Do you sleep like a baby? Or, do you have trouble slipping into slumber?
I admit that lately I have been having trouble drifting off to a good night’s sleep. Left to my own devices, I am a night owl. Yet, I am one who needs my beauty rest to be at my best. And, lately, I have added more to my daily schedule. All good things, but things that mean I need to plan for a more structured sleep schedule so I can create a healthy rhythm to meet the needs of my mind and body.
There are many reasons for insomnia (inability to sleep). And, if your inability to sleep is serious, long-term, and affecting your daily life and health, you may want to see your health practitioner to discuss your concern.
What I want to focus on here is perhaps one of the most simple sources of sleeplessness. And, that is ensuring that we are properly preparing the mind and body for slumber.
Many of us tend to go, go, go — and, then, squeeze in one more thing until we run out of enough hours for a proper night’s sleep. Then, when we do finally clock out and fall into bed physically fatigued, our brains may still be working overtime. And, if you take your electronics to bed, you have a few more strikes against your quest for sleep. Not only are they stimulating to the mind and body, the light emitted also suppresses the natural sleep hormone, melatonin.
On average, most adults require between 7 and 8 hours of deeply restorative sleep a night to maintain their wellbeing. So, what happens when we get by on six, five, or maybe even less hours sleep? Not only does it put us into the debit column for the next day’s functional needs, lack of sleep begins to have immediate and long-term consequences on our wellbeing.
- Drowsy driving, which slows reaction time as much as drunk driving, after only one night’s loss of proper sleep;
- Impacted ability to learn, think, concentrate and store memory information from the day;
- Chronic sleep loss is linked to risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes;
- Those who suffer from long-term insomnia are five times more likely to develop depression; and
When we are deprived of sleep, we deprive our body the ability to restore. I first learned of this after injuring my spinal cord. As part of my multi-disciplinary rehabilitation regimen, my physician was intensely focused on the quality and quantity of my nightly sleep. He explained slumber is the vital period required by the body to restore and renew — critical functions to the rehabilitation process. Research has indicated sleep is the time when the body repairs through “muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis and growth hormone release.”
And, then, there is the ability to function mentally and emotionally. Back in 2003, my personal physician was head of the one of the earlier medical school integrative medicine departments. At the time, I was going through a hellish divorce while trying to balance my responsibilities at work and had reached my wit’s end after enduring six sleepless weeks.
I was not only beyond physically exhausted, I was also mentally and emotionally exhausted as well. At a time when I needed to be sharp, I was foggy, forgetful, moody and emotional. My spirits were down. I couldn’t make thoughtful decisions. I felt dull. I was slow to respond and found myself going in circles while trying to mentally sort things out.
Desperate for sleep and functionality, I went to see my physician to ask for a short-term prescription to get that elusive sleep that always seemed to be just out of reach. We talked about the issues that seemed to be the source. And, then, she had this to say. She indeed had a prescription. But, it was not for a medication.
It was for what she called “sleep hygiene,” a process of preparing the body for slipping into slumber. She exacted a promise from me that I would follow her sleep preparation process exactly as given for exactly one week. If it did not work and I did not sleep by the seventh night (if not before), she would write me the prescription for the medication. I left bewildered and not a total believer, but willing to try knowing there was sleep at the end of the tunnel one way or another.
Here were her instructions:
- One hour before bedtime, shut off all electronics – TV, phone, radio, computer – everything
- No reading – even things that seem relaxing, because the act of reading and thinking still stimulates the brain.
- Drink a large mug of warm, chamomile tea.
- Immediately following, take a very warm lavender and epsom salt bath. Soak for about 20 minutes.
- Wrap the body in warm robe, or pajamas and immediately get into bed.
- Shut off the lights, put your head on the pillow and close the eyes.
It was not easy. To get the appropriate amount of rest, I needed to be asleep by 10:00 p.m., which meant I needed to start this regimen at 9:00 p.m. each night. That meant missing TV shows (back before DVR) and letting friends and family know I would not be available for phone chats. Fortunately (to make things easier), it was before smart phones and tablets that put computer communications in the palm of our hands. I also lived alone, which meant I could create a silent sanctuary. This might be were soothing spa music or white noise could come in handy to create a sound-filtered space.
I have to admit, the first several nights, I just laid there. But, since I was training my body for a new regimen, lay there I did. At least, I was resting. After several nights, I started to get drowsy and would eventually drift off. By the last few nights I was drifting off soon after getting into bed.
As it turned out, slipping into slumber was within my grasp after all. In my case, regardless of what I was going through, the source of my sleeplessness was my lack of preparation, especially under trying circumstances. I never did need that prescription.
What I understand now was that I was not only creating conditions more conducive to signal sleep, I was also resetting the button to create a new pattern to signal my sleep rhythm. And, while I have the best of intentions, like most of us, I can drift away from healthy practices. When I find myself having difficulty drifting off, I realize it is time to bring out the regimen to, once again, retrain my mind and body.
I was blessed to have an integrative medicine physician who not only advocated natural remedies, but also who understood the benefits of aromatherapy in this remedial and relaxing routine. I had already been using aromatherapy for a few years at this point, but was amazed to find it provided such a simple, yet significant, means of support as part of my physician’s care plan for sleep deprivation relief.
Lavender has been well documented to support relaxation by reducing stress hormones and increasing neurotransmitters that promote improved rest and mood. Roman Chamomile has long been used in aromatherapy for it’s relaxing benefits. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) identifies its therapeutic value for relieving tension and worry as well as supporting slumber.
In addition to the relaxation routine outlined above, I have incorporated lavender and roman chamomile essential oils into some blends below to support your efforts to better slip into slumber.
Relaxing Bath Blend
Relaxing to both mind and body
2 drops lavender
2 drops roman chamomile
1 drop sweet marjoram
1 – 2 T natural body wash
½ – 1 c Epsom salts
Add essential oils to body wash to disburse. Mix in Epsom salts. Add under running very warm running water.
Clear and Calm Diffuser Blend
Clearing, cleansing, clarifying and calming.
3 drops lemon
2 drops lavender fine
Diffuse for 30 to 60 minutes for a clearing and calming experience.