Overcoming Sleep Problems

OVERCOMING SLEEP PROBLEMS. Sleeplessness is caused by a combination of stress, lifestyle factors, and, in the most extreme cases, medical disorders. The Delta Sleep Solution audio programs offer a natural, holistic approach towards managing sleeplessness. The recordings are most effectiver when you combine them with some simple lifestyle changes.

CREATING HEALTHY SLEEP PATTERNS

Establish a Bedtime Routine
Sleep is one of nature's most personal processes: while we are all guided by the same biological functions, the concept of relaxation can be different for different people. It is essential to celebrate this individualism with personalized bedtime routines. Create a series of rituals that help you find inner peace and stillness, smoothing the transition from the stress of the day to a restful night of sleep.

Certain bedtime ceremonies have proven particularly fruitful in helping people relax and separate their sleep time from the rest of their lives. Many find it comforting to soak in a warm bath. This can be used in conjunction with aromatherapy, by incorporating bath oils or candles. Soothing music also creates a relaxing aura. Drinking decaffeinated herbal tea or warm milk can be effective, as well.

Additionally, many find it helpful to meditate or perform physical relaxation or stretching exercises. These help ease the body's physical tension while also preparing the mind and spirit for relaxation. It is important that the bedtime routine be performed in a cool environment with the lights turned low, which discourages excitement and alerts the body's biological clock that it is time for sleep.

The bedtime routine, like the physical sleep environment, helps isolate sleep from the rest of life. Performing the same calming rites each night helps train the brain to use them as prompts to relax, paving the road toward a satisfying night of sleep. Establishment of these routines is called creating an "anchor". It is desirable to automatically condition the body to turn on its own sleep program when it is exposed to the "rituals" at night.

Establish a Regular Sleep Schedule
Setting and following regular bed and awakening times is one of the easiest and most important lifestyle changes to help achieve sound and restful sleep. Sleep cycles are regulated by circadian rhythms, which operate on regular schedules. When a sleep schedule is established, the mind-body responds accordingly by beginning to wind down and becoming sleepy.

Many feel they can "catch up" on sleep on the weekends. Sleeping later than usual, even one day per week, however, can alter the body's circadian rhythms, making a normal sleep pattern even more difficult. Most people require between seven and nine hours of sleep, so it is important to plan for that block of time when setting your sleep schedule.

Create a Nurturing Sleeping Environment
Sleep is something to be valued and cherished. One way of valuing oneself is to create a pleasant environment for sleep. This can affect the recuperative nature of sleep physically, emotionally, and mentally.

The first step in creating a pleasant sleep environment is to use the bedroom primarily for sleep and retiring-type activities. This includes any bedtime "rituals" one chooses to perform, including love-making. It also includes the elimination of devices which might produce electromagnetic emissions into the bedroom itself, such as television sets, VCR and DVD players, certain clocks, etc. Also important in the maintenance of a pleasant sleep environment is the creation of a strict mindset: the bedroom is a sleep environment, and the bed is for napping, sleep, and love-making. Assigning a mental association with a physical environment makes the transition from one to the other more comfortable and swift. In this case, of course, the transition will be from work or life-supporting activities to sleep. By doing this one can gradually release the cares and concerns of life, which used to translate into worry and sleeplessness, and transform them into calmness, peace, and recuperative sleep. This enables the sleeper to awaken feeling better, more energetic, and more confident of planning and directing life.

Another important element of a good sleep environment is a firm, comfortable mattress. Mattresses of high quality generally have a life of nine to ten years. Broken, low quality, or worn out mattresses can not only make sleeping uncomfortable, but can cause restlessness during sleep and can even be the cause of structural misalignments, which may rob one of good sleep. Two partners might have different mattress preferences or needs. Consider this when shopping for the right mattress, to find a mattress that is truly a "backbone" to a restful night.

It is also important that the bedroom assumes the character of night. This means the bedroom is generally darkened, with some dim light visible in a hallway or bathroom. The dimness is important, and when associated with freedom from distractions, the combination serves well. Sleep cycles are triggered by the interplay of the sun and moon. Blackout curtains and/or eye shades make it possible to simulate darkness in suboptimal conditions, or when daytime sleep is required.

