Sleep Solutions for Mom

Sleep Solutions

Sleep Solutions for Mom

By Dr Colinda Linde– Author of Get the balance right –

Coping strategies for working mothers – Metz Press

We spend around one third of our lives doing it, and most of us do it once per day, yet are we clear about how it works and what happens when it isn’t working?  I am talking about sleep. When we miss out on sleep in order to keep up with our “switched on 24/7” lives, we pay the price with our learning ability, our health and safety, and our quality of life.

  Sleep facts

Most adults need an average of eight hours of healthy sleep per night. By healthy I mean unbroken, free of worry, and on a regular basis. Sleeping 12 hours one night to make up for weeks of too little sleep, will not reset the imbalance. The brain and the body require regular rest, in a regular pattern of sleep and waking times. It is best to choose basic sleep and waking times, such as 11 pm to 7 am or 10 pm to 6 am, and deviate no more than one hour either way – including week-ends. Sleep before midnight is also thought to be more nourishing than that after midnight, so if you must reduce your total hours of sleep time, reduce the right ones.

Many people have difficulty falling asleep. They may find their mind too cluttered to be able to sleep, or not be able to wind down. Others cannot stay asleep for long, and may wake up worrying or with various ‘to do” thoughts rushing through their minds. This may result from a combination of physical and mental issues that need to be addressed. I will describe a basic bedtime routine here, with both physical and mental elements, and explain a mental “debriefing” technique.

 Prolonged sleep disturbance

An important point I must mention before we continue is that several weeks of sleep disturbance (especially in combination with depressed mood and/or extreme reluctance to get up in the morning for work) may be indicative of burnout, clinical depression or a medical condition such as temporal lobe epilepsy. Symptoms include:

  • Sleeping more than 10 hours per night and still wanting more;
  • Difficulty in falling asleep – more than an hour of trying;
  • Difficulty in staying asleep – tossing and turning or frequent nightmares; and/or
  • Waking in the early hours of the morning and not being able to return to sleep.

If any of these are associated with a depressed or anxious mood, constant weepiness or agitation, more often than not, it is even more strongly indicative. Please be sure to consult your usual health practitioner to exclude the conditions mentioned, or for specific treatment, should that indeed be the problem. If you are more prone to phases of sleep disturbance (mostly during periods of stress) which clear up on their own, or it is a bad habit rather than one of the conditions mentioned, read on.

 Bedtime routine

Once you have chosen your bedtime, try to avoid stimulants, exercise or a heavy meal in the three to five hours before this time. Stimulants include ingested stimulants (caffeine, alcohol in smaller amounts, sugar, nicotine) as well as mental stimulants (watching or reading a thriller; a heated discussion or debate). It is better to have a lot of carbohydrates rather than protein for supper if you struggle to sleep, as complex carbohydrates help the brain to produce tryptophan which encourages relaxation. Protein, on the other hand, triggers the production of the chemical tyrosine which encourages stimulation. A small portion of pure carbohydrate (two tablespoons of plain pasta or rice, a small potato with nothing on it) or malt drinks such as Horlicks without sugar, or a glass of milk (warm or cool) is most likely to trigger a state of relaxation within about 30 minutes of consumption.

You can have a warm bath an hour or two before you get into bed, as the core body temperature will drop around an hour after you get out of the warm bath, and this is a sleep signal for the body. Using aromatherapy is also a good idea, with fragrances such as lavender and chamomile being known relaxants. The hour before you go to bed must be a time of slowing down. You can engage in a range of activities, as long as they are relaxing and will not cause over stimulation. (The how is more important than the what.) For example, reading a thriller is stimulating while reading a magazine or historical novel should be more easy going. Chatting about ‘this and that’ versus gossiping, arguing or planning a work strategy follows the same principle.

You can also do a range of relaxation exercises. This could include deep-muscle relaxation, stretches, or a range of breathing techniques. An easy breathing technique is that of diaphragmatic breathing. It has a relaxation effect and can be done briefly during the day as well, whenever you feel the need. At bedtime it is ideal to do at least 10 minutes of this type of breathing. It not only balances oxygen consumption, metabolism, heart rate and blood pressure; it also potentially relaxes the mind to the extent that sleep naturally follows.

 Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is about using your diaphragm to breathe with the bottom part of your lungs, as opposed to using the top parts (“chest” or thoracic breathing). Diaphragmatic breathing signals a state of calm in body and mind, whereas the chest breathing signals a state of arousal (release of adrenalin) and alertness.

The first step is to lower and relax your shoulders, then relax your chest and stomach. Get into a slow steady rhythm of breathing, keeping your chest relaxed and imagining that you are slowly inflating and deflating a balloon in your stomach. Imagine bypassing your chest as you inhale, and expanding your stomach at the navel area instead. On the exhale, pull your navel in towards your spine, and exhale fully. In-between breaths, pause for a moment. I use a mantra of “inhale…pause…exhale…pause” to focus my mind while doing this exercise. If any thoughts appear in your mind (a common occurrence, especially if your mind has been busy), do not engage them; rather let them go. I imagine my mind as a clear lake, and wrap a bubble around the thoughts, letting them rise to the surface and popping there. If you are aware of the thought but do not actively engage it, it will pass through and disappear.

A variation on this technique is to breathe this way initially, then focus your mind on a pleasant scene or memory. Use the same one so that it gets easier to access it each time. Use all your senses (visual shapes and colours as well as movement, physical texture, taste, smell and sound) to create a vivid image, and keep your focus there. This technique is an overlap between physical and mental input, with one reinforcing the other.

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