“To sleep, perchance to dream-ay, there's the rub,” says Shakespeare’s Hamlet, as he paced, plagued by anxiety and despair. Blessed sleep, so important for health, restores the mind, body and spirit. And such sleep eludes some of us.
Sometimes it is anxiety and worries, maybe or maybe not on the scale of Hamlet’s, that keep us up. If you find yourself tossing and turning, figure out what is running through your mind. Which problems are you trying to solve? Try to tame your anxiety beast and put it in its cage. Try writing down some thoughts before you attempt to go to sleep so you can get them out of your head and off your pillow.
Sometimes other reasons keep us awake. Alcohol is the ultimate trickster, lulling you to sleep and then metabolizing into a stimulant that wakes you up a few hours later.
Sometimes it is the patterns or lack of patterns of our daily lives that rob our sleep. Changing shifts or going to bed at varied times translates to lack of a sleeping routine. Your body and mind just can’t tell when it is time to turn off.
What works over time? “Sleep hygiene” is a funny term that refers to how you approach sleeping. Do you have habits that make it easier for you to fall asleep? Check out these suggestions:
Use the bed only for sleeping and intimacy. If you watch TV and read in bed, you are training your mind to stay alert when in bed. If you use the bed only for sleeping, your mind and body become conditioned to switch gears when you get under the sheets.
Do some exercise earlier in the day. Exercisers sleep better.
Avoid caffeine at least four hours before you plan to sleep. That’s not just coffee, but also colas and cocoa.
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Switching around your sleep times is like giving yourself jet lag. If you work rotating shifts, you need a few days to make the transition.
Lavender may help. You can grow lavender in the Florida climate. Or you can buy a bottle of lavender spray or sprigs of the lovely flowers. Lavender aromatherapy is said to help sleep. If nothing else, it will make your room smell so good.
Then, of course, we have the billion-dollar industry of sleep aids. Over-the-counter and prescription sleeping medications may work at first, but they are not an ongoing solution. Studies have shown that you may get just as much restful sleep without them. Sleeping pills do not give you a good quality sleep anyway.
Over-the-counter melatonin is a naturally produced hormone that regulates sleep. This “Dracula hormone” increases in the dark and is associated with sleep. It also hides in the light of day. Studies on the effectiveness are inconclusive and it may be that light and dark make more of a difference. Melatonin is available over the counter. Like all “natural” hormones, it must be taken with caution. Natural is not the same as harmless. It may interact with other medications and conditions, including diabetes, depressing, blood clotting disorders, or epilepsy. It should be avoided by pregnant and breastfeeding women. If you use melatonin, take the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time, such as when you have jet lag or are changing shifts.
Dr. Nancy Rudner Lugo, local workplace nurse coach with HealthAction.biz, helps individuals and employees understand their health, make healthy choices and achieve their health goals. Send your questions to [email protected]