Getting Some Sleep? Part 4

Last week, we looked at the processes that regulate sleep cycles. There are factors that can prevent this that we can easily modify in our lives.

Suggestions for modifying the amounts and timing of using these substances are part of “sleep hygiene” which we will explore in more depth next week when we take a closer look at some sleep solutions!

For many, alcoholic beverages tend to be relaxing and induce drowsiness. However, later in the night, as alcohol is metabolized, it leads to restless and disturbed sleep. The result is a far less refreshing sleep. Therefore drinking alcohol close to bedtime is generally discouraged.

Caffeine is a relatively long-acting stimulant whose effects may last for several hours after it is consumed. People differ greatly in the rate at which caffeine affects them and as a result, in the length of time during which it might impact their sleep. On average, 4–5 hours after a modest amount of caffeine has been consumed, about half the amount of caffeine continues to act as a stimulant in our brains. This activity may last even longer after higher levels of intake and in individuals who are particularly sensitive to its effects, including older adults. We therefore recommend limiting consumption of caffeinated beverages to the equivalent of no more than three, eight- ounce cups daily and avoiding consumption after lunch.

Cravings for nicotine can occur during the middle of night because nicotine has a short half- life of approximately 2 hours and therefore leaves the body fairly quickly. As the body breaks down nicotine, a person experiences withdrawal symptoms, such as agitation and tension. This leads to the consumption of more nicotine in order to reduce these symptoms. In other words, each dose of nicotine relaxes the tension and agitation that were produced by withdrawal from the previous nicotine consumption. This means that rather than relaxing tension from everyday stresses, nicotine only treats the tension and agitation that resulted from withdrawal from the previous intake. Because of this, if you smoke, it is best to avoid smoking at least two hours before bedtime.

Exercise too close to bedtime may have a negative impact on sleep. This is associated with the fact that exercise is activating. Exercise raises an our core body temperature and therefore may interfere with the daily drop in temperature before bedtime that supports sleep. For these reasons exercise should be avoided about four hours before bedtime. Gentle stretching exercises before bedtime are OK and may, in fact, be relaxing and, possibly even, supportive of sleep.

A heavy meal close to bedtime may lead to indigestion and sometimes reflux during the night, both of which may cause arousal in our physiology. The process of falling asleep slows down the digestive system. Because of this, going to bed before food is fully digested is a poor sleep practice and eating a heavy meal should be avoided about four hours before bedtime. Because feeling hungry may also interfere with sleep, a light snack can be OK. Eating in the middle of the night is also not a good idea because it sends alerting signals to our brain and can prolong the time you are awake.

Now, we’ve spent some time looking at how sleep works for us and why it’s important to support our best sleep on a regular basis. We’ve also started taking a look at how some things in our day to day lives can get in the way of us getting some good, quality, restful sleep. Next time, we will go through some best practices for promoting our best sleep so that we can wake up feeling refreshed, energized, calm, and ready to celebrate our life everyday!

If you’re looking for some tips on getting better sleep in the meantime, I shared some tips with Reader’s Digest recently that you can get started with.

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Getting Some Sleep? Part 3

Last week, we began exploring some of the reasons we sleep and the processes that regulate sleep cycles. To examine this more thoroughly, it is important to keep in mind that our sleep drive is lowest in the morning when we wake up; it gradually increases as the day progresses. During sleep, our sleep drive gradually weakens as we “recharge our energy reserve.”

Napping also reduces our sleep drive. The longer we nap the more our sleep drive is reduced. Napping close to bedtime (even brief dozing off while watching TV) weakens our sleep drive just when we most need it.

In some ways the sleep drive is similar to hunger, and napping is like snacking. As grandma used to say, snacking close to meal time may ruin our appetite.

The circadian process: People, like most animals, have powerful internal ‘clocks’ that affect their behavior and bodily functioning, including digestion, body temperature, and sleep/wake pattern. Many of these ‘clocks’ work across roughly 24-hour periods.

For example, if we record a person’s internal body temperature for several days under the same conditions, we will see a consistent up and down pattern across each 24- hour day.

Most peoples’ internal temperature will reach its lowest point around 3 or 4 AM, will rise through the morning and early afternoon, and will hit its peak (highest) point around 9 or 10 PM. Then, their temperature will begin to fall until it hits its low point in the early morning hours, after which it starts rising once again. We tend to fall asleep as our core body temperature is falling and wake up in the morning after our core body temperature starts rising.

We sleep best when our sleep drive is strong and our bedtimes and waketimes are in sync with the internal, biological clock that regulates our sleep and wakefulness. One way to understand how our biological clock regulates sleep is to realize that this clock operates by sending alerting (waking) signals that differ in strength across the 24-hour day and that these alerting signals oppose our sleep drive. You can think of the temperature as an indication of how strong the alerting signal is.

