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Mind Matters: Elusive Sleep

02 June 2018  

How do I get enough sleep without taking pills?

In this column, Dr. Elaine Kissel answers your questions; helping to provide understanding and insight into a variety of topics, such as addictions, self-improvement, depression and much more.

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Q. I take a lot of supplements and exercise, eat well, but still feel unwell, and I don't sleep too good usually. My Dr. gives me pills. But I don't like taking drugs. Any suggestions?

I understand your reluctance to take sleep meds, they can become addictive and do not resolve the cause of the problems.

Since you didn't define what your sleep problems are, and I know they are shared by many of my readers, I will address the most common factors.

If you are unable to fall asleep easily or not able to stay asleep, there could be many reasons, so I can only start by suggesting first you get a sleep study done. Sleep lab all night tests can determine, for example, if you have sleep apnea. There are different kinds of sleep apnea so the treatments or C PAP machines recommended will be based on the kind you have, if you have it.

Also its only natural if you are not sleeping well you could be feeling unwell. Sleep is essential for physical mental and emotional health and well being. Sleep deprivation studies have proven that even mental illness, anxiety and depression can be caused from lack of sleep just as they in themselves cause many sleep problems. Understating the causative factors and resolving them is crucial.

So many people come to me with sleep problems, many are related to stress. If you take your worries to bed with you that will certainly make it difficult to fall asleep, and even stay asleep. Un-stressing before sleep will always help so learn relaxation techniques, and very importantly learn how to deal with stress more healthfully. Unresolved emotional issues can be the cause, and not resolving them they can disrupt your sleep. A dream can awaken a person during the night and if in any way disturbing can, for some people make if difficult to go back to sleep. Your subconscious might awaken you in the night to get your attention about them. Psychological and life issues will certainly be manifested in your dreams which could also disturb your sleep. Unless you work them through, by yourself or with professional help to resolve them, your sleep could continue to be disrupted.

There are four stages of seep plus the RM cycle; that's the dream state. You go through these cycles several times throughout the night and each time the REM state is longer.

Of course there are many different kinds of stress and its causes. Both psychological, physical and emotional, and they need to be addressed and resolved to facilitate good quality and sufficient sleep.

In all of my years of study and research about sleep and dream I've learned that is its so easy to disrupt sleep patterns but not that easy to reestablish good ones. There are a lot of reasons for that. The most common one is that once a person experiences even a minor sleep problem, even for one or two nights in a row, they start to worry about it, and question whether or not it will be easy to sleep the next night, and then tries to sleep which is counter productive.

Trying is stressful, and its a mental activity that prevents the tiny pea size gland called the pons in the reticular activating system at the base of the brain from getting the signal to secrete the chemicals for sleep. The system must be deactivated for the pons to go to work for you. So learning how to quiet your mind when you are ready for sleep is so important.

Most people will have a temporary sleep problem now and then, caused by various stimuli. Worrying about it will definitely cause it to become a serious problem. Learn to abolish worry. Remind yourself that worry is a waste of time, it serves no useful purpose, its a waste of mind space and psychic energy. Worrying about sleep can cause you to stay awake, as it, like so many other mental activities, is activating the system. Sleeping disorders can be a direct sign of depression and mental and emotional exhaustion.

The reason why people cannot fall asleep when they’re suffering from depression or mental and emotional exhaustion is that their biological rhythm is disrupted. Also note that depression can be associated with a seasonal effective disorder. This is when people become depressed when the clock shifts or the time changes and the day becomes shorter.

We all have biological rhythms, circadian and ultradian ones. Those are the biological systems that are related to the sleep and awake cycles. They are all too easily disrupted. Alcohol is often used to try and relax enough to sleep but can cause other sleep disturbances too. Eating too much before retiring for the night can actually interfere with those cycles. Ironically eating a large meal draws blood away from the brain to the stomach to help digest food, and can cause drowsiness, that soporific feeling you probably know from experience. However, when your brain/body are already tired and sleep is required, and your brain is ready to shut down, a full stomach can actually cause a chemical conflict. Or being over tired, pushing passed the sleepiness that tells you its time for bed will negatively impact your sleep cycles. So listen to your body/brain when it tells you that its time for sleep and go to bed. Relax and let go.

So many people come to me with sleep difficulties, and to get off drugs for sleep, and in my practice its always a carefully individually designed approach. I need to understand the causes of the sleep problems in order to help my clients overcome them and wean my clients off the drugs. So I would recommend you find out via a qualified professional evaluation as to the cause of the problem and the ways to overcome it.