The Problem of Sleep

Rip Van Winkle

Sleeping is a natural and healthy human function, and if reported figures are to be trusted, we all spend about a third of our lives in this blissfully unconscious state.  Unfortunately, it seems that many of us are having problems getting to sleep and staying asleep, not to mention getting insufficient sleep or sleeping too long. 

As a result, a whole industry seems to have sprung up around the problem of sleep.  Witness the plethora of over-the-counter medications said to bring one into the arms of Morpheus, as well as the “energy drinks” and other methods of keeping us awake.  It seems we want to sleep only at certain times and for only so long, so we seek ways of controlling what would otherwise be quite natural cycles of rest and activity. 

The January 14 issue of the Wall Street Journal featured an interesting article that addresses the inability to fall asleep and some of the methods available to accomplish that end.  The author recounts her experiences with a music system, an iPhone app, a sleep “coach,” and a canned CD approach–none of which yielded spectacularly good results.  The final paragraph of the article, however, noted that the app included a hypnosis session which was effective. 

Of course, hypnosis by a qualified and certified practitioner is extremely effective in dealing with sleep problems, but that’s not the primary thing I want to address here.  Instead, I’d like to offer some free, practical measures you can take if falling asleep is a problem in your home. 

The key to falling asleep is winding down–that is, reducing stimulating activity and opting for more quiet pursuits that won’t raise your emotional arousal.  The best idea is to plan a “cool down” period at the end of the day, beginning 60 to 90 minutes prior to your projected bedtime.  If you don’t have a projected bedtime, that could be the problem, since the human body is not built to simply fall asleep on demand. 

The cool down or wind down period should be free from electronic interruptions like iPhones, computer games, and television, and from distractions like heated emotional discussions.  This period is designed to prepare your body and your mind for rest.  A cup of something warm and caffeine-free is always a good idea, as well as some light reading.  If you do any kind of meditation or deep relaxation, this is a great time to practice such things.  Dim any bright lights and find something relaxing to occupy your thoughts.  Whatever you choose, however, it must be with the idea in mind that, “I am preparing to go to sleep.” 

Practicing such rituals as bedtime approaches can be highly effective at putting your mind and body in the mood for sleep–and that is more than half the battle.  In many of the clients I treat, there is a complete lack of any sort of wind down time, which is understandable in a modern culture in which it is considered cool to be “connected” at all times. 

Content yourself with the thought that whatever Facebook message has come into your realm, it will still be there in the morning (when you awake bright-eyed and bushy-tailed).  If there really is an emergency, someone will be sure to call you. 

And perhaps you, readers, have some favorite ways of helping yourself to fall asleep.  Please share any and all ideas that are in good taste.  Thanks!

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