Is the Sandman avoiding your address? Help lure him back with these sleep strategies.
Oh, the irony: You can barely keep your eyes open all day, nearly dozing through an important meeting at work, but when you finally collapse into bed at nightfall, sleep eludes you. While the world slumbers, you toss and turn, staring at the clock as the minutes slowly trudge toward morning.
According to The National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 40 million Americans suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders, and around 20 million adults experience occasional sleeping problems. The factors that contribute to insomnia are myriad. Poor diet or being overweight, stress, lack of exercise (or too much too late in the day), caffeine, alcohol, and eating late in the evening, certain health issues (including depression), and even your surroundings can all contribute to poor sleep. Before resorting to chemical aids, consider these natural alternatives, which include making healthy changes to your bedroom environment.
According to the principles of the ancient Chinese practice of feng shui, the placement of furniture and personal objects within a room profoundly affects the flow of negative and positive energies. To increase harmony and invite positive energy into your resting space, Susan Levitt, author of Taoist Feng Shui (Destiny Books, 1999) and Teen Feng Shui (Bindu Books, 2003) suggests moving your bed.
"It's most fortunate to place your bed in the 'commanding position' against the wall farthest from the doorway," explains Levitt. "Then you can see the doorway while you are in bed, and can see who enters and exits. Least fortunate is to place your bed in the 'coffin position' in a direct line from the doorway, with the bed against the wall and your feet facing the door. Create even space on both sides of your bed to create a sense of balance in the bedroom and balance in your relationships. Matching nightstands are best. Headboards should be against a solid wall to create a sense of stability and security. The bedroom is a quiet yin room for sleep, so avoid bright loud colors: Instead, paint the bedroom walls in quiet restful colors such as off-white, light blue, lavender, peach, or soft pink. Linens should be in rich restful colors, not busy prints. If there is a bathroom attached to the bedroom, be sure to close the bathroom door before you go to bed at night."
Levitt adds that if you have drawers or storage space beneath your bed, fill it only with items related to the bed, such as extra blankets or linens. Never place objects beneath your bed or in your bedroom that carry any negative associations, such as a photograph of someone who broke your heart.
According to many expert sources, including The Soil Association in the UK, cotton crops are sprayed with a quarter of the world's insecticides, many of them highly toxic to both humans and wildlife. In addition, processes used to produce cotton goods rely on dyes that include damaging chemicals. Since it makes sense to keep your sleep area as toxin-free as possible, consider replacing your current mattress with an organic mattress, and investing in bedding and pillows made from cotton, hemp, silk, and other organically produced materials. And experiment with your pillows, as the right one can make a huge difference in sleep quality. Some of today's choices include feathers, organic cotton, buckwheat, seeds, and condensed foam.
How many times have you woken in the night, unable to fall back asleep because you're anticipating the alarm clock? There are gentler, equally effective ways to greet the morning that don't involve a relentless, high-pitched buzz or an intrusive blare. While meditating with friends in 1994, Steve McIntosh conceived the idea for his Zen Alarm Clock, which provides a progressive awakening with an acoustic chime, rather than an abrupt catapult into the day.
"How you wake up in the morning is an important part of your sleep experience," says McIntosh. "Being startled awake by a buzzer alarm, or awakened by the unpredictable noise of a clock radio, is certainly less than ideal. We fall asleep gradually, and it's only natural to wake-up gradually."
While the ancient Greeks cultivated opium poppies to induce sleep, other botanicals widely recognized for their gentle sedative properties include Valerian, Lemon Balm, Passionflower, Lavender, Catnip, Chamomile, Hops, and Roobios. Most are available as teas, tinctures, and capsules. Flower essences, too, are credited by many as natural sleep aids. Try Olearia, or Pink or Red Dahlia if your insomnia is the byproduct of a restless mind, and Jillian McGredy Rose to help your body relax.
Sounds of Silence
Certain sounds naturally induce feelings of relaxation. Falling water, the wash of waves against the shore, and rain all have a calming effect, often lulling us to sleep. White noise machines and indoor, tabletop fountains can recreate this type of peaceful ambience. ZMusic, specially composed to induce a state of deep relaxation by working in concert with the natural rhythms of brainwaves, can be found at www.sleepgarden.com. The music was the subject of extensive testing at the California Center for Sleep Disorders, where it was found to both speed the process of falling asleep, and to increase the average length of sleep duration by 1.5 hours.