A quiet sleep environment is also beneficial. Many people use earplugs, sleep enhancement machines, or ambient music to drown out unavoidable noise. These are especially useful if for those who live near a freeway or a noise-generating plant or activity.

Finally, it is critical to personalize your sleep environment, tailoring it to ones own specifications. Just as stress manifests itself differently for different people, so too does stress relief. Everything from linens to lighting to what one keeps on the bedside stand can affect the state of mind as one goes to sleep. As one pays attention to body and mind, one will notice what allows for calm and relaxation. It is important to create an environment which is comfortable and relaxing for each individuals preferences and needs.

Aromatherapy
As you can see, much of the healing process for sleeplessness involves making adjustments to one's thinking, one's awareness, one's environment, and sleep routine. There are also specific tools that many use to help wind down and transition the mind, body, and spirit from the daytime cycle to the sleep cycle.

Aromatherapy is one of these tools. Scented herbs and oils often help the mind and body move into the mode of relaxation and rejuvenation. According to Dr. Paul Jellinek, a perfumer who developed an emotional classification system based on fragrance, there are basic human reactions associated with particular scents. Sweet, heady, soft fragrance materials, such as flowers and balsams, create a feeling of languor and relaxation. These materials are known to dull our senses somewhat and slow physical reactions, making their use particularly appropriate during a bedtime routine. Lavender, the most popular aromatherapy oil, provides a floral-herbaceous aroma that is both calming and balancing. While aromatherapy, like many other aspects of the bedtime routine, is based largely on personal preference, lavender is largely recognized as the most relaxing aroma and has been clinically proven to both calm and improve sleep.

There are many ways to incorporate aromatherapy into your bedtime rituals. It is easy to scent your sleep environment with careful blends of calming fragrances using incense, potpourri, or pillow sachets. An aromatherapy pillow mist allows you to spray relaxing scents onto your pillow so that you can breathe them in as you are falling asleep.

For a more active relaxation routine, many enjoy herbal baths or face steams. You can purchase or create homemade bath or massage oils by adding "essential oils," which are the highly concentrated fragrant oils, to carrier oils such as olive, cocoa butter, or palm oils. Bath salts and scented bubble baths in a tub of warm water can also be relaxing, with bath salts and bubble baths containing more natural ingredients being preferred. Another way to enjoy fragrant herbs is through a facial steam, incorporating the fragrance into a warm handkerchief or cloth wrapped around the face. Facial steams open the pores, cleanse the skin, and have a calming effect. An aromatherapy balm allows you to rub scents into your temples or neck before going to sleep. The repetitive gentle rubbing, combined with carefully chosen scents, can be a soothing routine.

Exercise
Not only is regular exercise important for general wellness, but it is critical to achieving quality sleep. Studies show that people who regularly engage in aerobic exercise experience fewer episodes of sleeplessness. According to a study at Stanford University School of Medicine, exercising for 20 to 30 minutes a day, such as walking, low-impact aerobics, or riding a bicycle, can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep by half, and can increase the total sleep time by up to an hour.

Exercise is an important healing mechanism for the mind and body. First, exercise releases stress, both psychologically and physiologically. It increases the production of endorphins which leads to an experience of heightened well-being, helping you to feel less stressed. Physical exercise also reduces muscular tension. The use of exercise as stress relief can make nighttime anxiety less acute. Finally, exercise requires physical exertion, and the brain compensates for this physical exertion by triggering a longer and/or deeper sleep cycle.

Though exercise is important for general health and for good sleep, it is most beneficial when performed at least two to three hours before bedtime because exercise raises body temperature and heart rate and creates endorphins and serotonins. Though beneficial to sleep in the long run, these side effects are not conducive to sleep. Sleep comes more easily with a restful body and a mental mindset of relaxation and peace, rather than exertion and excitement.

