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Getting Over Insomnia
By Scott Sulak
The average person gets approximately 7½ hours of sleep per night. More than likely you have had one or two nights in your life where you were unable to either fall asleep or stay asleep. We all know how horrible it can feel to be sleep deprived. We get grouchy, have trouble staying focused and most certainly do not feel we are working at our optimum levels. Unfortunately, there are some people who go through long periods of sleep deprivation, and it can take its toll in many ways.
It is estimated that more than 30% of American drivers admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel at least once in their life. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that more than 100,000 accidents and 1,500 fatalities per year are directly caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel. This is not just long haul truck drivers. Rather, it is average people, perhaps just like you.
Sleep problems occur in more than 20% of adults at some period of time in their lives. The direct costs of human fatigue to the American economy are more than $70 billion per year and worldwide over $300 billion!
Cause and Effect
The very nature of sleep is to allow your body to slow down, repair itself, let go of daily stress and revitalize the system. Without the proper balancing effects of adequate sleep, you will feel one or more of the following symptoms:
1. Lack of energy: Perhaps you might even experience energy shifts. One minute you are fine, and a few minutes later, you feel like you cannot even move (or rather don’t want to). You might wake up tired and feel like you are dragging all day long.
2. Mood swings: Being grouchy and irritable is the starting point to sleep deprivation. In prolonged periods, depression or anxiety might set in. It is common to give in to the notion that you are thoroughly and completely overwhelmed.
3. Lack of concentration: Your ability to stay focused is impaired when you are not rested. People begin to stare into space and mistakes are made. This is where good judgment is greatly affected. Accidents can happen without proper sleep.
4. Weight gain: You are more likely to eat incorrectly when you are tired. You might eat candy or some quick energy food, which is likely to be filled with empty calories. Since your energy is lacking, you are less likely to engage in exercise that might otherwise burn it off.
5. Immune deficient: Yes, you run yourself down, and you put yourself at a greater risk of getting a cold or flu virus. When your energy is low, it is generally accepted that you are at greater risk physically.
What is a Sleep Disorder?
There are two major kinds of sleep disorders:
1. Dyssomnias are related to the total amount of sleep a person gets, the quality of sleep or the time of day they sleep. So, you might have a dyssomnia when you can’t fall asleep, can’t stay asleep, or if you sleep too much.
2. Parasomnias are sleep disorders, which have to do with what happens while a person sleeps (nightmares, teeth grinding, etc.).
There are four major dipsomania:
1. Primary insomnia: Insomnia is considered a problem if, over a period of at least one month, a person has difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. To be classified as primary insomnia, the sleep problem must cause difficulty in the person’s social, school, work or other significant area of life. Most will complain that they cannot fall asleep or once asleep; they awaken suddenly and cannot fall back asleep. This pattern can repeat and turn into a continuous night after night cycle. This is the most common of all sleep problems.
2. Primary hypersomnia: This is the opposite of Primary Insomnia. The characteristics are excessive amounts of sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness. Sometimes a person with this condition has trouble getting out of bed, even after eight full hours of sleep. They will usually complain that no matter how many hours of sleep they get, they never feel rested.
3. Narcolepsy: The person who suffers from this experiences “sleep attacks,” brief periods of sleep during normal waking hours. They appear to be dozing off. They report that they can, in only a few minutes (not usually more than 15 minutes), wake feeling refreshed. They can fall asleep while in conversation or driving, which can make this condition very dangerous.
4. Breathing related: If someone has trouble breathing during sleep, he or she might be suffering from a physical obstruction or abnormality. Aside from severe cases of snoring, another breathing related sleep disorder is known as sleep apnea. This is where the person actually stops breathing for a period of time. Sometimes there is an obstruction; however, not always. These can be very serious sleep disorders, which may ultimately result in death if not treated properly.
There are three major Parasomnias, problems that occur during sleep:
1. Nightmare disorder: Frightening dreams that recur frequently and awaken the person from sleep may lead to this disorder. The nightmares are usually scary or violent and are described as threatening. The person will awaken full of fear and anxiety and will find it difficult to fall back asleep. Children suffer from this problem, but usually outgrow it. It is not uncommon in adults.
2. Sleep terror disorder: This is the condition where the person awakens from a dream crying or screaming. Sometimes the person is difficult to wake up, and the episode may last for several minutes. Once awakened, they are confused and usually will have trouble explaining what they just experienced. It is not uncommon for someone suffering from night terror to punch or swing his or her fists. This can occur in both children and adults.
3. Sleep walking disorder: The classic symptoms of this condition provide for the sufferer to actually get up and walk around while sleeping. They will usually not wake up for several minutes and if confronted while walking, will give a blank stare. Sometimes they can actually leave the room, eat or go outside. It is more pronounced in adults and can last for years.
The Five Stages of Sleep
Stage One: Drowsiness
As you lay there in bed, your eyes start to close and you feel “sleepy.” That is the first stage of sleep. It is the beginning of the transition from wakefulness to sleep. You start to tune out sounds. Your muscles get heavy. You are falling asleep. You may or may not even know you are in this stage while you are going through it. When you are drowsy, your brain begins producing “alpha waves,” and the deeper you go, the more asleep you are. As you transition into stage two, the presence of theta waves become present.