In other words, a higher temperature indicates a higher alerting signal and a lower temperature indicates a weak alerting signal.

Under normal conditions, if there are no sleep problems, the alerting signals sent by our clocks increase from the time we wake up in the morning until a time in the evening when our alerting signals start decreasing. In other words, as our sleep drive increases and promotes sleepiness, the alerting signals from our clock ensures that we do not fall asleep during the day when we need to be alert to carry out our daily activities.

The ideal time to fall asleep is when our alerting signal starts to decrease in the evening and our sleep drive is high. In other words, at a time when the balance between our sleep promoting and alertness-promoting drives is tipped toward sleep. Then after we fall asleep, our alerting signal continues to decrease, which is a good thing because at the same time our sleep drive weakens as well. In that way, the net effect of the sleep promoting and opposing factors continues to be in favor of sleep so that we can continue to sleep.

Then, sometime in the early hours of the night, the alerting signals from our internal clock start to increase again. About 1-3 hours after that, we naturally wake up for the day.

Keeping a very irregular sleep-wake schedule can interfere with our ability to sleep well because it weakens the signals from our circadian clock. Irregular sleep schedules subject our bodies to a frequent ‘jet lag’- like experience, during which we try to sleep out of sync with our biology. To keep your biological clock healthy it is particularly important to keep regular wake and out of bed times. Regular wake and out of bed times mean the clock is getting light signals at the same time every day. This is important because the clock uses light signals to reset itself every day. Therefore, regular wake and out of bed times and hence regular exposure to natural light help keep the clock “ticking” with a strong and regular beat, which supports good sleep.

Sometimes a person’s biological clock is out of sync with society’s typical daily schedule. People who describe themselves as “night owls” may have a delayed circadian clock relative to most other people. This means that the night owl’s alerting signal starts decreasing later than it does for most people. If night people or “night persons” go to bed when most other people do, they are trying to sleep when their alerting signal is still too strong therefore they have difficulty falling asleep. But, if they wait and go to bed later, they fall asleep much faster because their clock’s alerting signals are already weakening.

“Night people” often have difficulty waking up in the morning. This happens because when they try to wake up during the “normal” societal times their biological clocks are not yet generating strong enough alerting signals.

Compared with young adults, older people tend to wake more often during the night and/or wake too early in the morning without having enough sleep to feel rested. As many as 50% of older individuals complain about sleep problems, including disturbed or ‘‘light’’ sleep, frequent awakenings, and early morning awakenings. Indeed, the percent of the deepest sleep stage, stage N3, relative to total sleep time declines with age. Older age may be associated with a weaker signal from the circadian clock that is due, in part, to insufficient light reaching the brain’s clock. Insufficient light signal to the brain may be related to a decrease in time spent outdoors or age-related changes in light receptors in the eye. Because light exposure is an important regulator of the circadian clock, age-associated reduction in light exposure results in a weaker signal from the circadian clock. In addition, some older adults go to bed and wake up earlier than when they were younger, a shift that is influenced by both biology and life style.

We just discussed some of what we know about the science of sleep and wake regulation. Next week, we will discuss several factors that can have an impact on sleep. If you’re looking for some tips on getting better sleep in the meantime, I shared some tips with Reader’s Digest recently that you can get started with.

Curious what I can offer you to help build the life you love? Get in touch!

Get access to more valuable content weekly here!

Getting Some Sleep? Part 2

Last week, we looked at some general information about how challenging it can be to ensure we are sleeping soundly and adequately. Still, a question remains as to why we do sleep. While some disparity amongst sleep experts persists, there are some fundamental reasons for our restful sleep to enhance our lives.

Many people exacerbate their sleep problems because they do not have a good understanding of the sleep process. Sleep, like oxygen, food, and water, is one of our basic daily needs. Like hunger and thirst, it is a drive… our body will eventually, when faced with no other options, force us to sleep. Sleep loss increases the sleep drive and promotes good sleep – much like when we are very hungry, we find ourselves more likely to eat or even eating more voraciously.

You might have noticed that you occasionally had a relatively good night’s sleep after one or several nights of poor sleep. Such a pattern demonstrates the sleep drive in action. A natural accumulation of sleep need that occurs as we go through the day plays a part in the regulation of normal sleep.

In other words, under normal conditions, sleep debt (sleep loss) “fuels” (drives) good sleep at night. Indeed, the drive to sleep gets stronger the longer one is awake before attempting to sleep. For example, a person is much more likely to sleep for a long time after being awake for 16 hours in a row then after being awake for only 2 hours. Most persons who have sleep problems are focused on the negative consequences of insufficient sleep and forget that some sleep debt promotes a “healthy appetite” for sleep. Our attempts to recover lost sleep by trying to sleep more the next night or taking long naps during the day weaken the sleep drive and prolong our sleep difficulties. We’ll elaborate on this in just a few minutes.

