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23/09/2009

Solve the sleeping problem

(NaturalNews) When it comes to good health, sleep is a key element, ranking right up there with nutritious food, clean water and regular activity. If you're having trouble getting the sleep your body needs, read on -- help is at hand.

Like air, water and food, sleep is one of those things that humans cannot live without. During high-quality, restful sleep, our bodies recharge. But when sleep is disrupted, especially on a regular basis, we become vulnerable to a host of health problems, including emotional difficulties, cardiovascular problems, weight gain and even cancer.

Clearly, sleep is tremendously important to our health. Yet the statistics on sleep deprivation show that Americans are in the midst of an epidemic. Instead of getting the recommended seven to nine hours nightly, millions of individuals are living on far less - and paying the price. For proof, look no further than the National Sleep Foundation's last few surveys.

- In 2006, the poll revealed that lack of sleep on school nights affected some 45 percent of adolescents, resulting in mild depression, irritability, reliance on caffeine to get through the day, "drowsy driving" and nodding off in class, habits that tend to become more serious as children grow older;

- In 2007, sixty percent of women in this country said that getting a good night's sleep was the exception rather than the rule. And nearly 70 percent reported frequent sleep difficulties. Not surprisingly, 43 percent struggled with daily tasks because of sleep issues.

- Overworked Americans were the focus of the 2008 sleep deprivation study. Consequences of the extended, "5 to 9" workdays included drowsy driving (36 percent), sneaking snoozes at work (29 percent) and being too sleepy for sex (20%).

- Most recently, the nation's economic woes are causing sleep difficulties, with fully 30 percent of Americans reporting financial worries and the U.S. economic downturn causing them to lose sleep.

In response to the rampant, double-digit reports of sleeplessness, the pharmaceutical industry has developed a number of prescription drugs. But reports of serious side effects caused by these sleep aids are not encouraging, and keep too many people from getting the rest they need.

Now for the good news! There is hope for the chronically weary. If sleep is an issue for you, a family member or a friend, the first step to getting adequate rest involves having a thorough physical to determine if an underlying medical condition is disrupting your sleep. Depression, anxiety, aches and pains caused by arthritis or fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, low iron levels and restless leg syndrome are just a few of the common causes of sleep difficulties. Clearly, treating the medical issues that interfere with restful sleep can be a major help.

If, on the other hand, sleeplessness is not related to a health condition, there are plenty of other options to consider. Lifestyle changes, for example, could be easy fixes for what's keeping you up at night. Here are some possibilities:

- Aim for consistency and routine in scheduling sleep. Going to bed and waking up at the same times each day (including weekends), helps your body get into a sleep/wake cycle rhythm.

- The ideal bedtime for most people is before 11 p.m. The bulk of recharging and renewal that takes place in the body occurs from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., so missing out on this crucial event can be disruptive.

- Sleep in a completely dark room to encourage production of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin has been shown to protect us against a long list of serious ailments, including cancer. But the pituitary gland, where melatonin is manufactured, functions best in darkness.

- Avoid electronic devices, including TV and computer, for at least two hours before bedtime. Furthermore, It is recommended that you switch off your fuse box (there is a remote control device that does this) to eliminate the radiation from electrical fields coming from your home's wiring.

- Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, large amounts of liquids and heavy meals before bedtime all interfere with sleep, as do day-time naps and exercising late in the day.

- To encourage relaxation, try a warm bath, shower or sauna before bedtime. Aromatherapy with essential oils known for their relaxing qualities (lavender or linden, for instance) are helpful, too.

- Turn your bedroom into a peaceful oasis. Focus on comfort (a good mattress and pillows), quiet (a white-noise machine can disguise annoying environmental sounds) and a soothing room temperature (between 60 and 70 degrees for most of us). If your feet tend to be cold at night, socks help make up for poor circulation in extremities.

- Sample some of the many non-prescription sleep aids that are now available. ***Many of these remedies -- including herbs like valerian and hops, and the hormone melatonin -- have been found helpful for relaxation and sleep disturbances. Furthermore, they're free from the troubling side effects found in pharmaceuticals.***

As individuals, we each have different sleep needs. Once yours are met, you'll find that waking up each day is a whole new experience. And your body will thank you for providing it with the rejuvenating rest it needs.

RESOURCES

National Sleep Foundation: http://www.sleepfoundation.org

Gooneratne NS. "Complementary and alternative medicine for sleep disturbances in older adults." Clinics in Geriatric Medicine 2008 Feb;24(1):121-38, viii.

Dimpfel W. Suter A. "Sleep improving effects of a single dose administration of a valerian/hops fluid extract - a double blind, randomized, placebo-controlled sleep-EEG study in a parallel design using electrohypnograms." European Journal of Medical Research 2008 May 26;13(5):200-4.

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