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March 13, 2013

Your Prescription to Better Sleep


If sleep were written on a prescription by your doctor you'd wonder about the claims:  feel better with few aches and pains and be more alert.  Wake up cheerful, and ready to learn something new.  The truth is, it lives up to these claims but no RX is required.  How to get really good sleep eludes many of us.  In talking with people young and old, lack of sleep changes your perspective on the day - and the amount of effort needed to accomplish even routine tasks like driving and working; where mistakes can be hazardous to your health.  Not to mention the strain on family relationships where our patience runs thin with lack of sleep.   Speaking of family, people caring for an ill relative in the home typically suffer through disturbed sleep as part of life.  In an  interview with *Lynette, who cared for her seriously ill spouse at home for over 2 years, she  said,  "she just pushed herself through each day because she had to."  Weekends were her reprieve from a hectic work week and she slept more then.  But it can take its toll on caregivers' health.

Is waking up ready to face the day's challenges or grumpy merely a question of self-determination or are elements of modern living disrupting our good night's sleep?  Sleep is important for every age group:  Young children waking up in the middle of the night, or afraid of the dark, elderly parents unable to sleep through the night, or even fall asleep, and career focused adults; skimming off sleep hours to get more done.  In a recent survey 67% of Americans would trade a vacation day for better sleep with 25% reporting sleep troubles.  Sleep is restorative for your muscles and immune system referred to as "the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together" by Thomas Dekker or "nature's soft nurse..." by Shakespeare.  A good night's sleep can improve your outlook and your looks - thus the name beauty sleep.  The most recent stunning research points to lack of sleep as a link to diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer and even cognitive decline and Alzheimer's.  As we age we become lighter sleepers, waking up easily, and often waking family members.  A major step for Lynette was having in home care for her loved one as she worked full-time.  At any age our bodies seek energy when sleep deprived in the form of high calorie foods.  From the leading experts on sleep health here are some helpful suggestions to optimize your slumber routine:

  • Eliminate caffeine, coffee, tea, colas, energy drinks and chocolate.  Since, as experts say, it takes six to eight hours for your body to eliminate enough caffeine to avoid its sleep interfering properties, limit caffeine to mornings and no later than 2 p.m.
  • Though alcohol relaxes you, it disrupts sleep patterns, especially in women according to 2011 research.  Have some with dinner not right before bed.
  • Let there be dark.  Turn off the tech gadgets.  Television, cell phones, and computers all emit shortwave blue light and fool your body into thinking it's still daytime and your body will hold off on producing melatonin which will make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Have a bedtime routine - a hot bath or shower relaxes your muscles.  Adding lavender, jasmine or gardenia essence or fresh flowers will add to the calming effect.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) could be stealing your sleep as your breathing stops and starts throughout the night.  It can be alleviated with a positive airway pressure machine and weight loss.
  • Address pain or discomfort from back pain, GERD or restless legs syndrome (RLS) with your doctor who can suggest the best treatment.
  • Exercise promotes better sleep - even a short daily walk can impact better sleep.
  • Foods that promote better z's - corn flakes with milk.  Carbs increase tryptophan and milk contains melatonin - the sleep hormone.  Tart cherry juice is loaded with melatonin.  Pumpkin seeds which contain zinc help turn tryptophan into sleep inducing serotonin.
  • Worry less, count your blessings and write them down.  People who kept a gratitude journal wrote five things they were grateful for every day and consequently slept longer and woke up more refreshed than those who didn't use this suggestion according to a University of California, study by Robert A. Emmons, Ph. D.

Get a good night's sleep tonight and every night with this preseciption above.

*name changed