“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” – Irish proverb
I like the nighttime. I’m talking about past 12 o’clock or even 1 AM. It’s a time when everyone is asleep, and I can spend time in the quiet stillness reading and writing with no interruptions. Sometimes I feel like I am in a zone. It’s just me and my book or me and the words I’m typing on the computer screen.
I also know that this is not good for me to stay up that late. I know that the later I stay up, the more I will be fighting against my normal cortisol levels and diurnal sleep pattern (read my post about adrenal fatigue here). I know if I wake early after staying up late at night, I will lose some of the natural healing and rejuvenating process that occurs during sleep, and my long-term health will be affected. If I want my adrenals to heal and my health to improve, I must get adequate sleep.
My Apnea Problem
I no longer have a problem with my quality of sleep. I did have apnea at one time. Several times a week I would wake up through the night with one big snore and gasp for air. The children whose bedrooms were down the hall said I would keep them up at night with my snoring. Frankly, I don’t know how Barbara put up with it. She said she dealt with it because she loves me. Aren’t I a blessed guy?
For the last two years, I don’t snore terribly anymore, and I seldom wake up gasping for air. I thank God for that because anyone who has gone through this knows what a horrible feeling that is. I am also grateful that I’m not a nuisance anymore and that I seldom wake up during the night. It seems the only thing I can attribute this to is the lifestyle changes I made: things like weight loss from a paleo type diet, exercise, stress reduction etc. (see my story here)
I also suffered from insomnia for years. It was never so bad that I thought about taking medication for it, but from time to time it was an issue. I will share two things that I believe significantly helped me get to sleep faster.
Through the years I have come to know my body. When I am under any kind of stress, my sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems become unbalanced. This is probably the result of a dysregulated HPA Axis response to that stress. This response increases my cortisol level, which in turn stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. You can read more about this here.
The sympathetic nervous system functions like an accelerator in a car. It triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with a burst of energy so that it can respond to perceived dangers. The parasympathetic nervous system acts like a brake on the accelerator. It promotes the “rest and digest” response that calms the body down after the danger has passed. However, if the sympathetic system stays dominant because of stress, then it becomes difficult for the body to rest. Obviously, this imbalance made it very difficult for me to fall asleep.
Now before falling asleep, I take a few minutes to engage in some proper breathing techniques. This really helped. Self-controlled breathing is one of the few ways we can actively restore that balance. It also does wonders for those suffering from adrenal fatigue (Read the section here in this article on adrenal fatigue and breathing).
I don’t necessarily practice the breathing techniques associated with yoga. I simply apply a few minutes of conscious proper breathing techniques as written about in this article here. And Bam! I’m asleep in a few minutes. I’m not saying it’s a miracle worker but it seems to work really well. It may work for you too. Don’t limit proper breathing only to bedtime. I now try to practice all throughout the day. Many claim that after a while it will become second nature.
More Help For Getting to Sleep
Secondly, I have been using amber tinted reading glasses in the evening. Here is the reason why. Research has shown that nighttime light exposure can be detrimental to sleep. During the day the pineal gland in the brain is inactive. However, when the sun goes down and darkness occurs, the pineal is activated and begins to actively secrete melatonin into the blood. This usually occurs around 9 pm. Subsequently, melatonin levels in the blood rise sharply, and we begin to feel less alert and sleep becomes inviting. Conversely, light exposure, especially bright light, before bedtime will decrease the secretion of melatonin and make it more difficult to fall asleep (read more here).
Interestingly, melatonin suppression has been implicated in some conditions far worse than disrupted sleep. Research has shown that melatonin suppression has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, impaired immune system function, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and heart disease.
Obviously keeping watch over our melatonin levels should be a major priority in our health routines. So it may be a good idea to turn those lights down low a while before bedtime.
Now consider how many of us use tablets, text on smartphones, read from computer screens, or watch TV just before we go to bed. These devices emit what is called blue light. Researchers tell us that this light has an even more powerful effect of suppressing melatonin than other wavelengths of light.
