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Common sleep questions

From: Dr Frank Lipman's Blog,

Common sleep questions

Does what I eat or drink affect my sleep?

Definitely. Caffeine and alcohol are the two biggest culprits, but other substances may affect your sleep too.

Caffeine even in small doses blocks sleep neurotransmitters. If you have a problem with sleep, cut out coffee and any caffeinated beverages (even in the morning). Caffeine is not just in coffee. It’s in colas and other soft drinks, tea, even some herbal teas, chocolate and some medications (Anacin and Excedrin, for example). There’s even a little caffeine in decaffeinated coffee. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant with a half life typically of up to 7 hours. But for some people it may be much longer especially if you are taking the oral contraceptive, some medications, have liver problems or just getting older.

Alcohol has an initial sleep inducing effect, but when broken down by the body, it can lighten sleep and causes frequent and early awakening. Alcohol interacts with GABA receptors, blocking the brain’s oxygen sensors, cutting oxygen and complicating sleep conditions, particularly for sleep apnea. Habitual alcohol consumption just before bedtime can reduce it’s sleep-inducing effect, while its disruptive effects continue or even increase

Tobacco acts as a stimulant and blocks sleep neurotransmitters.

Many medications, such as antihistamines, diuretics, antipsychotics, antidepressants decongestants, asthma medications, and some blood pressure medicines, also cause sleeplessness. If you’re taking any necessary medication that interrupts your sleep, talk with your doctor about an alternative. Certain foods can cause food reactions or sensitivities which can effect your sleep cycle.

Refined grains and sugars before bed can raise blood sugar and overstress the organs involved in hormone regulation throughout the body. This hormone roller coaster can affect sleep cycles by waking you up at odd times during sleep as the hormone levels fluctuate.

Too many liquids in the 4 hrs before bed can effect you too. Try not to drink too much before turning in.

So eliminating caffeine, alcohol, sugar and refined grains and the common food allergens, gluten and dairy is a good place to start.

What do I do if I can’t fall asleep?

Try some Melatonin. Melatonin can be helpful when you can’t fall asleep. Try taking nutrients that calm the body and mind. Look for a formula that has some of the following calming amino acids, L Theanine (100mg-300mg), 5 HTP (50-100mg), GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) (200-500mg), and possibly lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), which also has a sedative effect. Taking the minerals, calcium and magnesium at night is also helpful.

Create an electronic sundown. By 10pm, stop sitting in front of a computer screen (or TV screen) and switch off all electronic devices. It is too stimulating to the brain and it will take longer to fall asleep.

Prepare for bed. Try dimming the lights an hour or more before going to bed, take a warm bath, listen to calming music or do some restorative yoga or relaxation exercises. Just as you would clean a cluttered room, put things away (mentally and physically) that will distract you from going to sleep

What to do if I wake up at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning?

Try taking nutrients that calm the body and mind. Look for a formula that has some of the following calming amino acids, L Theanine (100mg-300mg), 5 HTP (50-100mg), GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) (200-500mg), and possibly lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), which also has a sedative effect. Taking the minerals, calcium and magnesium at night is also helpful.

Create a regular routine. Getting up and going to bed around the same time, even on weekends, is the most important thing you can do to establish good sleep habits. Our bodies thrive on regularity and a consistent sleep schedule is the best reinforcement for the body’s internal clock.

Waking and sleeping at set times reinforces a consistent sleep rhythm and reminds the brain when to release sleep and wake hormones, and more importantly, when not to.

Does exercise affect my sleep?

Exercise is one of the best defenses against insomnia. Exercise increases the amplitude of daily rhythms and tells the body to promote deeper sleep cycles to help replenish the muscle tissues from daily physical exertion. Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise seem to work as well. I have noticed that exercise too close to bedtime can disrupt some people’s sleep cycle. The best time to exercise is 4 – 6 hours before bedtime, but studies also show that people are more likely to stick to a routine if they exercise first thing in the morning. Either way, exercise is helpful.

Is my sleep affected by how my room is set up?

Definitely. Here are some tips:

Keep the room cool. A sleeping temperature of 60 to 65 degrees is best for most people, even in the dead of winter. In hot weather, use a floor or ceiling fan to create a breeze, or an air-conditioner set at about 70 degrees. Keep the room dark. Look around your bedroom: the alarm clock read-out that glows in bright red; the charging indicator on your cell phone or PDA, the monitor on your computer, the battery indicator on the cordless phone or answering machine, the DVD clock and timer. Each of these takes a small toll on your sleep as each little bit of light can keep you from reaching deep restorative sleep. Cover or move the clock, use dark shades or drapes on windows if they are exposed to light or wear an eye mask. If there is even the tiniest bit of light in the room it can disrupt your circadian rhythm and your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin.

Block out noise. Whether it is from outside, inside or someone snoring next to you, noise can affect your sleep. Try a white noise machine or a fan that hums to block out the disruptive sounds. If that does not help, try earplugs.

What are feelings on alarm clocks?

Sleep researchers at the Mayo Clinic believe if you need an alarm clock to wake you up, you’re not sleeping right. Alarm clocks interrupt the sleep cycle and keep sleep from completing naturally, pushing sleep problems into succeeding days. It can also be very stressful to be awoken suddenly. Dawn simulation devices with a special built-in light that gradually increases in intensity are much more effective at establishing a healthy sleep cycle and gently rousing you from sleep.

What are your feelings on sleeping pills?

Sleeping pills mask sleep problems and do not resolve the underlying cause of insomnia. Many sleep studies have concluded that sleeping pills, whether prescription or over the counter, over the long term, do more harm than good. They are also highly addictive and have been found in studies to be as dangerous as cigarette smoking.

It is always best to identify and correct the root causes of sleep problems rather than using medications as a band-aid. Sleeping pills can actually make insomnia worse, not better. Also, since higher mortality rates are associated with chronic sleeping pill use, and since these pills are addictive, don’t take them.

What are your feelings on naps during the day?

I am all for naps but don’t nap for longer than 30 or 40 minutes. Long naps during the day especially after 4pm or even brief nods in the evening while watching TV can damage a good sleep rhythm and keep you from enjoying a full sleep at night.

If naps are necessary, keep them under 30 or 40 minutes and before 4pm. In general, short naps may not hurt sleep and in fact a short siesta for half an hour after lunch or a power nap for half an hour before 4pm works well for many people.

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Frank Lipman MD is the founder and director of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in NYC, a center whose emphasis is on preventive health care and patient education. His personal blend of Western and Eastern Medicine combined with the many other complimentary modalities he has studied, has helped thousands of people recover their energy and zest for life. He is the author of the recent SPENT: End Exhaustion and Feel Great Again (2009) and Total Renewal; 7 key steps to Resilience, Vitality and Long-Term Health (2003)

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