By Megha Bajaj
Good sleep is integral to healthy living. Here are panaceas from a range of therapies to help you sleep like a kitten.
Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course…
Sleep, in many ways, is like oxygen. While it is there, one may not think much about it. The minute it’s not, there is little else that dominates the mind but sleep, sleep, sleep. It also shares the rejuvenating quality of oxygen; the hours we need may vary, but it is a universally accepted truth that good sleep is the key to good health! On an average, adults over the age of 25 need seven to eight hours of sleep to feel ‘good’ throughout the day. While infants may sleep for nearly 17 hours a day, elders over the age of 60 barely get four to five hours of sleep.
The condition where one finds it hard to sleep is called insomnia. With the increasing complexity and competition in our life and the various emotional rollercoaster rides that one faces, it is natural that there are nights when we cannot sleep well or enough. However, sleep – which can be compared to a bank account – can be replenished if we have withdrawn a small amount. The problem starts if there are several nights together where our body does not get the required amount of sleep and insomnia becomes a habit, a part of our life.
Symptoms of sleep deprivation are excessive tiredness during the day, difficulty concentrating, irritability and even depression. In fact, a report in The New England Journal of Medicine (March 18, 1999), found that people suffering from sleep deprivation were six times more likely to be involved in a car crash (as a result of drowsiness) than those without sleep disorders! Sounds scary? Read on to find what you can do!
For about 95% of people, the reason for not getting sleep is anxiety. An emotional problem, such as severe depression, acts as salt over a wound, and disables a person’s ability to sleep peacefully and wake up feeling rejuvenated. Other reasons for not sleeping could be some illnesses such as acidity – which leaves one with a burning sensation in the stomach – diabetes, high temperature or pain, whether muscular or in the joints. Uncomfortable external conditions such as a bedroom which is too hot or cold, a mattress which is too hard or too soft, or even a partner who snores, could also act as a hindrance for a good night’s sleep.
However, if you believe that being an insomniac – staring at the ceiling, waiting for sleep – is an irreversible part of your life, then thankfully, you are wrong. You will be surprised to know how many answers there are to the sleeplessness problem. Take your pick!
‘Over-the-counter’ medicines enable you to purchase several remedies at a chemist without the need of a prescription. These medicines do ensure good sleep but since they often contain an anti-histamine substance (which one finds in medicines for hay-fever, coughs and colds), it will leave you feeling sleepy well into the next morning. Another problem in using these medicines is tolerance – as your body gets used to the substance, you need more and more to get the same effect. Allopathy therefore has a limited use for insomniacs and should be used in times of illness so one gets sufficient sleep required for the tissues to repair themselves.
With it you can expect a totally different treatment altogether. Since it is a science which tries to understand symptoms and cures accordingly, the homoeopath will first go through your entire health history before suggesting anything. In fact, a renowned homoeopath from Mumbai, Dr. Roshan Patell, is of the firm conviction that as the patients express all their ailments and anxiety, 40% of the problem is solved. That apart, anxiety can be countered through the use of Kaliphosphorica. This acts as a natural sedative, calming the entire system. Other substances like Passiflora, Avenasativa and Ammonica Val may also be given – these substances have no side-effects but one may become dependent on them. She adds that instead of turning and tossing in bed, the insomniac should read a book or listen to music until drowsy. Watching TV, however, isn’t a good idea, as the bombarding of images generates more thoughts in the mind, driving it further away from peace and sleep.
Practitioners of no-mind zen meditation, Deep and Sneha Mehta would agree with Dr. Patell. ‘Peace of mind will automatically lead to peaceful sleep, there is no question about it,’ says Deep. Just being in the moment, the golden rule of zen meditation, is followed by simply looking at a blank wall for about half an hour, twice a day, and being conscious of ‘what is’. Eyes are left half open, thoughts are just allowed to be, so they gradually subside by themselves and one becomes aware of the environment and the sounds in it. Practicing this ‘path of awareness’ regularly for a month will give you results that you probably never thought were possible – the mind drops its habit of resisting, thereby reducing the levels of stress and anxiety to a large extent and this consequently leads to one sleeping better, the natural way.
