How To Get A Good Nights Sleep

Simple lifestyle changes can help insomnia, exercise is one of them

While those who sleep well usually take it for granted, people who don’t would do almost anything for a good nights sleep. Although it’s extremely valuable, you can’t buy it. You can’t borrow it, steal it or give it away. And the harder you try to get it, the less likely you are to succeed.

Problems with sleep are quite common. In fact, most of us have trouble sleeping occasionally, and experience nights where we toss and turn, look at the clock, get upset and toss and turn some more. At any one time, about 15 to 20 percent of adults in North America complain of problems sleeping.

Since exercise can either enhance or interfere with sleep, clients occasionally raise questions about the effect of exercise habits on sleep, and may ask for any other advice you can offer about insomnia.

Fortunately, there are no serious consequences of missing a good night’s sleep once in a while, although even a few sleepless nights can dampen one’s good humor and interfere with mental alertness. Most sleep problems last for a relatively short period of time and go away on their own without treatment. Often simple lifestyle changes, will do the trick.

Some people, however, suffer from chronic insomnia, or difficulty sleeping, that may persist for months or even years. Chronic sleep deprivation can seriously impair one’s mental and physical health and ability to function effectively. Insomnia that continues for more than a few weeks is a problem requiring medical attention.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia may include any or all of the following problems:

1) Taking a long time to fall asleep.

2) Awakening frequently during the night.

3) Awakening too early in the morning.

4) Feeling tired and dissatisfied with one’s sleep upon awakening.

The first problem is usually the complaint of young people, while those middle-aged and older are more likely to experience the second and third problems. Insomnia may originate during times of stress, anxiety or depression, and continue even after a person no longer feels stressed, anxious or depressed.

How much sleep do we need?

Most people need about seven to eight hours of sleep each night, but there is no standard amount of sleep that guarantees well-being. Enough sleep is whatever you need to awaken feeling alert and refreshed. Sleep requirements vary among individuals and decrease with age. Sometimes people sleep “enough hours” but do not sleep well. This results in a deficiency of what is called stage 4, or deep sleep, and so they do not feel rested. Stage 4 sleep is the most restorative and people who are deprived of sleep will spend more time in stage 4 sleep on subsequent nights.

Why not take a sleeping pill?

Sleeping pills are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in North America. An occasional dose of sleep medication may be helpful when taken as directed but, in general, medication only worsens the problem. Sleeping pills disturb the sleep cycle, so sleep is less satisfying even though you may get more of it. They often leave the user with a “hang-over” that results in daytime fatigue. The user quickly builds up a tolerance to the medication so that it becomes less effective within a week. One of the biggest dangers of sleeping pills is addiction, which can be very difficult to overcome.

Some sleeping pills can even cause insomnia by suppressing the brain’s production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps you go to sleep. Sleeping pills pose a danger of overdose, especially if taken with alcohol or other drugs. The biggest problem with sleeping pills is that they do not address the real causes of the sleeping problem: bad habits and stress.

What causes insomnia?

“Bad habits” include overuse, or “wrong-time” use of caffeine, alcohol, sleeping pills and other drugs. Clients who complain of insomnia should be queried about their use of these substances. One fitness instructor I know was asked about using exercise to improve sleep quality. During her discussion with the client she discovered that the client was consuming more than eight cups of coffee each day, several with dinner. While she encouraged him to participate in regular physical activity, she suggested cutting down on caffeine in the afternoon and evening as well. People who are very sensitive to caffeine may find that even one cup of coffee after dinner will keep them up for several hours. The nicotine in cigarettes is a stimulant and should be avoided. Heavy smokers experience less REM and stage 4 sleep.

Many people believe alcohol will help them relax and go to sleep but, like sleeping pills, alcohol disrupts the sleep cycle. While it may help you fall asleep, it usually produces light, restless sleep, and the sleeper often awakens suddenly during the night, unable to go back to sleep.

A large meal before bed can also inhibit sleep. Heavy foods and/or large quantities of food are associated with poor sleep quality. A light snack, however, can help one sleep better.

Exercise and sleep

Many people will testify that regular exercise improves their ability to fall asleep and to sleep more soundly. Exercise helps decrease muscle tension and improve sleep quality. EMG studies have found lower resting muscle activity following exercise. Exercise can also improve one’s ability to manage stress, to feel less worried and more in control. But beware: Exercise too close to bedtime can wind you up instead of down. Sleep experts generally recommend exercising in the afternoon. If an exercise program is making sleep worse, your client is probably overdoing it. Too much exercise increases sympathetic arousal which gears you up to fight or flee, not slow down and sleep.

Stress management for insomniacs

Sleep comes more easily to those who go to bed with a relaxed mental attitude. It is helpful to relax for at least an hour before bed. Read, listen to music, knit a sweater, take a warm shower. Avoid activities that wind you up. A pre-bed activity routine helps get you ready for sleep.

An important step in overcoming insomnia is to figure out whether psychological stress might be one of the possible causes. If so, getting help for the stresses, tensions and anxieties that are contributing to the insomnia can be beneficial. Resolving conflicts and dealing with problem situations are better than worrying. And a sense of control is the best sleeping aid.

Many relaxation techniques have been used successfully for the treatment of insomnia. These techniques often focus on inducing the physical sensations associated with deep relaxation, such as feelings of warmth and heaviness in the arms and legs, and on suggestions to let go, to enjoy feeling tired and drowsy. Sometimes one of the barriers to successful sleep is the insomniac’s dread of going to bed, and his or her fears of another miserable, restless night. These stress-management techniques help the insomniac “change the channel” of their current thought pattern, while trying to fall asleep to one that is more conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Holistic Medicine and Healing.

Baltimore City Community College Athletic Recruiting.


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