So spending time on those devices for hours or right before going to bed may be what’s disrupting our sleep.
If we must use these devices before bed, researchers recommend using an amber tinted blue light blocking type of glasses. Do they work? Here are results from two studies reported in the journal Psychology Today:
• A study of 20 adults who wore either blue-light blocking or ultraviolet-light blocking glasses for 3 hours before sleep found that both sleep quality and mood improved among those in the group who wore blue-light blocking glasses, compared to the ultraviolet-light blocking group.
• Shift workers are at especially high risk for circadian rhythm disruptions because of their non-traditional schedules. In a study by scientists at Quebec’s Universite Laval, nightshift workers used blue-light blocking glasses at or near the end of their overnight shifts for 4 weeks. At the end of the study period, their overall sleep amounts increased, as did their sleep efficiency.
These are the glasses I use (yes, this is an Amazon affiliate link). I need reading magnification so I bought the appropriate ones. I can’t use them for watching TV, but since I don’t usually watch TV right before bed, that was not a big problem. Researchers do suggest that a person start using them 2-3 hours before bedtime.
I have to say they work great. I’ve noticed much less eyestrain probably because they reduce the intensity of the light. I can’t say I fall asleep faster with them because, as I mentioned before, I fall asleep pretty fast anyway. I eventually bought them for the whole family, and they all said that they do seem to fall asleep faster. Coincidental maybe, but the whole theory behind them seems to make sense. Oh, as an aside, Nicole and Michael use them over their prescription glasses with no problem. At nighttime, we all are sitting around with these amber glasses on. It’s like that scene from a 50s 3D movie.
Getting to Bed Early
I really admire people who get to bed early and rise early. All kinds of productivity studies have been done to prove that for the most part, this is a key ingredient to productivity. I know that getting to bed early will make me healthier and more productive. I have just not been able to discipline myself accordingly.
Why do I stay up late? Because I like to. How many things do we do knowing that they are bad for us, but we do them anyway? Hmmm… like when I eat one small piece of that 80% dark chocolate. One piece is probably not bad for me. In fact, some may say it actually has some positive health benefits. But then I go and eat the half the bar. Not good.
Therefore, like any rational intelligent human being, I am trying to cut out some of the bad habits I know I have (but like) and replace them with positive habits that I probably will come to like. Well, at least I’ll like them because the positive future effects will be better than the current self-gratifying effects. I really like the taste of a single malt Scotch Whiskey. But I don’t drink it anymore because the momentary deliciousness of the taste is not worth the severe deleterious effect it has on my adrenals. Experience tells me I will feel the negative effect for weeks.
Tackling the Habit
Since I have been able to change my habits concerning drinking Scotch whiskey and eating gluten-containing foods and have been able to radically change my diet, I figure I can tackle the habit of staying up late.
First, I have set a goal that I know is good. I want to be in bed by eleven and up by seven. I know this will make me a healthier and more productive person. My family would love to have a healthier and more productive me.
Second, I have decided to establish some smaller, more easily attainable goals which I have begun to work towards. I am trying to shut all electronic devices down by 12 o’clock midnight. So far I have been moderately successful. Not 100%, but I’m doing much better. Hopefully, I can be in bed by 12:30. Then, once I have that down, I will try to decrease the shutdown time by 15-minute increments until I reach an optimum time, around 11 PM. I know it’s going to be difficult; breaking any habit is, especially a 40-year-old one. But I know the rewards will be significant. I’ll let you know how I progress.
Don’t Give Up
For any of our readers trying to break an old habit in order to get healthier, I encourage you not to give up. Taking my health back has been a long journey. At 58 years old, I am starting to feel better than I did 28 years ago. So don’t think because of age it’s too late to take your health back. For the last two months, I have started strength training. After suffering from CFS for 28 years, I have recovered enough to begin a weight lifting program. I’ll talk more on that next time.
How are you doing with your sleep routine? Let us know in the comments below.
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