Do You Have Trouble Sleeping?
WELL has it been said that “sleep is to a man what winding up is to a clock.” It restores energy to the body, to the brain and to the rest of the nervous system. After a good night’s sleep we awake in good spirits, eager to plunge into the work that lies before us; not only feeling much better but also looking better.
Moreover, sleep gives us a break from life’s cares and tensions. In sleep we not only rest our bodies, but we have rest from such burdens as poverty, loneliness, poor health and injustices. As the Spanish author Cervantes said centuries ago concerning sleep: “It is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot.”
Surely, then, it is vital that we get proper sleep. But what if you do not? Before considering this problem, some basic facts about sleep will be helpful.
Kinds of Sleep
Sleep is a natural condition that occurs regularly and in which one loses awareness of one’s surroundings. Yet it is still largely a mystery as to what sleep actually is. It is known, however, that there are basically two kinds of sleep.
In one kind, which starts with drowsiness and gets deeper and deeper, profound restorative processes take place. In it your breathing and your heartbeat slow down, your blood pressure drops and your limbs fully relax. This deep sleep is believed to be an aid to memory. It lasts for about ninety minutes.
Afterward, you return to a sleep much lighter in some respects, and in other respects deeper. It is called the REM stage because it is marked by side-to-side Rapid Eye Movements, which indicate that you are dreaming. Your heartbeat greatly fluctuates and your limbs grow tense, indicating that not only your mind but also your body is involved in dreaming. After about ten minutes of this REM sleep you will again go into deep sleep for another ninety minutes and then back up, and so on throughout the night.
Most sleep researchers hold that both kinds of sleep are essential for mental and physical health; one cannot take the place of the other. As to how long you sleep, quality is more important than quantity.
Sleeplessness a Common Complaint
If you have trouble sleeping, you have plenty of company, especially in highly industrialized countries. Sleeplessness or insomnia is most common in the United States, where as many as 50 percent of adults are said to be more or less troubled by it, especially after reaching thirty years of age. By and large, women have more difficulty sleeping than do men.
It also appears that insomnia is increasing. Thus, from 1952 to 1963, sales of all drugs in the United States increased 6.5 percent; but retail sales of hypnotics, that is, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers increased 535 percent.
Sleeplessness usually takes one of three forms. Some have a lot of difficulty falling to sleep in the first place. Others fall asleep readily but wake up early in the morning and are not able to go back to sleep. With still others the problem is that they keep waking up intermittently.
The Cause of Insomnia
What is the cause of insomnia? It might be any one of a hundred different things. It could be inherited, a genetic defect in which the brain fails to produce serotonin, a hormonelike substance. This substance is said to act like a “sleep juice” that enters the blood and causes the body to become sleepy. Severe pains, such as the Biblical patriarch Job had, might neutralize this “sleep juice,” for he tells of being “glutted with restlessness until morning.” Job 7:4.
Now you may not have a genetic defect, but your problem may be caused by some low-grade pain that is ignored while you are busy during the day. However, it may be persistent enough at night to cause you to wake up from time to time. Or your trouble in sleeping may be due to a poorly ventilated room, or because your mattress is too hard or too soft.
On the other hand, your trouble in sleeping may be due to a stimulant such as coffee, tea or a cola drink. Then again, you may have the habit of eating a heavy meal or food hard to digest shortly before going to bed. Or, just the opposite, hunger may keep you awake, even as constipation at times interferes with sleep.
Negative emotions, such as feelings of guilt, inordinate ambition, emotional insecurity, and especially anxiety or worries may keep you from sleeping. As the Bible puts it: “The plenty belonging to the rich one is not permitting him to sleep.” Or, “because of abundance of occupation there are dreams.”—Eccl. 5:7, 12.
Mental depression can also cause insomnia and in particular can nervous exhaustion. The same can be said for hostile or aggressive feelings, even though unconscious. On the other hand, too much pleasure and excitement, or chasing after thrills, can cheat you of sleep.
What About Pills?
Taking sleeping pills may seem to be the easiest way out, but beware! Use them only in emergencies. They may help for a week or two, but then most likely they will do more harm than good. Thus Dr. F. R. Freemon states in Sleep Research: “The promiscuous prescribing of sleep medications is the most common error in medicine.”
Then why do people keep taking sleeping pills? It could well be because they serve as a placebo; the victims imagine they are being helped by them. But more likely, the reason is that, once having made a habit of taking pills, the “withdrawal symptoms” can be quite severe. Doctors therefore advise gradually eliminating use of hypnotics.
It is possible to defeat insomnia without resorting to pills. To begin with the more elementary things, make sure that your bedroom is properly ventilated and that your mattress is neither too soft nor too hard for you. Could noises be keeping you awake, or do they awaken you after you have gone to sleep? Then earplugs might help you. Letting your electric fan run all night is what one sleep authority recommends, on the premise that its steady tone is soothing and cancels out irregular noises.
Control of your eating and drinking is often vital to good sleep. It may be necessary for you to avoid drinking coffee or cola drinks after midday, or altogether if need be. Also, cut down on your intake of sweets if you have a “sweet tooth.” Recommended, too, at least for most persons, is not eating heavy meals or strongly spiced foods late in the day. Eat things that are easily digested.
Many persons are helped to get a good night’s sleep by drinking something before bedtime—warm milk, a malted drink, peppermint tea sweetened with molasses or honey, or other kinds of herbs known for their soporific effect. Some have found hot grape juice, and others a glass of beer or wine, conducive to sleeping. For others, chiropractic or osteopathic treatments have helped. Some married couples have solved their problem of falling asleep by giving each other a massage.
Proper exercise can also help to defeat insomnia. If you have a sedentary occupation, ‘gradually increase the level of daytime exercise,’ says Dr. A. Kales, in the Medical Tribune, September 4, 1974. In keeping with that advice, the Bible notes: “Sweet is the sleep of the labourer.” (Eccl. 5:12, New English Bible) However, avoid strenuous exercise just before going to bed, since besides tiring you, it will also stimulate you. The best exercise near bedtime may be a walk or some stretching exercises.
If you have difficulty in relaxing, it might even be worth your while to get a book telling you how to go about it, from relaxing your toes, legs and arms to relaxing the muscles of your throat and your eyes. Practicing various kinds of breathing, such as a few long breaths, holding your breath and then some short breaths, is recommended by one authority.
Also helpful is to have a regular bedtime, and as you approach that time, to relax by avoiding complex mental activity. A warm bath may help you to relax, and so may soothing music.
As important as any of the foregoing factors, if not more so, is having the right mental and emotional state. Thus the very worst thing you can do is to worry, fret or chafe when you find yourself not falling to sleep right away or waking up during the night. So do not take insomnia too seriously; do not be too determined to sleep; it will keep you awake!
In many respects sound sleep might be said to be the reward for right living. Be exercising godly wisdom; then, as Solomon says, “when you lie down, your sleep will be pleasant.” (Prov. 3:24, NE) Yes, producing the fruits of God’s spirit, such as “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control,” is conducive to good sleep.—Gal. 5:22, 23.
So if you are having trouble sleeping, do not become discouraged. There are a number of possible remedies, or adjustments in your life that you might make, to correct the problem. And do not overlook the part that faith in God can play in enjoying good sleep, as the Bible psalmist experienced: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you yourself alone, O Jehovah, make me dwell in security.”—Ps. 4:8.
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COFFEE, TEA, COLA
WORRIES AND ANXIETIES