant-based diet high in protein (pulses, legumes, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds), fibre, essential oils, enzymes, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
Drink lots of clean (non-bottled) water – eight cups a day minimum. Try lemon water, which cleanses the body of toxins, flushes the liver, adds vitamin C, and alkalanizes the body, restoring the body’s natural ph balance. (A Berkey water filter would be a very smart investment, along with a Dyson air purifier, since our water and air are now, sadly, toxic.)
Minimize caffeine, alcohol, carbonated drinks, tobacco, refined and processed foods, meat, dairy, toxins and sugar. In other words, abandon the modern diet – it will make you stressed, sleepless and sick.
Avoid caffeine after 2pm (or noon if you’re very sensitive to it).
Don’t eat in the evening. Eat frequent, small meals and healthy snacks throughout the day; eat your heaviest meal at noon; and finish eating dinner by 6pm, or better, 5:30pm. Any food eaten after 6pm will not be fully digested before 9pm, when your liver goes into a natural rest and regeneration mode, and when our bodies most naturally want to be sleeping. That means eating after 6pm will definitely impair your sleep. Don’t do it. It’s a challenging habit to break, but it’s just not worth it to eat late, or snack in the evening, then have a bad night’s sleep as a result.
Eat lots of greens, and sweet orange vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots and squash – they are naturally soothing and relaxing to the body, as well as nourishing and healing.
Take extra omega-3 essential oils. They can be found in high concentrations in flax, hemp and chia seeds in particular. Put them in or on everything.
And try these naturopathic and herbal medicines for good sleep:
Super Sleep formula: a chewable tablet with 5-HTP, L-theanine and melatonin
(available through Costco – and yes, it’s worth the minimal membership fee, as you will save that amount on your first trip)
(Naturally found in turkey and bananas, and also available in tablets)
Rescue Remedy Sleep
(take in the morning and afternoon, as they boost energy as well as lowering stress and bringing relaxation, and might make you too alert to sleep at night if taken in the evening)
And if all of that doesn’t work, get a brick! Ok, just joking. These things should help immensely.
The habits are the big ones, but the other things will help a great deal in the meantime. Good luck! I wish you peaceful sleep, and a healthy, happy, vibrant life to all.
March 23, 2016