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How to Increase Healthy Sleep and Reduce Stress

by Jeff Gardere, PhD(more info)

listed in stress, originally published in issue 186 - September 2011

Recent studies show that millions of Americans are unable to achieve a good and restful sleep. Their chronic sleep issues often leave them feeling tired, frustrated and cranky. And that sure doesn't make for a happy camper with the kids, at the office or with the hubby....yikes!

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People with chronic sleep disorders not only act whack (using the younger generation vernacular) but usually are out of whack on many physiological levels:

  • According to a 2006 Institute of Medicine report, insufficient sleep affects hunger hormones where leptin, which suppresses appetite, is diminished and ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, is increased. The result is more snacking during the day and the consumption of high calorie energy drinks to revive energy and focus, which becomes a bee line to obesity;
  • According to the Archives of Internal Medicine, people getting less than five hours of sleep each night are 2.5 times more likely to develop diabetes;
  • For those who suffer with sleep apnea, there has been a documented correlation with chronically elevated daytime blood pressure putting them more at risk for chronic high blood pressure;
  • A lack of sleep also puts people more at risk to falling asleep while driving (resulting in more car injuries and fatalities), increased mental health issues, specifically depression and anxiety, alcohol abuse (as a form of self medication), and developing more puffy eyes and wrinkles, which gives the appearance of premature ageing.

When it comes to winter wonderland time , though many people sleep much cosier under their warm over stuffed quilts, for those who have chronic sleep issues, the situation only worsens if they experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Symptoms of SAD include mild to moderate depression, irritability, over eating (especially carbohydrates) and further interruptions in the circadian sleep cycle.

Though sleep, antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications prescribed by a family physician or psychiatrist can offer relief, it is often short term or temporary at best. Most often sleep problems continue, because they are fuelled not just by physical but also emotional issues and lifestyle choices. Therefore the most effective and long term solutions must include cognitive, behavioural, natural and homeopathic remedies:

