Blessings on him, who first invented sleep
Beauty sleep, sleepless pillow, and sleeping like a baby, are all terms we use in our conversation. It implies that sleep is an essential part of healthy living.
Sleep is something we may take for granted, until we aren’t able to sleep well. Then, sleep becomes a mysterious and frustrating process. Balanced diet, sleep and healthy living are considered three pillars of a blissful life. Sleep is an essential function as it provides rest and aids recuperation.
Sleep, according to ayurveda, is responsible for a person’s joy or sorrow, vitality, and even weight problems. In simple terms, it decides our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. Research suggests that we spend approximately one-third of our life sleeping.
Sleep deprivation can lead to many health problems, including headaches, irritability, lack of concentration, heart problems, and lowered immune system.
When a person has trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep, and if that causes personal distress or interferes with functioning during day-time, it is recognised as insomnia [sleeplessness]. There are two types of insomnia. Primary insomnia occurs when a person has difficulty sleeping. This may not be due to medical or psychiatric conditions, but may be caused by stress or physical injury. This condition is often temporary. Secondary insomnia is usually caused by a medical condition such as overactive thyroid, depression, change of medications, side-effects of medications, or sleep apnoea.
- Difficulty falling asleep, despite being tired
- Awakening frequently during the night, or lying awake in the middle of the night
- Being restless while sleeping
- Using sleeping pills or alcohol to fall asleep
- Awakening too early in the morning and not feeling refreshed
- Disturbed by slight noise or variation in temperature and unable to go back to sleep
- Day-time drowsiness, fatigue, or irritability; mood swings
- Impaired ability to perform normal activities; lack of concentration.
- Slower reaction times and impaired concentration
- Difficulty in concentrating or analysing
- Consuming caffeine-like stimulants to keep awake and alert
- Poor job performance, missed work days and school absenteeism
Although everyone has different needs for sleep, it normally varies between 6 and 8 hours. Sleep requirement depends upon age, physical, mental, spiritual conditions too. Neglecting our body’s signals of sleep requirement may result in insomnia and can cause major difficulties:
- Impaired mental functioning. Insomnia can affect concentration and memory. Some experts report that deep sleep deprivation impairs the brain’s ability to process information
- Accidents. Insomnia endangers public safety by contributing to traffic and industrial accidents
- Stress and depression. Even modest alterations in waking and sleeping patterns can have significant effects on a person’s moods. Insomnia increases the activity of certain hormones and pathways in the brain that cause stress.
Foods that contain tryptophan, an amino acid, which is used by the body to make serotonin [feel-good chemical], slow downs nerve traffic. It helps calm the brain. Tryptophan is usually present in foods classified as “sleepers.”
Dairy products, which contain tryptophan and calcium, are top sleep-inducing foods. Dairy products such as cottage cheese, cheese, and milk – not to speak of other foods such as soy products, seafood, meats, poultry, whole grains, beans, rice, lentils, lettuce, hazelnuts and peanuts – are sleeper-inducers. Lighter meals are more likely to give you a restful night’s sleep than heavy meals.
“Wakers” are foods containing tyramine, a normal substance, which releases norepinephrine [a neurotransmitter]. This chemical stimulates or perks up the brain. Tyramine is found in foods that have high amounts of yeast in them.
When we eat diets rich in “waker” foods we miss out on the sleep-inducing effects of tryptophan. This may set off the roller-coaster effect of plummeting blood sugar levels, followed by the release of stress chemicals that keep us awake. Caffeine-containing foods top the list of foods that keep us awake. Being a stimulant, it speeds up the nervous system, and other mechanisms, including adrenaline, or epinephrine [a chemical] levels. This is not helpful, if you want to sleep. It is best to avoid “waker-like” foods such as bacon, heavy cheese, chocolate, eggplant, ham, potatoes, sauerkraut, sugar, sausage, tomatoes, and wine, close to bed-time.
Thoughts to sleep on
- Regular exercises, or relaxed walking, helps to fall asleep easily. Systematic and suitable exercises should be chosen — yoga, walking, or swimming, or aerobics
- To relax and disengage the mind before bed-time, use the following: meditation, stretches, prayer, singing, or humming, soulful music/songs, or reading scriptures. You can also place a small water fountain in your bedroom to “hear” the soothing resonance of the waterfall
- Just before bed-time place your feet in a warm water tub while covering the head with a wet, lukewarm cloth for about 10 minutes, after which the feet may be wiped dry and the wet cloth removed. This not only helps you get better sleep, but it also helps relax your mind and body
- Massage warm sesame oil to the soles of the feet at bed-time
- Indigestion and heartburn can also cause disturbed sleep. Regular bowel habits help you sleep better
- Writing a sleep diary is an effective way to get specific assistance from your physician/therapist. Record morning, and bed-time patterns, your quality of sleep, duration, disturbance, reason for awakening, pain, if any, dyspnoea [breathlessness], and frequency of urination.
Dale Carnegie put it aptly, “If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It’s the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep.”