“Just close your eyes and try to sleep.” Like we hadn’t already thought of that.
Sleep, just like eating, drinking, and breathing, is vital to our health. It is a daily requirement to allow our bodies to rest, in order to recharge for the next challenge. As babies, we need more sleep than when we are adults. Our bodies are growing a lot more, and therefore need more time to recuperate before growing again. But the amazing thing, is that even when we are sleeping, we are growing. Even when we mature into adulthood, we are growing. As our body ages, we may take one of two distinct paths-sharpen ourselves to the best of our ability, or slowly but surely deteriorate into the shell of who you could have been.
Of course, at some point in time, we all pass on. Our bodies get weak, and we cease to function. None of us can avoid it, only postpone it. We have been given as much choice in the end of our existence as we have of our beginning. What we can control is what happens in between those two events. Our life becomes our choice as we age. Some features may be out of our control, but what is ours to master is how we respond to what we have been given. This mastery comes from an equilibrium of mind and matter.
From a purely physical, biological standpoint, “mastery” requires all bodily systems operating at optimal level, all of the internal chemistry balanced and harmonious. Although current science and research does not give exact numbers on where all of our neurotransmitters are or should be, but we have a general idea on how to be healthy. That is, eating regularly (and modestly), exercising for an hour or two every day, sleeping sufficiently, and surrounding yourself with a positive environment. We may not be able to choose what environment we are placed into when we are born, but as we grow up, (usually around the age of 10) we begin to make choices. These choices, every single second, ripple out to those around us, and our future is determined on what we do right now.
Don’t you think you owe it to yourself to get a good nights rest?
After all, your body just spent the past 8 to 12 hours completing all the tasks you asked it to. Eating, moving, thinking, talking, breathing and much more are done every day and you probably don’t even think about it.
Why then do we seem to avoid the one thing we need most? Even if you are not trying to avoid it, sleep is just sometimes impossible. This can be due to a number of factors, some being neurological or physiological, some having deeper roots than that. With this in mind, we are going to talk about several different sleeping issues that people have, and how they might be overcome.
There are several categories that sleep problems are put into, and they usually regard these 3 areas: lack of sleep, disturbed sleep, and excessive sleep. Each one has its own set of challenges, and each one should be approached with patience and respect for your own effort.
Lack of sleep
Insomnia: The inability to sleep, or habitual sleeplessness. According to psychiatry professor Jerome Siegel, a psychiatry professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, “It’s the most common sleep disorder but the most poorly understood”. Researchers have found that insomnia is linked to lower levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This neurotransmitter is an inhibitory chemical, used to slow down or reduce electrical activity in the brain. In essence, the less GABA present in your brain, the less likely you are going to be able to get to sleep.
Although there are many chemicals present in the function of going to sleep, (such as serotonin, histamine, glutamate, acetylcholine, melatonin, dopamine, norepinephine, and others) GABA, glutamate, and melatonin are our main concern. There are many, many ways that we can attend to these chemicals regarding sleep, although some of them come with many side effects, and also may be dangerous. Many sleeping issues resolved with synthesized medications are often made worse once the drug is removed from the equation.
Insomnia can be dealt with a many number of natural ways, simply by eating foods that are rich in melatonin, shutting our brains off, (not literally) and having faith in our own self to sleep without needing help.
Foods that are rich in melatonin include: bananas, oranges, cherries, purslane, lavender, just to name a few. There are many essential oils, herbs, foods, light therapy, and other remedies that can be used to treat insomnia. But what if it meant something more than having too much energy or not enough of the right chemistry? What if it wasn’t a chemical imbalance, but simply a mindset, an attitude?
The more we sit there and worry about not sleeping, focusing on how bad tomorrow is going to be if we do not get to sleep right now, the longer it will take to fall asleep. A handy habit to get into before bedtime is to write down or say out loud all of the things in which you are thankful for. Can you find 5, 10, 100 things in which you are thankful for? For another spiritual perspective on insomnia, check out the elephant journal.