Diet
Though diet is not often thought of as being linked to sleep, what one eats is actually an essential part of maintaining a healthy and regular sleep cycle. In particular, eating heavy or spicy meals close to bedtime can deter sleep and cause heartburn. An unhealthy diet can also contribute to nighttime awakenings. Additionally, obesity is a leading contributing factor to disorders such as sleep apnea and nocturnal eating disorders. A good diet for a recuperative sleep cycle consists of a healthy breakfast that incorporates protein into the meal, and two other nutritious meals. This is sufficient for most people, but if a light snack is necessary in the evening, it is important the snack does not contain sugar, caffeine, or alcohol, and is eaten two to three hours before bedtime. Many people also find an herbal, decaffeinated tea to be a relaxing part of their bedtime routine.

Caffeine, Alcohol, Nicotine, and Sugar
Outside substances can act as stimulants or depressants, which have a profound effect on the sleep cycle. For people who suffer from sleeplessness, or who want to create a healthy cycle, it is important to be aware of the potency of caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and nicotine. Caffeine can be an intense impairment to sleep, particularly deep, recuperative Delta sleep. A stimulant, caffeine blocks adenosine reception and injects adrenaline into the body, causing feelings of alertness. Though many people feel that caffeine in small doses will not affect their sleep cycle, it is important to be careful about the time and amount of your caffeine consumption. The half-life of caffeine is about six hours, which means that if you ingest 200 ml of coffee, the amount in a large mug, 100 ml will remain in your body six hours later. Some people feel the effects of caffeine for as many as 12 hours. Avoiding caffeine six to eight hours before bedtime will improve sleep quality, and for some people, it may be necessary to avoid caffeine completely. It is also important to remember that, aside from coffee, caffeine also exists in significant quantities in many sodas, black teas, and chocolate.

Nicotine, like caffeine, is a stimulant that makes it difficult to achieve productive sleep, and it is also highly addictive. Therefore, smokers may experience withdrawal symptoms as they try to fall asleep, or may wake up in the middle of the night craving nicotine. Controlling nicotine intake, particularly prior to bedtime, can help alleviate sleeplessness.

There are common misconceptions about the role of alcohol in the sleep cycle. Alcohol, unlike caffeine, is a sedative, which means that it can make one feel sleepy and ease the transition into sleep. Alcohol, however, is not an effective sleep aid. It provides a less restful sleep cycle because of its sugar content, which also frequently causes a person to awaken during the night and lay awake for hours. Alcohol should be consumed hours before bedtime, if at all.

Sugar is a stimulant and, as in alcohol, is often the culprit which keeps a person lying awake. As with everything else in the diet, moderation is very important. Finally, many medications, including some over-the-counter medication, can be harmful to sleep cycles. Many drugs have high levels of caffeine or other stimulants. If one is taking any medications, one should check the box for warnings or talk to a doctor or pharmacist about their potential effects.

SLEEP & TRAVEL

Creating a successful sleep routine can be particularly difficult for frequent travelers. Home sleep environments can be personalized to help one relax and create soothing bedtime rituals, but it is also important to simulate this routine while away from home. Some people pack a small selection of favorite teas, aromatherapy candles or oils, compact discs or tapes, and anything else that will helps them feel at home in a new sleep environment. Long distance travelers are often plagued with jet lag, which can disrupt a successful sleep cycle for weeks following a trip. Jet lag is actually caused by a disruption of the biological clock associated with the circadian rhythm that triggers sleep. The body's clock is designed for a regular rhythm of light and darkness, and is thrown out of sync when light and darkness are experienced at different times in a new time zone. The symptoms of jet lag often persist for days, as the internal body clock slowly adjusts to the new time zone.

The following steps will help combat these changes:

Pre-flight
Avoiding jet lag has as much to do with your behavior before your trip as it does during it. Before departing, it is useful to make sure to have gotten plenty of exercise, and to ensure that one is physically healthy. It is also important to get a full, recuperative night's sleep before traveling.

Drink fluids
Arid, recycled aircraft air easily causes dehydration, sleep-impairing headaches, and dry throats, and increases susceptibility to colds and other illnesses. Take water to drink during flights. This helps to combat dehydration and its detrimental effects.