Another natural technique called Brain Music Therapy (BMT) is also gaining respect here in the U.S. In 1991, Dr. Iakov I. Levine, a Professor at the Moscow Medical Academy in Russia, developed BMT, a non-invasive and painless method of treating insomnia that involves recording a person's brain wave patterns and transforming them into music. Using EEG equipment, key brain wave patterns are recorded and then processed through algorithms. Healing rhythms are then transformed into a sound-based format that resembles classical piano music. Individuals receive their personal brain music on CD.
Successful treatment of over 10,000 people around the world, and a 2002 double-blind study conducted by the Sleep Research Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Canada, showed that BMT is an effective treatment for insomnia, anxiety, depression, and stress-related conditions, with an 82-85 percent success rate in clinical tests. The 20-minute procedure has been successfully used in a variety of medical settings since the early 1990s in France, Italy, Switzerland, and Canada. In the U.S., BMT is used by George Rozelle, Ph.D., founder of MindSpa in Sarasota, Florida, and by Galina Mindlin, M.D., Ph.D., at the Brain Music Therapy Center in New York City.
Power of Ritual
The power of repetitive action to create lasting change is well documented. By establishing a soothing pre-bed ritual, you help instill a deep emotional and physical connection between certain actions and winding down to rest. Before bed, consider a meditation session accompanied by music that carries specific frequencies to stimulate a relaxation response within the brain. Add a set of Tibetan bells or a singing bowl to your bedroom, and just before you climb beneath the covers, ring them gently to signal to your mind and body that it's time to sleep.
Jim Horne, author of Sleepfaring: A Journey Through the Science of Sleep (Oxford University Press NY, 2006) and director of the Loughborough Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University in Leicestershire, England, offers these suggestions for sleepless nights: "Do something pleasant, absorbing, and distracting before bed. Don't go to bed until you are sleepy, and set the alarm, but put the clock under the bed where you can't see it. If you can't get to sleep in, say, 15 minutes, then abandon the bedroom and go back to the distracting activity in another room. I recommend doing a jigsaw puzzle. I don't think reading, watching TV, or listening to music is usually distracting enough, as one's worries are still at the back of one's mind. Jigsaws are good at thought-blocking."
Horne adds that it's essential to get up at the same time each morning regardless of what time you actually fell asleep. This, he explains, helps reset the body's natural clock in the regulation of sleep and waking, especially important for insomniacs, whose natural clock has become disoriented.
Digestion can interfere with sleep, so avoid eating within two hours of going to bed. To optimize your chances of restful slumber, don't indulge in spicy, rich, or heavy foods during your evening meal, and limit beverage choices to non-caffeinated and non-alcoholic types. Instead, choose a cup of soothing herbal tea. Both chamomile and red roobios are excellent choices. Foods high in natural tryptophan (used by the body in the production of sleep-inducing melatonin) include bananas, milk, and whole-grain breads and crackers.
Soothe Your Self
Gentle yoga stretches can help improve sleep by relaxing the physical body and preparing it for rest. Respected yoga teacher Ann Dyer's zYoga, The Yoga Sleep Ritual is a 50-minute DVD offering a combination of soothing music, guided relaxation, and calming yoga, perfect for winding down at the end of the day. zYoga Lullaby, also by Dyer, is a 30-minute CD of recorded music that leads listeners through simple yoga moves for maximum relaxation.
Light, air, and temperature also have a huge bearing on the comfort scope of your sleep environment. If weather or other circumstances prevent you from leaving a window cracked to provide an ongoing source of fresh oxygen, improve the air quality in your room without disturbing your slumber with a silent air purifier. Modern purifiers use technologies including HEPA, carbon, UV light, and ionization to effectively remove airborne odors, allergens, bacteria, viruses, molds, and chemicals from your immediate environment. Next, remember that studies continue to show that we sleep better in dark rooms. Wear a sleep mask made from organic material, or block off light sources from windows or doorways. And don't forget to turn down the thermostat: the ideal temperature for restful sleep is 75 degrees.
Organic mattresses, linens, blankets, pillows and comforters:
A Happy Planet
A Natural Home Bedroom Collection
Heart of Vermont
Holy Lamb Organics
Janice's Organic Bedding
Now & Zen
The Sharper Image
Sleep Garden's zYoga: The Yoga Sleep Ritual and zLullaby
Sleep Mate by Marpac
Tools for Wellness