  • Cognitive Restructuring or Don't worry, be happy! Anxiety and worry are one of the most annoying little culprits that keep us from getting a good night's rest. Therefore instead of internalizing many of the issues that are putting you at psychological disease, instead put them out there, get them off your chest, for heaven's sake spit them out! In other words discuss them with a spouse, partner or friend, especially before you lay your head on your pillow. In fact actively addressing the issues by clearing your mind of worry and clutter, will allow more space for pleasant thoughts and an easier transition to restful sleep;
  • Cognitive Downloads - Obsessing over all of the tasks that we need to accomplish can keep us from getting a good night's rest. Why? Because the tasks take residence in our heads, knocking around our brains and keep us up all night. Even if we do manage to get a little shut eye and per chance dream, they invade the dreams turning them into nightmares! So, instead of ruminating over these tasks through the night, simply type them into your PDA or computer, or write them down on a piece of paper along with a simple plan to accomplish them, before you lay your head on your pillow. In essence you will unload your mind of the heavy baggage that weighs you down and away from an airy and pleasurable sleep;
  • Breathing relaxation and visualization - Remember that old saying of ; "just breathe?" Well the benefits and simplicity of taking a series of deep breaths (in through the nose and out through the mouth), are legendary and effective. This is one of the most natural ways that you can de-stress to rest your body and mind to transition to a restful sleep. When you pair visualization exercises with your breathing (imagine yourself on your favourite beach, laying in the sun, with the sound of the ocean) while lying in bed, that's a surefire way to drift into a calming sleep. It's like counting sheep; but better! You can learn these breathing exercises and visualization from the Internet. They are extremely easy to learn and practise;
  • Use your bed for sleeping at night; ONLY!...oh and love making too. Many sleep problems are the result of simple dysregulation in the wake sleep cycle. In other words, taking naps in your bed during the day, will leave you feeling wide awake at night and then tired during the day. A golden rule to follow is to try not to nap during the day, no matter how tired you feel, and as well, use your bed solely for the function of sleeping at night. This will result in classical conditioning where bed = sleep (especially at night) and will also help correct your sleep cycle;
  • Melatonin -This is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. It helps regulate other hormones and maintains the body's circadian rhythm, helping us to get healthy sleep. It is theorized that as we get older, melatonin production drops as we age. Therefore many holistic and natural practitioners recommend melatonin supplements to make up for that loss. Of course you should consult your family physician before using this natural supplement;
  • Exercise -This is one of the best things that you can do to increase both your physical and mental health. Exercise not only makes you feel good both emotionally and physically but also helps increase the release of the endorphins, which are the brain chemicals that bring about a sense of euphoria and reduce stress. If you are more fit, feel better about yourself and have less stress, chances are you can lay your head down much more restfully at night;
  • Chamomile Tea -This tea comes from a flowering plant of the daisy family. It has been used to treat many everyday ailments, and a home remedy for insomnia. Some natural medicine and wellness practitioners recommend having a cup of this tea 30 to 50 minutes before going to bed. Unlike some prescription sleep medications, it should not be habit forming as it comes from nature;
  • Light boxes - If you are experiencing SAD, a natural and effective remedy is the light box. Also known as light or phototherapy, the box gives off a bright light that simulates the light of the sun or outdoor light. According to the prestigious May Clinic, light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood, easing SAD symptoms. Using a light therapy box may also help with other types of depression and especially sleep disorders. You should consult a physician before beginning your light therapy, since there are some contraindications for use as well as possible mild, but short term side effects;
  • Increased Resonating Frequencies - Again, knowing that it can interfere with a good night's rest, it only makes sense that we do not allow day-to-day stress to negatively impact our lives or our sleep. One of the ways to reduce stress ‘naturally’, is by increasing our natural resonating frequencies/electromagnetic energy. All living things have ‘resonating frequencies’ including humans, animals, plants and the planet Earth. For humans, the stronger our resonating frequency, the more resilient we can be to illness and of course stress. There are many natural ways to increase our resonating frequencies:
    • Diet - There are many foods that have high resonating frequencies. One of them - oranges (which are rich in vitamin C), is known as a stress buster. Organic plants also have high resonating frequencies, versus some canned vegetables which have little or no resonating frequencies because they have been processed. Therefore eating oranges, other fruits and raw vegetables will increase your resonating frequency;
    • Aroma therapy - Jasmine, lavender and rose plants are high in resonating frequencies. The oils extracted from these flowers contain numerous therapeutic benefits that can help boost resonating frequencies, reduce depression, and induce relaxation; the essential components for promoting healthier sleep;
    • The Philip Stein Watch - Don't know if you have noticed, but our kids and young adults children are wearing various accessories that are designed to increase resonating frequencies and reduce stress. One of the products that both younger people, adults of all ages, and celebrities including Madonna, have been wearing is the Philip Stein Watch with Natural Frequency Technology (NFT). Known as the "health in a watch," it has been one of Oprah's favourite things in 2003, 2005 and 2010. In a nutshell, the Philip Stein Company utilize a blend of low level healing frequencies, chief among those being the Schumann Resonance (the frequency of the earth), and infuse them into a disk in the watch. The energies released from the disk strengthen the resonating frequencies of its wearer. The higher resonating frequency can result in more adaptability to stress. And  a clinical study recently published in the Sleep Diagnosis and Therapy Journal (2010; V5 N5, 27-29 Breus and Rubik) shows that the natural frequency technology can also result in a better quality of sleep.

So if sleep has been eluding you and impacting the quality of your life, the reality is you don't have to lose another good night's sleep. Take control of your body and mind by utilizing the simple tips and natural wellness strategies provided above. You will soon see that having a consistent and regular sleep cycle will make you feel and look younger , give you more energy and focus, and finally change you from that grumpy sleep deprived person, into a smiling, happy and restful soul.

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About Jeff Gardere, PhD

Dr Jeff Gardere, known as America’s Psychologist, is a widely sought-after expert in the field of mental health. In addition to having a private practice in Manhattan, he has garnered a reputation as being a top motivational and keynote speaker, empowerment and media coach.

Dr Jeff is also a popular media personality and Host of Dad Camp (formerly on VH1), now on TWIST TV in Canada. He is a regular guest on The NBC Today Show, CNN, MSNBC, HLN, The Maury Povich Show, The CBS Early Morning Show, Fox Business News, FOX News, Nancy Grace, Tru-TV Reality Specials and Court Shows. He has served as the official ‘in house doctor’ on the Sally Jessy Raphael Show, the Ricki Lake Show and appeared on The Star Jones Show.

Dr Jeff has authored several books, including his controversial book, Love Prescription. He is also the co-author of Practical Parenting with Montel Williams, the Emmy-award winning TV talk show host. Dr Jeff’s first book Smart Parenting for African-Americans: Helping Your Kids Thrive in a Difficult World has been lauded as being "necessary for raising African-American children in today's society." (Black Issues Book Review). Dr Jeff is also a monthly columnist for Sister 2 Sister Magazine. Dr Gardere may be contacted via  www.drjeffgardere.com

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