Some instances of disturbed sleep include but are not limited to: sleep apnea, jet lag, restless leg syndrome, sleepwalking, and night terrors. As always, there are usually a modern medicinal fix, (more often than not a pill of some kind) but we would like to stay away from these options as often as possible. However, if these work for you and you are being honest with yourself, then your best judgement is what you should follow. Trust yourself.
Sleep apnea: Airways are obstructed, making it hard to breathe. This is most commonly due to obesity, particularly affecting the tongue and throat. The muscles are more relaxed, and the airways are blocked by the soft tissue. Some common ways to avoid this are having healthy and positive lifestyle habits: exercising regularly. getting sufficient amounts of sleep, avoid alcohol, sedatives, sleeping pills, and caffeine before bed, as these things all relax the throat muscles. Practicing breathing is not just for newborns or athletes; it is important to breathe deeply and slowly, rather than fast and shallow. Controlling the breathe not only takes the mind off of incessant thought, it shifts focus to the current moment, where the life you think about is decided.
Jet lag, RLS, sleepwalking: Each of these sleep issues deal with our bodies having too much energy, or not having burned enough calories during the day. Jet lag is due to moving through time zones faster than your circadian cycle can process it, therefore throwing your body off balance in regard to the time of day. This can be fixed by waiting it out, getting sunlight, and integrating the new schedule.
Restless leg syndrome may not allow you to fall asleep, as you constantly feel the need to move. This has personally been a challenge most of my life, but after practicing meditation every night, in 3-4 months I have not only been able to fall asleep faster, I am no longer restless before bed, or while in school or at work. Practicing holding still is in my opinion the best way to resolve this.
Sleepwalking can be due to a number of reasons, and modern medicine does not seem to have much explanation for it. A large portion of this is due to our subconscious, and deeper than that our soul. Once when I was 11, I walked downstairs, put on a pair of jeans from the dirty hamper, and tried to walk out of the door to school. It was Sunday morning around 3, and I was completely asleep. I know later understand this event in that I have always wanted to to travel, and being at home for years and years dampens that desire.
Trying a calming herbal tea such as chamomile or lavender, even a glass of warm milk and no electronics an hour before bed may help.
Night terrors are a whole other ballgame. These traumatic episodes involve waking in the middle of the night screaming, body cramped and unable to move. Sometimes, these terrors can happen asleep, where the individual is still having a horrific experience, and is expressing it through tense muscles and/or screaming. These are due to traumatic childhood events, although from an older perspective, it can be “as simple” as being sacred by someone in a Halloween mask. Often though, they are due to a fear relating to a family member, or another creature. (I had a night terror when I was 5 about being underwater with snakes) Ways to cure this are, if possible, amend the relationship with the person, or in all cases, accept whatever the fear may be as exactly that, a fear. It can be conquered just like anything else. Steve Maraboli once said “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving; we get stronger and more resilient.”
Narcolepsy: a suddenly overwhelming feeling of tiredness, often resulting in falling asleep at that moment. This disorder is normally related to genetics, as well as abnormal signalling in the brain. Narcolepsy is said to be not curable, although healthy lifestyle choices may help the the neurological makeup of our brains, and allow the sufferer to be better able to manage the instantaneous drowsy feeling.
Our bodies take care of over 90% of what is going on inside of us, without us even having to tell ourselves to do it. When we treat ourselves right, our bodies are more likely to function in a way that we enjoy. We are our bodies. Our moods, our ideas, our thoughts, our feelings and our senses are us. If we are thinking about the life we want instead of doing the actions to have the life we want, we instead find ourselves cleaning up, fixing issues that we ourselves have created.
Our soul asks of us only that we take care of what we have been given; our bodies, our words, and our surroundings. We have been given the freedom to choose, and when we choose to work with ourselves instead of against, life becomes much richer.
It is all a choice, and anything you desire (and do not desire) is all a matter of will power.