Avoid alcohol
The impact of alcohol is two to three times more potent when flying. Because alcohol can create restless, disruptive sleep, it is particularly important to avoid alcoholic beverages while flying. Additionally, the added effects of alcohol in-flight can cause hangovers, which prolong the jet lag period.

Exercise
Lack of exercise can be a detriment to long-distance flying. Do tensing exercises while seated, especially for the legs. If possible, go for walks, especially when there is a transfer of planes. This is more beneficial than sitting and waiting for the next plane.

Travel sleep aids
There are products that can help make sleeping while traveling as comfortable and relaxing as possible. These include ear plugs, eye masks, neck rests, and blow-up pillows. With the help of these aids, experienced travelers are often able to mimic a normal sleep cycle, which reduces jet leg. Listening to the Music for Delta Sleep CD during the plane flight can help with jet lag—especially with the use of noise cancellation headphones and an eye mask to block out the light.

MYTHS ABOUT SLEEP

For centuries, people have been coming up with ways to fix—and avoid—their sleep problems. The following list, adapted from information from the National Sleep Foundation, debunks some of these common misconceptions: You can "cheat" on the amount of sleep you get. Most adults need approximately seven to nine hours of sleep to feel rested and productive. But with work, families, and other commitments, many of us are not meeting that standard. While it is tempting to "get by" on less sleep, our bodies produce chemicals that trigger fatigue, and the only way to reduce them is with adequate and restful sleep. You can always make up for lost sleep later. After a long week of late nights and early mornings, many people believe they can make up for lost hours of sleep by sleeping late on the weekends. This is untrue for two reasons:

1) If we accumulate a large "sleep debt," it is unlikely we will be able to get enough sleep later to make up for earlier deprivation.

2) Successful sleep cycles depend on circadian rhythms. If we vary our sleep and wake times too frequently, including sleeping in on weekends, we disrupt this careful balance, which could make it more difficult to fall asleep during the week.

Frequent napping can make up for lost sleep. Daytime naps can be an incredible tool for revitalizing, increasing productivity, and combating fatigue. However, napping should not be used as a substitute for getting a good full night's sleep. If you're napping more because you're sleeping less at night, you should look first to solve your sleeping issues.

UNDERSTANDING SLEEP & DRUGS

Increasingly, people are using prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids in order to counteract their sleeplessness. The majority of sleeplessness is due to stress and lifestyle factors. Using drugs to treat stress-related sleeplessness can actually be counterproductive, as medicine treats the symptom rather than the causes of sleeplessness. Rather than helping us to relax and reduce the stress, medication becomes a "quick fix." The mind then becomes reliant on having this easy sleep solution, and is further stressed without it. When an attempt is made to stop any sleep medication, one can expect to have some sleeplessness as the body adjusts. Worrying that one will not be able to get to sleep without a sleeping pill "fix" can directly cause anxiety and sleep loss—it becomes a "self-fulfilling prophesy."

Medication is sometimes necessary to treat certain sleep disorders, and can also be effective in "emergency" sleep situations. For example, if one's sleeplessness is truly impairing one's ability to function, drugs may help one get through a tough sleep patch. It is important to consult a doctor if one is considering using any over-the-counter sleep medication. The Music for Delta Sleep CD, fortunately, is an entirely natural program that avoids the physical and psychological effects of medication.

RESOURCES

Center for Neuroacoustic Research www.drjeffreythompson.com

Maas, James, et al. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York: Collins, 1999

National Institute of Health, National Center of Sleep Disorders Research www.nhlbi.nih.gov/about/ncsdr

National Sleep Folundation www.sleepfoundation.org

Newark Sleep Disorders Center www.njsleephelp.com

The Sleep Disorders Center of Central Texas www.sleepdoctor.com

Sleep Health Centers www.sleephealth.com

Stanford University Medical School, The Sleep Well www.stanford.edu/

University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center www.med.umich.edu/neuro/sleeplab

Jeffrey Thompson

Jeffrey Thompson Return to top of page

Dr. Jeffrey Thompson began experimenting with sound and its effects on the body and brain in 1981 at his Holistic Health Center in Virginia. His experiments involved using exact sound frequencies to m...

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