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How to get a good night's sleep Jan. 7, 2013
Written by: Marilyn Linton, QMI Agency

(SHUTTERSTOCK)

Now that the hectic holidays are past, chances are your sleep schedule is all messed up. So the first thing to tackle is getting the right amount of shut-eye that will keep you healthy and strong. According to Quebec sleep expert Dr. Charles Morin, a researcher at Universite Laval’s School of Psychology, sleep disorders affect a whopping 40% of Canadians! His survey of 2,000 Canadians further revealed that 20% of the participants were unsatisfied with the quality of their sleep.

There are three main causes of insomnia, says Dr. Colleen Carney, director of the Sleep and Depression Lab at Ryerson University in Toronto. “The first is a clock problem,” she says. “Many people can’t keep a schedule that suits their body or they don’t try to keep a schedule at all.”

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Sleep schedules are not just for kids, she says. “We have a clock in our body and that clock needs input from our behavior to keep setting itself. If we continuously change things around, we get increased fatigue, sleep problems and mood difficulties.” Adults experience the same problems as kids when they have variable sleep schedules: We’re cranky, lack focus, and can experience jetlag-type symptoms.

Another way to cure insomnia is to spend less time in bed: “When they are tired, people rest but that sends a message for your body to reduce the amount of sleep you’re getting.” If you don’t fall asleep after 30 minutes, she says, get out of bed, do something mindless and return to bed only when you are sleepy.

The third reason we toss and turn is too much arousal: “In order to sleep we have to deactivate, and many things get in the way,” says Dr. Carney. “People are tired but wired.” Her advice is to take the time to mentally unwind: Never do wakeful activities in your bed, such as talking on the phone, texting, reading, watching TV or checking your email.

The majority of Penny Kendall-Reed’s clients have sleep issues because of stress, says the Toronto naturopathic doctor. “Not falling, but staying asleep seems to be the problem. They wake up between two and four a.m. That’s also the time that our bodies’ cortisol level is at its highest,” she says. Cortisol, produced by our adrenal glands and activated during the ‘fight or flight’ response, is called by some the ‘anti-sleep’ hormone. Because it can be affected by stress and over-activity, it’s important to relax, to meditate and de-stress before bed.

Kendall-Reed, a consultant to Jamieson vitamins, says that taking three to 10 mg of melatonin per night helps to reset the wake/sleep cycle. “It promotes healing sleep,” she explains. “It pushes our brain into stage four (restorative) sleep.” In a small study by Jamieson, time-release capsules of melatonin produced better sleep within two weeks in 60 percent of participants.

At www.wyldeabouthealth.com, Toronto integrative medicine specialist Bryce Wylde tells readers that one to two grams of L-tryptophan, a natural sleep aid found in turkey and dairy foods, helps with sleepiness if taken before bedtime. He also notes that 300 to 600 mg of concentrated valerian root extract taken 30 minutes before bed acts as a sedative.

Other holistic medicine followers swear by magnesium gluconate: The anti-stress mineral acts as a muscle relaxant to help you nod off. One study published in 2011 in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society noted that participants who took 225 mg of magnesium along with melatonin and zinc had a sleep improvement.

Sleep experts advise that we should stay cool: A too-warm room is a sleep turn-off. Deep breathing also works, says Penny Kendall-Reed. Adds Bryce Wylde, “embrace the dark!” To signal to our brains that it’s time for bed we must keep out the light, he says. Black-out curtains may be your best sleep friend.

“Sleep is like falling in love,” says Dr. Colleen Carney. “You can’t force it. All you can do is set the stage for it and get out of the way.”

Family ties

The risk of insomnia is 67% higher in people from families in which at least one member is an insomniac. “There is probably a genetic factor,” Quebec sleep expert Dr. Charles Morin told EurekAlert, a science news service. “However we don’t know if the mechanism is a physiological process that interferes with sleep or a predisposition to anxiety.”

Are you an insomniac?

According to Dr. Colleen Carney, a Ryerson University sleep researcher, insomnia is a difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep at least half the nights of the week. Insomnia includes a wide spectrum of sleep disorders, from not enough sleep to not being able to fall asleep to a lack of quality sleep. The average American worker loses 11.3 days in lost productivity annually because of insomnia according to an article in the journal Sleep. In Spain, one of every five people suffers from insomnia.

Sleepy truths

  • You don’t need eight hours
  • You do need a consistent sleep schedule
  • You don’t have to try to make up for lost sleep
  • If you change your schedule even on a weekend, your body goes into a kind of jet lag
MORE COLUMNS BY MARILYN LINTON, QMI AGENCY

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