Stage Two: Light Sleep
This is the first true sleep state but is very light. As the sleep becomes deeper, the waves are more theta-like. No dreaming yet; although, some twitching and minor movement may be present. Sometimes bursts of low voltage mixed frequency signals are experienced. These are called “sleep spindles.”
Stages Three and Four: The Deep Sleep
Since we move from one stage to another, three and four are usually lumped together. Characterized as “slow wave” activity, it is believed that most of the body’s repair and restoration is done during this stage. Within 20 minutes of falling asleep, you drift into Stage Three, the first stage of deep sleep. Your body temperature drops, your breathing and heart rate drop down, and you are very asleep. If someone wakes you while you are in this stage, they will have a tough time. You will be groggy and disoriented if they can wake you at all. You only stay in Stage Three for a few minutes. Then you drift to Stage Four.
Stage Four is the deepest level of sleep. During the first cycle of sleep, we arrive at Stage Four about 45 to 60 minutes after falling into Stage One. We experience “delta” brain waves in this deep sleep. These are high voltage, low frequency brain waves, but still no dreams have taken place.
Stage Five: REM / Dream State
This is the phase of sleep where you are dreaming. Known as REM for the Rapid Eye Movement you experience, this will begin about 90 minutes after you first fall asleep. Your heart rate, blood pressure and respiration sharply increase in this stage of sleep. REM sleep is important to the body. Experiments where subjects were allowed to sleep until this stage and then awakened, showed the subjects to become extremely agitated, even though they had a normal number of sleep hours. On an EEG, the brain waves in REM sleep is similar to waking brain waves. It is interesting to note that the brain is active during sleep, while the body is in a state of near paralysis during REM sleep. If this did not occur, you would be acting out your dreams while still unconscious. In an entire night, your total amount of REM sleep will only amount to about 20% of your sleep time; yet, this is a very important aspect to your overall sleep experience.
For centuries, mankind has tried to decipher what dreams mean. While we don’t know for sure, it appears that dreams are a way for the body and mind to consolidate memory and emotion. Since these are complicated experiences, the brain, in theory, needs a way to reset and work out intricate details and experiences to keep our daily conscious thought theoretically free from this task.
Cannot even get to Stage One? There may be a variety of factors that may be causing your inability to fall asleep or to stay asleep. It can range from unresolved or repressed thought, such as past memories, to fears or concerns (failure, success, death, etc.) that need to be dealt with the next day, perhaps anger over an issue that has yet to be resolved or any number of things. The fact is, the more you try and stop your thoughts, the more difficult falling asleep might be. Whatever the cause, you will need to resolve the problem or issue, as it more than likely is a message from the subconscious mind that something is wrong. So, listen to your body and subconscious mind.
Nine Tips on Getting Good Restful Sleep
1. Eating: Don’t eat before you sleep. Give yourself at least two hours between meals and sleep. It takes a lot of energy to digest food while you sleep. Stay away from chocolates and candy near bedtime.
2. Drinking: Drink lots of water during the day. Keep your system as free from caffeine as possible. Alcohol can seem like a solution to falling asleep; however, it is unrestful sleep and is likely to wake you up earlier than you had hoped for.
3. Exercise: You are likely to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer if you engage in regular exercise like 15 to 30 minutes of aerobic-type exercise (walking, running, swimming, biking, etc.). It improves the quality of your sleep as your body has been fully oxygenated, and you will rest more completely. Your breathing will be more peaceful too.
4. Stress: Learn some stress-reduction techniques. Try self-hypnosis or find some self-hypnosis audiotapes. You can retrain your mind to accept subconscious suggestions that are easily absorbed if done correctly. Learn some deep breathing techniques or attend a yoga or meditation class.
5. Therapy: If you have some unresolved conflict, you might need some help sorting these things out. Counseling or therapy does not mean you are crazy or broken in some way. It just means you need to reorganize your perspective so that you can be more empowered to live fully and completely. There is no shame in getting help if you obviously need it.
6. Sounds: Try some “white noise” in your bedroom. The sound of a fan might be all you need to lull you into a deep relaxed sleep.
7. Supplements: Try using some natural substances like melatonin or tryptophan which has been known to help those with sleep disorders.
8. Attitude: Try not to get too upset with yourself. Don’t watch the clock. If you cannot fall asleep, try another distraction or replay your self-hypnosis tape again, but don’t give up. Try stretching, drink some water and try again. Count backwards from 100. Keep your mind off your problems and on something else. You might try reading for a few minutes, but stay away from really engaging stories which might wake you up. Do not watch TV or go on the computer.
9. Rituals: Before you go to bed, try starting a new ritual, much like the time when you were a child and your mother had you say your prayers. Clear your mind with a short blessing or prayer which can help soothe and relax you. Treat yourself to the calming effects of spiritual comfort.
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