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March 21, 2013

Lori Brothers: Three simple steps to get your sleep back on track

NEW CASTLE — Are you looking forward to sleeping in this weekend to catch up on the sleep you don’t get from your busy lifestyle?

It might be sabotaging your natural body rhythms.

Recently, I went without sleep for over 36 hours. It wasn’t that I was in a demanding situation, or that I was worried about something. I just could not get to sleep during my regular sleep cycle.

To cope with this occasional break in my sleep cycle, I adopt a trust in knowing that when my body is tired, it will rest deeply. This keeps me relaxed and not reactive about my dilemma. So when I can’t sleep, I journal, read, do some yoga, pray, meditate. Sometimes I watch a good movie at 2 a.m., but I don’t fret.

It is natural to worry. The night that I couldn’t sleep was leading up to a fully scheduled Wednesday when I had to be up no later than 6 a.m. and I wouldn’t be back home until 9 p.m. From a logical perspective, it makes sense that I could have been alarmed that I wouldn’t have enough steam to get through the next day.

However, worrying about how you will make it through the next day actually may add fuel to the problem because it can trigger the flight or fight response, which is considered to be the “gas pedal” of the nervous system. This heightens your alertness by pumping adrenaline into your body, producing stress.

This plunge into survival mode because of worry further pushes your already taxed body and mind because you aren’t able to sleep. This counters the relaxation response, which is considered to be the “breaks” of your nervous system.

This kind of regular sleep pattern disruption may lead to sleep deprivation which is becoming a more prominent health risk in our culture. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite sleep insufficiency as a direct link to vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors.

“Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity,” says the CDC.

In most cases, making simple changes can get you back on track with your sleep as early as the next night. Being consistent with your bedtime routines, and reducing the consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco as well as sugary stuff, especially in the evenings, is very important if you are having sleep disruptions.

Also, setting up a relaxed and calm environment whether in your bedroom, or in a sitting area, where you can “wind down” before sleep is important, especially if you have a fast-paced job or demanding lifestyle. If you are having sleeping problems, give yourself time to transition toward sleep.

This brings up another important habit to explore. If you watch TV all the way up to bedtime, or if you have a television in your bedroom, you may be over-stimulating your systems, so avoidance of watching TV too late at night is another good choice.

The only way to catch up on lost sleep is to get back into a regular sleep schedule. This co-operates with the body’s natural rythms and cycles that bring balance and harmony to your systems.

Work on consistency. Sleeping-in one or two days a week or over the weekend may actually upset your natural body clock. The irregular pattern may make it harder to get to sleep the next time.

By the way, I was in bed by 10 p.m. that Wednesday and slept good and sound.

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