Stress, regardless of the cause, can be debilitating for anyone. Over the last year we have all faced our share.
For many folks, sitting quietly watching a relaxing video, can be just what the doctor ordered.
If you need a break, this 5-minute video of our rose garden may be just what you need. So, find a comfortable position, take a few deep breaths and listen to Debussy’s Clair de Lune while you watch. Enjoy.
There are all sorts of factors that affect sleep according to Helena Riess, Ph. D. Everything from high levels of tension and stress, increased dependence on technology, and an inability to prepare our bodies for a restful night’s sleep, can definitely challenge our ability to fall asleep and have a restful night.
Stress may be the number one factor preventing us from sleep and while it may not be impossible to eliminate all the causes of stress, there are strategies for dealing with it that can increase the likelihood that we will get to sleep faster and sleep more soundly.
For example, according to Dr. Riess, it is more challenging to work on your computer or even watch television, until right before your head hits the pillow, and expect that you will have a restful nights’ sleep. Both the brain activity created by working at the computer and the actual light emitted from the LCD screen, combine to activate your brain and make sleep more difficult.
Dr. Riess recommends at least an hour of minimal brain activity (no computers or other technology) before climbing into bed.
Meditation, yoga, or contemplative reading will also help to prepare your brain to shift from an active to a more passive state.
As noted in previous posts, EMF radiation from iPads and cellphones have also been shown to inhibit sleep patterns. Removing your cellphone from next to the bed as an alarm clock, especially for younger people, might be the single easiest technique for improving overall sleep.
Given the importance of sleep, many people have rationalized the use of pharmaceuticals to make sleep easier, but Dr. Riess notes that a number of more natural methods can accomplish the same goal.
For example , aroma therapy, such as scented lavender on pillows or from an emulsifier can help you relax.
In humans and other mammals, melatonin has been found to regulate our circadian cycles – increasing throughout the day and as daylight decreases. In the evening, the increased melatonin levels lead to sleep. Research has shown that the production of melatonin deceases as we age.
“We produce melatonin naturally as light deceases,” Dr. Riess notes, “so anything that increases the melatonin naturally will help us get to sleep faster.
Melatonin levels can be increased with supplements or by some foods including cherries or cherry juice or even turkey. Consuming these foods before bedtime can promote better sleep.
To stay asleep Dr. Riess recommends, we pay attention to the conditions in your bedroom. “The amount of external light and noise will conspire to disrupt even the best night’s sleep if we don’t take steps to prevent them from intruding on our sleep time,” Dr. Riess notes.
Using blackout shades to reduce light, or even earplugs to eliminate extraneous noise can help you move through the normal sleep cycles and feel rested when you do wake up.
According to Helena Riess, Ph. D. humans seem to be the only mammal, who consciously, skip the amount of sleep needed for healthy functioning.
The result can be disastrous. Studies have shown that inadequate sleep can impact our mental and physical health in numerous ways. Cognitively, sleep is important to brain function for a number of reasons. In addition to consolidating memories, and improving creativity, sleep has been shown to clear out toxins.
Studies at the University of California at Berkeley have shown that during periods of sleep many mammals, use the time to clear out harmful molecules, like beta-amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease, that can build up and affect brain function while we are awake.
If these free radicals are allowed to build up, our susceptibility to brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s. or dementia are increased over time.
Still other studies have shown that lack of sleep can decrease our ability to fight off disease. Some have called sleep a “natural antibiotic” which, may increase our ability to fight off routine colds or even the flu.
According to Dr. Riess, increased or at least adequate sleep, is the best defense when flu season rolls around. “If more people would simply get enough sleep and allow their bodies to fight off the germs associated with flu, we might be able to strengthen our bodies so that we would not need to get flu shots at all.”
For most humans, sleep would seem as natural as walking or breathing. After all, babies sleep an average of 16 hours a day. Unfortunately, as every parent knows, the hours they are awake, are the same hours mom and dad want to sleep.
Age ——————- Sleep Needs
Newborns ————– 15-18 hours
1-12 months ———– 14-15 hours
1-3 years ————– 12-14 hours
3-6 years ————– 11-13 hours
7-12 years ————- 10-11 hours
12-18 years ———— 8-10 hours
But our need for sleep decreases as we age. By adulthood,about 8 hours per night is recommended. Surprisingly this is about in the middle of the amount of sleep required for mammals.
Comparative average sleep periods for various mammals (in captivity) over 24 hours:
Pop culture is filled with ways to keep you grounded psychologically but Biological Psychologist Helena Riess, Ph. D. says that it’s just as important to be physically grounded.
“We’ve gotten away from nature,” Dr. Riess says, “and we don’t even realize the negative impact it has on our health.”
When she refers to the concept of “grounding”, Dr. Riess means actual physical contact with the ground and nature. The benefits can range from the psychological well -being of relaxing in a natural environment to the physical impact of clean air.
Additionally, studies have shown that gardening and contact with bacteria in the soil can have a beneficial impact on human health. Ask any gardener how they feel after a day in the dirt and you can’t help but see the positive impact.
Dr. Riess says she is a firm believer in grounding or “earthing” as a way to control stress and improve overall wellness. Contact with the ground can release negative ions that build up in the body and can counteract the impact of free radicals according to Dr. Riess. She points to Clinton Ober’s groundbreaking book on the subject as the basis for the movement.
She uses a variety techniques to help her and her clients keep in contact with the earth even when engaged in daily activities- such as sleep, work, and even walking.
“The impact on sleep and stress levels is significant,” she notes.