I sleep really badly. Have you any suggestions for improving the quality of my sleep as well as helping me to go to sleep?

Sleep is one of the most complicated subjects I’ve yet had to deal with.
There are so many reasons why sleep is disturbed, why it’s hard to get to sleep and have ‘a good night’s rest’.
Here’s a list of at least some possibilities that may help you. After all, if you’re sleeping badly, what’s to stop you changing your patterns and trying something different?

1. Eat a light evening meal without protein and be finished preferably by 6 p.m., 7 p.m. at the latest.
Carbohydrates (rice! quinoa! pasta!) and vegetables could just make a difference.
Skip the chocolate, coffee and tea after 4 or 5 p.m. – even green tea contains caffeine, so watch out for that, too.

2. Stop watching TV and using the computer about 3 hours before you intend to retire. Avoid exciting books or articles that make your adrenalin level rise – which might be an indication not to listen to the news on the radio in the evening (let alone at any time!).
But if you really must use your computer in the evening, download and install f.lux that gradually adjusts the colour of your screen as the evening advances. It removes the blue light that tends to keep you awake.

3. After dinner, take a long walk. Take it easy though – it’s not a competition, so think in terms of a stroll. And remember the old adage: “After lunch, rest a while; after dinner, walk a mile.”

4. If you have worries, it’s truly important to find a way of ‘parking’ these, at least for the night. Meditation helps, tossing and turning at night does not. It may be a good idea to have a therapy session or two to help you deal with your worries.

5. A meditative approach to relaxation – a crucial ingredient in falling asleep! – is to lie as comfortably as possible in bed, preferably on your back. Breathe out as deeply and fully as you can and wait a few seconds before breathing in. Repeat 2-3 times. Then, starting with the toes, tense your muscles as hard as you can for a few seconds, then relax those muscles as you breathe out. Some people call this a ‘body scan’ so just continue through the body with the same procedure: calves, thighs, buttocks, abdomen and so on. This procedure certainly helps many people to relax, move out of the Mind and back into the body and prepare for sleep.
You might want to try this tip from Dr. Michael Breus: count backwards in threes from 300! “Sleep guaranteed!”

6. Make sure your room is as dark as possible. Install extra blinds and curtains if necessary.
Wear ear-plugs and an eye-shade if you notice you’re really sensitive to external distractions.

“Sleep is just like darkness. It is not accidental that you find it difficult to sleep when there is light. Darkness has an affinity with sleep. That’s why it’s easy to sleep at night. Darkness all around creates the milieu in which you can fall asleep very easily.”
Osho, Tantra: The Supreme Understanding, Ch 3

Sleepytime7. If you’re lying sleepless in bed, get up. Make a mug of herbal tea (chamomile or one of the many ‘sleepytime’ mixes available these days) and do some odd jobs or work at a hobby. Leave the computer turned off. Return to bed when you feel drowsy.

8. It’s true that alcohol can calm you and even make you sleepy, so there’s a lot to be said for a nightcap – so long as it remains in moderation and does not become a habit. And as you probably know, the quality of alcohol-induced sleep is poor in the event of too much alcohol!

9. A hot bath lowers the blood pressure, relaxes and can enhance drowsiness.
Reading a book in the bath can make you drowsy even faster!

10. Physical discomfort and pain are great disturbers of sleep. There are many herbal remedies such as cannabis (see below) as well as some less invasive pharmaceutical drugs which may be necessary to ensure you get enough sleep.

11. If you’re lucky enough to have a partner who’s willing to massage your feet, you’re likely to fall asleep pretty fast. How long you stay asleep is another matter!

12. If you have access to a friendly acupuncturist, it’s definitely worthwhile discussing your sleep challenges with him/her. Acupuncture may provide the long-term relief of the deeper cause as well as short-term relief in promoting the sleep pattern.

13. It could be valuable for you to look into the basic body types as described in the Ayurvedic approach to health. Kapha types seldom have sleeping difficulties – if they do, then something is very much wrong! For Pitta and especially Vata types, sleep disorders come with the territory. Yet the more you are able to balance these so-called doshas, the greater your chance of improving your sleeping pattern as well as your all-round energy and well-being. Follow this link for an easy-to-grok review of the doshas.

14. Ensure that there are no sources of electromagnetic disturbance in or near your bedroom: wifi, DECT phones, cell phone, power leads under the bed, TV on standby. And, if you are really serious about this, you’ll search for a specialist who will protect your house – or at least your bedroom – from such external influences. If you live in an apartment block with a UMTS mast on the roof or you can see one from your window: move.

15. You may want to try a white noise generator – it may be precisely what you need in order to support your sleep, especially if you live where noise from outside is a problem.

16. Ujjayi breathing (see this short video) is a great way to slow the mind down and encourage the onset of sleep. Combine it with mentally saying to yourself “[name], relax and sleep” and you may be delighted by how well you fall asleep.

17. A shortage of sugars in the brain stem will disturb the sleep pattern. You might have a sugar/insulin imbalance, which might imply some degree of pancreatic dysfunction.

18. Reduced thyroid function, especially when stress is evident, influences dopamine production. And sufficient dopamine is essential for good night’s sleep. Supplementation with tyrosine may be required; this nourishes the thyroid, which then ensures increased production of dopamine.

19. Research by Dr. Mary Newport clearly indicates that using MCT oil improves sleep patterns along with general brain health, and is ideal for diabetics or those with sugar and weight problems.

