So… you can’t sleep?

Helpful methods of getting a good night’s rest

By Terri Windover, Connect Columnist

Stock Photo

Stock Photo

You stumble out of bed, yawning and mumbling curses under your breath. Even though you went to bed at a decent hour, you feel tired and irritated. You fumble through your workday and load up on extra coffee, sugary snacks and count down the minutes until you are home.

Once there you splay your body on the couch, turn on the TV and pour yourself a glass of wine (or two) and decide that you are simply too tired to go to the gym or hit the walking trails.

We’ve all been there. I, myself, have struggled with insomnia only a few times over the years, mostly during times of increased stress. Custody battle = can’t sleep. Divorce from crazy man = can’t sleep. Raging inferno/aftermath = can’t sleep.

It has amazed me how a bad sleep can negatively affect your life and its day to day function. Since the evacuation a lot of my friends and clients have also been battling insomnia. This led me to do some research on how to get a good nights’ sleep.

First let’s talk about what a “good” sleep is. REM – which stands for rapid eye movement – is one of five stages of sleep. During REM, our eyes dart back and forth while the rest of the body is basically paralyzed. We only dream during REM and the theory is that the temporary paralysis is to ensure we don’t hurt ourselves by acting out our dreams physically.

If you’ve ever woken someone up and they come up swinging (my brother ALL the time), chances are you disturbed them mid REM cycle. We spend about 25 per cent of our sleep time in REM. It happens roughly every 90 minutes and lasts longer per cycle the more hours you sleep. Hence the reason for the recommended eight hours sleep.

REM sleep acts like your own personal secretary, allowing your brain to sort through all your memories from throughout the day and file away the important ones. The theory is that is where the dreams come from, a jumble of images, thoughts and events from the day.

Lack of REM has been linked to inability to learn and short term memory loss, not to mention the crankiness factor that everyone around you has to deal with. You are not doing junior any favours by allowing him to stay up late on a school night.

Your sleep, REM in particular, can be negatively affected by a number of things. One culprit is drinking caffeinated beverages, diet pills and pre-workouts during the day. Also, taking certain diet pills and decongestants can affect you.

Surprisingly, I found out that most sleep aids – both prescription and over-the-counter – suppress REM sleep, as do many antidepressant drugs. Research seems to show that a natural, mild remedy like melatonin is a far better choice. One would think that a glass (or two) of wine would help as we seem to fall asleep easier after a few drinks, but it can do more harm than good as it is not conducive to REM sleep.

Exercise is important to get a good REM sleep. Keeping busy during the day, to the point where you are utterly exhausted at bedtime, may greatly improve your REM sleep.

For all you menopausal women out there, during REM sleep, we lose some of our ability to regulate body temperature, which means that surroundings that are abnormally hot or cold can disrupt this stage of sleep. Yay, let’s hear it for menopause!

A good mattress is very important. I don’t mean the most expensive one, I mean the one that works best for you. Chances are if your mattress is 10 years old it’s time for a new one.

Lastly, researchers have discovered that watching television or surfing the net makes people stay up later and have more disrupted sleep. So, maybe PVR that show and take the night off of Facebook and save that stuff for the weekend as opposed to Tuesday night.

So, you can see that the whole extra caffeine, skipping the gym, one (two) glasses of wine and late night television are not the cure for your insomnia. I know, it makes me sad, too.

– Connect Weekly –