Although science still has much to learn about the biological purpose of sleep, we already know a great deal about the human sleep process. Many research studies have shown that sleep is an active process made up two distinct states (Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep and non-REM sleep). Non-Rapid Eye Movement or Non-REM sleep occupies about 75 to 80% of the night’s sleep of a “typical” young, healthy adult. The rest of the night’s sleep is REM sleep. Non-REM sleep consists of several stages, marked by their special brain-body activity patterns. Non-REM sleep is divided into three stages going from lightest (Stage N1) to deepest stages (Stage N3).

During a typical night of sleep, the Non-REM and REM stages of sleep occur in consistent and predictable cycles. When good sleepers go to sleep at night they usually experience a period of relaxed wakefulness. The length of this period of relaxed wakefulness varies from one person to the next but it is typically less than 30 minutes.

About 70 to 90 minutes into the night the first REM sleep occurs. Usually, this first REM period is relatively short and is followed by a return to a lighter stage of sleep. The time from sleep onset to the end of the first REM period constitutes the first sleep cycle. For the rest of the night, REM sleep alternates with Non-REM sleep (primarily stage N2) in roughly 90-minute cycles.

Most deep sleep occurs early in the sleep period. Because most people sleep at least 3 hours, they are rarely deprived of this deep sleep stage. Some wakefulness is a normal part of the night’s sleep even in good sleepers and A few brief awakenings do not need to be a cause for concern. These awakenings become more frequent closer to an individual’s morning waketime. This explains why most people are more easily awakened in the later part of the nocturnal sleep period. This also means that even when you sleep poorly, you are unlikely to be totally deprived of the deepest, most restorative stage of sleep.

REM (dreaming) periods become longer toward the morning rising time. This is why we are more likely to awake from a dream during the second half of the night. As the night progresses our dreams may become more complex and/or vivid, explaining why nightmares are more common during the last third of the sleep period.

There are two basic processes that regulate sleep and wakefulness. One is the normal accumulation of sleep debt as the day goes on, which we mentioned a few minutes ago (in other words, the more time that passes after we wake up for the day the greater the sleep debt). This is what we refer to as the “sleep drive”. The other process is determined by our biological clock. It is called the “circadian process.”

Next week, I will delve a bit deeper into these two processes that regulate our sleep so that we can be sure we are getting the type of restorative and enervating sleep that we need! If you’re looking for some tips on getting better sleep in the meantime, I shared some tips with Reader’s Digest recently that you can get started with.

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Getting Some Sleep? Part 1

A question often on people’s mind is ‘How much sleep do I need each night?’ Generally speaking, there is no single amount of sleep that ‘fits’ everyone. Most healthy adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. However, at the extremes, some people need only 4 hours of sleep and others require 10 hours of sleep. Moreover, a person’s sleep need might change depending upon life circumstances. At this point, it is important to remember that optimal amount of sleep lets us not only feel alert and energetic during the day, but it also allows us to best manage our emotions and reactions to the difficult things going on for us in our lives. It gives us a resilience that helps us navigate the tough things that come up, deal with our stresses, and figure out things we’re struggling to work through. It can also just brighten our spirits and give us relief and positivity during a difficult period of time.

Insomnia is diagnosed when poor sleep is associated with distress and/or daytime consequences, such as impairment in function or mood. Insomnia often begins during periods of stress. About 75% of people with insomnia can identify a trigger that initiated their insomnia. Examples include health issues and/or stress related to family or work situations.

Poor sleep is a common reaction to stress but there are large individual differences in how people react to and cope with stress. These differences likely play a role in the development of insomnia. Most of the time, sleep normalizes after the stress that started it subsides or after the medical condition that caused it is treated. However, in some cases insomnia persists.

This can happen if there are perpetuating mechanisms present such as the following:

  1. The bed and the bedroom become linked with wakefulness, arousal, or negative emotions. This is known as conditioned arousal or conditioned insomnia. The bed and the bedroom become unconscious cues for arousal rather than sleep. For example, many people with insomnia report that they dose off while watching TV or reading in the living room, only to become fully awake when they go to bed. For these people, past experience with tossing and turning while trying to sleep has made the bed a cue for wakefulness rather than sleep. Conditioned arousal can develop even when the main problem is prolonged awakenings in the middle of the night, rather than difficulty in initially falling asleep.
  2. Some people react to poor sleep by trying harder. They extend the time they spend in bed, avoid previously enjoyed evening activities, and spend long periods tossing and turning in bed. These strategies do not solve the problem. In fact, such strategies make it worse. Prolonged time in bed actually promotes wakefulness. The very act of “trying” to sleep produces frustration, increases arousal, and can become a hidden source of stress. This process is akin to a Chinese finger cuff. The harder you try to pull your fingers out, the more stuck they become. When you let go, you can ease your fingers out.
  3. Worry about sleep is another common reaction to having difficulty sleeping particularly in those individuals who are predisposed to worry. After a period of not sleeping well, apprehension and concern that the coming night will be another struggle emerge. When unable to sleep, worries about the negative daytime consequences of insufficient sleep develop and people start to plan their day and evening activities around their sleep. Such worries, though understandable, are mentally activating and end up making sleep even more difficult to achieve.

Many people with insomnia make their problems worse by the things they do to make up for lost sleep. For example, people may go to bed too early or ‘sleep in’ following a poor night’s sleep in order to recover lost sleep. Although these practices seem logical and sensible for good sleepers who are occasionally forced to curtail their sleep (e.g., when sleep is interrupted by a sick child who needs parental attention at night), these same practices often serve to continue or worsen the sleep problems of people with insomnia. In fact, these habits are usually the opposite of what needs to be done to improve sleep.

Some people misjudge their state of sleepiness. They confuse the sense of being sleepy with the sense of being tired, fatigued, and the wish to rest the mind and the body. Being very sleepy means having to almost struggle to stay awake. When you are close to that, you are sleepy. Fatigue and tiredness reflect low energy that signals the need to rest whereas sleepiness signals the need and readiness for sleep.

Sleep scientists have yet to agree on the fundamental biological purpose of sleep. Some sleep experts believe that during sleep the human body restores and repairs cells and tissues that have been damaged or destroyed while we are awake. Other experts think that sleep is necessary to maintain a constant body temperature. Still others believe that sleep is essential to the maintenance of normal human metabolism. Regardless of these different opinions, sleep experts generally agree that to function best we all require consistent, good quality sleep. What is the right amount of sleep? The answer varies from person to person. Moreover, the sleep need of each person may vary depending upon life circumstances and age.

Next week, I will explore some of the reasons why we sleep. If you’re looking for some tips on getting better sleep in the meantime, I shared some tips with Reader’s Digest recently that you can get started with.

Curious what I can offer you to help build the life you love? Get in touch!

Get access to more valuable content weekly here!

Showing Up Powerfully in Your Life

If you have ever said…
-I can’t focus or think straight
-I can’t seem to figure out what I want
-Everyone judges me
-I’m not good enough
HELP GET CLARITY AND SHOW UP POWERFULLY IN YOUR LIFE!

The Mindfulness Matters 12-week group will provide you with support + give you the skills to…
+ Notice the here and now experiences even when you are overwhelmed and unsettled so that you can participate in the parts of your life that are meaningful

+ Engage in activities even when you’re feeling scared or insecure so that you can lead a fulfilling life and feel happy

+ Stop comparing yourself to others and learn to feel fully comfortable in your own skin

+ Quiet your self-critical voice and learn to love yourself for exactly who you are

Groups are an amazing way for us to lean how to express ourselves and understand that we are not alone. The Mindfulness Matters Group will run on Tuesdays from 5:30pm to 6:30pm  beginning on July 11th and running through September 26th.

Space is limited to 6 participants to ensure that everyone in the group feels heard and has a meaningful experience.
**only 3 spaces remain**

New Mindfulness Matters Flyer PNG
If this group looks like a good fit for you, contact me for more details.

 

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Need Some Sleep??

Many of us have a difficult time sleeping restfully. Some of us have a hard time falling asleep, while many of us wake up throughout the night. For others, we can fall and stay asleep fine but find ourselves having disturbing dreams or nightmares. Still, many of us just find ourselves waking up exhausted and seem to have a hard time getting the rest we need. In fact, over half of Americans have a difficult time getting the quality sleep they need.

Unfortunately, this affects more than just how tired we feel the next day. Inadequate sleep or quality of sleep can affect not only our mood, but our concentration levels, frustration and stress tolerance, and the rate at which we process the information that is being thrown at us in our world. This then creates a spiral where we have an even more difficult time winding down enough to go to sleep again.

Recently, I was interviewed as part of a Reader’s Digest article on battling insomnia – or difficulty falling and staying asleep. The article explores some tips and tools for helping you get the sleep that you may be needing.

I make a reference to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia, or CBT-I. This six session protocal has been found to be as effective as psychopharmacology for insomnia in the short term and even more effective in the long term. It is now considered the gold standard treatment for sleeping difficulties. You can access a bit more information about it here as well.

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