The technical stuff: supplements that influence sleep
Saint John's wortSt John’s wort (right) is a herb that’s available as a tea, capsule (ground, dried plant) or as an extract of the active ingredients. It calms the nervous system and can slow down the stream of thoughts and dreams.
Pregnant women should not use St John’s wort in any form.

Cannabis – in various forms and with various names – is both a stimulant and, at a certain point, a delightful provoker of relaxed sleep. Ideal where pain is the source of wakefulness. There are various sources of healing cannabis oil, mostly 2% and 5%; one or more drops on the tongue, followed a minute later by some water, may just do the trick for you! If you can get THC as well as CBD, you’ll increase your chances of it worling.

Valerian (left), available as a tea, extract or tincture is another herb that has a calming effect.

– Lavender oil is a traditional soporific. Just a few drops on the pillow may help improve drowsiness, and you’ll probably enjoy the fragrance, too!

– A whole range of bio-chemicals such as lithium (read this article), taurine and B5 contribute to unease in the nervous system. When there is an insufficiency, the quality of sleep will certainly be affected.

– Magnesium and potassium are basic bio-chemicals which can affect the quality of sleep. A shortage of magnesium can produce muscle cramps, restlessness in the body and make physical relaxation difficult. Strangely enough, more or less the same is true for potassium and B5 although the restlessness will be more evident in the nervous system. Several grammes of magnesium before retiring may be just what you need!
If you prefer to get your magnesium from a source of food, try banana tea. Bananas are rich sources of magnesium. Thoroughly wash a banana and cook half (yes, fruit and peel) for 4-5 minutes. Let the fluid cool sufficiently… and enjoy your magnesium-rich ‘tea’.

– The combination of calcium/magnesium in a 1:2 ratio (500 mg calcium together with 250 mg magnesium) plays a vital part in normal sleep patterns. Enough calcium is essential for calming the nervous system and the hart.
The Ca/Mg story alone is worth its own dedicated page!

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that, with advancing age, the body makes less of. Small pills of 0.25 mg up to 10 mg (a sledgehammer dose!) may make just the difference you need. The advantage of the lower dosage pills is that you can experiment to find the amount that works best for you. Melatonin can be useful in cases of jetlag.
N.B. Sleep experts such as Dr. Michael Breus state that a dosage of 0.5-1 mg is adequate, taken 90 minutes before going to bed.
Moreover, melatonin is a powerful ‘free radical scavenger’, cleaning up the body while you sleep. Current research indicates that melatonin levels are generally low and that there is a significant connection with the influence of low-frequency emissions from DECT phones, wireless routers and mobile telephony… and the significant increase in levels of cancer. Melatonin supplementation is therefore a valuable support to your health.

– There are numerous herbal sleep remedies available and they’re certainly worth trying. Maybe you find just the right one for your body! An interesting one is Sleep-Tite.

– Another vital amino-acid in the melatonin sequence is tryptophan. It is naturally present in tiny quantities in certain carbohydrates and in milk – which explains the history of ‘a mug of hot milk last thing at night’ and perhaps part of the success of drinks like Ovaltine.

– A shortage of vitamin B6 will certainly affect the sleeping pattern. Sufficient B6 is essential to enable the body to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that is crucial to the sleep process.
This B vitamin is also essential in creating reserves of glucose. If you are ‘constantly’ hungry – which can also be a source of wakefulness – then the chances are that you are short of B6.

– Continuing the story of tryptophan, serotinin and melatonin, it may be that you need 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), also known as oxitriptan (INN), a vital precursor of the three just mentioned. Proprietary remedies combine 5-HTP, melatonin, magnesium, St. John’s wort and other such herbs and may provide the solution your body needs.

– A shortage of B12, creatine and acetyl l-carnitine can disturb the sleep. Only testing can indicate what is needed! Vegetarians are typically short of these two bio-chemicals. Disturbed sleep is all too frequently an indicator of a (severe) shortage of B12 but a ‘regular’ blood test will usually not indicate this because it’s a local shortage in, for example, the brain stem. See this article.

– The most common period of wakefulness is (approximately) 01.00 to 04.00, a period indicating liver activity. When you tend to be awake around these times you may need to give your liver some support with specific herbal remedies.

Avena sativa (literally, ‘wild oat’, but basically the common oat) is a homeopathic remedy that may just be the perfect one for you.

– A truly disturbed sleeping pattern may just be another symptom of adrenal fatigue or even exhaustion. If you have a bad night, but sleep well and deeply between 07.00 and 09.00 then you know you have this condition. Alas, it’s not recognised by regular doctors, but this book is then worth reading.

– Another surprising cause of ‘bad nights’ is parasites. If you have a combination of such symptoms as these, then it’s worth getting checked for ‘unwanted invaders’: sluggishness during the day, bad dreams, hot flushes, feeling bloated, poor digestion, disturbed bowel movement pattern, wind, itchy anus, and itching for no evident reason (like on the back).

As you can see, there are many possibilities – and many more than I’ve mentioned.
A personal check-up as well as experimenting with different solutions provide the only realistic approach… and even then you may still have sleepless nights!

Additional resources/links
This American site provides extensive information about the whole spectrum of sleep.

An interesting text on the need for sleep, by Osho.

Another interesting quotation about sleep.

An interesting new ‘commercial’ approach.

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