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Avoiding Sleep Deprivation

We are a full-throttle, caffeine-fueled, plugged-in nation. These issues - the pace of life, overuse of caffeine, lack of routine, inability to control stress - are all factors that commonly affect the amount of sleep we get. The body can’t be expected to function properly without adequate rest. Most people need around 7-8 hours daily for maximum health and peak performance.

Nearly all symptoms we experience can be, to some degree, attributed to poor sleep habits. Pain, fatigue, headaches, weakness, hypertension and mood disorders can all be lessened, if not resolved, by getting the proper amount of rest.

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A thorough investigation of lifestyle, nutrition, stress management and symptoms is necessary to pinpoint the cause of poor sleep symptoms. A diary recording these details is an invaluable tool for determining the root of issues.

We must first decipher the difference between difficulty falling asleep and broken sleep, two separate issues with separate causes. If you suffer from broken sleep, start by investigating what is actually waking you up. Sleep apnea is a common cause often revealed through snoring or cessation of breathing. To get to the bottom of a possible case, you will have to ask your sleeping partner to observe your habits, or tape yourself. Getting up frequently to urinate and pain are also common causes of broken sleep. If you’re experiencing any of these issues, work with a physician to thoroughly evaluate a more specific cause and begin considering specific therapies. 

For many, simply falling asleep is a frustrating affliction. It can be daunting, spending night after night tossing and turning awake with thoughts racing and worries circling the mind. Aside from mental barriers, pain or cramps in the legs upon lying down are also common. Restless legs is a treatable condition and should be addressed with your physician.

Sometimes it isn’t so obvious. Countless people rack their brains trying to come up with a cause for why they can’t sleep and never get an answer. There certainly are many who suffer from insomnia with no known reason. Sleep can be an elusive, tricky thing, but there are measures that can improve your odds of catching some shut-eye.

Anyone who watches television knows there is an arsenal of medications available to promote a restful night’s sleep. Without completely discounting these medications, a note of caution: Despite statements to the contrary, they can be habit forming, cause a hangover or groggy effect, and elicit daytime fatigue. These should be a last resort, only tried after exhausting all natural, nutritional methods.

On the next page, learn about strategies for preventing sleep deprivation and improving sleep.

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Try these strategies to help you get a good night's sleep and avoid the effects of sleep deprivation.

  1. Limit or eliminate caffeine. Caffeine can stay in the system for as long as 12 hours. Try to eliminate, or at least decrease your total caffeine intake, and certainly avoid all caffeine, including decaffeinated coffee or tea, after noon.
  2. Exercise. The body may not be fully ready to rest until it has expended its daily energy. A regular exercise routine is essential for those with sleeping problems. If you typically exercise in the evening and have trouble sleeping, move your workout to the morning.
  3. Routine. Do the same thing while getting ready for bed each night. Read for a bit in a chair or different room, pray or shower/bathe. Doing the same thing every night will send a signal to the body that it’s time to prepare for sleep.
  4. Breathe. Practice the breathing exercises described in the article, Breathing for relaxation as part of a bedtime routine.
  5. The bed is for sleep. Know the role of your bed, and avoid reading, watching television or talking on the phone. Your bed is strictly for sleep and sex.
  6. Comfort. Be certain that the bed and pillows are comfortable. If there have been friends’ houses or hotels where you experienced better sleep, find out what type of mattress and pillows prompted such a pleasant night.
  7. Noise. Make sure the bedroom is quiet and free of any stimulating sound. Try a sound machine if you require consistent, soothing background noise.
  8. Nutrition. Sound, balanced nutrition will prevent health-related symptoms from occurring at night. For example, those with fluctuations in blood sugar during the day can suffer from pain and sleep disturbance at night. Ensure a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables along with whole grains.
  9. Manage stress. Stress can wreak havoc on sleep. Set guidelines for stress management, incorporating journaling, breathing or yoga into a daily routine. Poor sleep and stress go hand-in-hand and their management strategies are therefore overlapping.
  10. Melatonin. The brain’s sleep hormone can be used as a supplement to improve rest. It works best for those suffering from broken sleep, and is only useful if there is a body deficiency of melatonin. Start with 1/2 -1 mg at bedtime. If needed, gradually increase the dose up to 10 mg. After about 4-6 weeks of good sleep, try to back down on the dose.
  11. Chamomile. This relaxing herb can be very beneficial in those having difficulty falling asleep. Enjoy one or two cups in herbal tea form as part of a bedtime routine.

What’s the story with eating prior to sleep?

There are certainly arguments for both sides. It varies from person to person. If you are finding yourself hungry prior to bedtime, have a snack. Keep it light and the portion small. Try a small bowl of oatmeal or granola with dried fruit, unsweetened applesauce or a spoonful of organic nut butter. I don’t subscribe to the theory that eating prior to bed automatically stores it as fat, especially when whole grains, fruits, or vegetables are involved.

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What’s the best vitamin or mineral to improve sleep?

One would do well trying a combined calcium and magnesium supplement. It’s beneficial for those with restless legs and anyone suffering from overactivity of the cardiac or nervous system. Start with around 500 mg of each. If you don’t see a benefit in 7-10 days, try doubling the dose.

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