A somewhat similar solution comes from Rajan, the man who started the famous Chennai-based organisation Alma Mater, which attempts to teach people life leadership – concentrating on all aspects of one’s personality, physical, mental, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. Says Rajan, ‘Sit for 15 minutes in a comfortable position, holding your body still as a statue.’ He suggests repetition of the word, ‘relax’ and then immediately going to sleep. Rajan affirms that sleeps fulfills incomplete cycles, such as unrealized desires, through dreams.
Believed to be the ‘knowledge of life’, ayurveda uses plants, minerals and several other natural elements to act as relaxants for the nervous system; some of these substances are brahmi, serpa gandha, tagar and moti bhasm. Dr. Nayan Trivedi, a B. A. M. S. (ayurvedacharya) says laughingly that in ayurveda everything between the sun and earth is medicine – and without side-effects. In fact, most of these substances have additional benefits beyond acting as sedatives.
Dr. Rumi F. Beramji, a renowned acupressurist and acupuncturist has managed to get similar results using a totally unique technique. ‘There are certain points in the body, which when pressed, give an effect similar to that of taking a sedative like Calmpose,’ he says. Try the following points:
o The hand: With your palm facing up, find the juncture where the wrist meets the hand with the thumb of your other hand just below the first crease of the wrist. Press gently in circular motions for about a minute.
o The face: Using the tips of your index and third fingers, apply pressure to the spot between your eyebrows, at the juncture of the bridge of your nose and your forehead.
o The back of your head: Gently massage the pressure points at the indentation at the base of the skull on the back of the head; move outward an inch on both sides of the skull at the hairline. In Dr. Beramji’s hospital, a holistic approach is sought. The first step is to understand the patient’s history and pinpoint the causes for not sleeping well. Once this is done, the patient is treated to a variety of different massages, using aroma oils, which are deeply relaxing. The basic idea, says Dr. Beramji, is to enable people to sleep by themselves without anyone else’s help or medicine; by teaching them which points to press, to relax, they can do the same at home and get good night’s sleep.
The word is derived from rei, meaning ‘free passage’ and ki, which means ‘universal life energy’. Usha Thakore, practitioner and teacher of this Japanese form of healing, says, ‘Reiki utilities specific techniques for restoring and balancing the natural life force energy within the body. It is a holistic, natural, hands-on energy healing system that touches on all levels: body, mind, and spirit.’ How is this useful to people with sleeping problems? There are two answers – firstly, with daily practice one becomes calm and peaceful, thereby naturally getting good sleep. Secondly, if one is facing any kind of physical pain or discomfort leading to sleeplessness, one can simply give himself reiki, or take a practitioner’s help, thereby removing the very cause of the problem.
Even today hundreds of nomadic people all over Asia who have learnt the importance of Yoga Nidra (the yogic sleep) make an extraordinary use of it. Journeying through days and nights on foot, these nomads are seen to reach a certain point and throw themselves on the ground and lie there limp, apparently lifeless, from head to toe. One hour of such rest rejuvenates them with vigour and vitality that an average person would experience only after an entire night’s sleep!
A young yoga teacher from Pune, Sheetal Oswal, explains how you too can do so. Ensure that you are wearing loose clothing, which will not act as a hindrance and lie flat on the back. Take a few deep breaths and start concentrating on different parts of your body – the mind should tell each of these parts to relax; gradually, as you feel the muscle relaxed and tension eased away, moving on to the next part. Thus each muscle is relaxed from head to toe and for most people, even before they complete the entire process, sleep takes over. With regular practice, you will be on the very verge of drowsiness and total inertia, your mind virtually at a standstill. Rightly said the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Sleeping is no mean art: for its sake one must stay awake all day.’ Wishing all of you a very good night.
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o Have a glass of warm milk just before going to sleep.
o Avoid exercise three hours before going to sleep.
o Avoid stimulants like tea, coffee and caffeinated sodas.
o If you can’t get sleep 30 minutes after you have gone to bed, get up and do something boring in dim light till you start feeling drowsy. Avoid watching TV or reading a very stimulating book as these will take you away from your objective of quietening the mind.
o Ensure that your bedroom is at a comfortable temperature.
o Keep regular hours. When you get into the habit of sleeping and waking up at the same time everyday – the internal clock of the body gets disciplined and you will feel drowsy at bedtime.
o Bedtime routines are helpful for good sleep. Keeping routines at your bedtime – for example, brushing your teeth, combing your hair, writing in your journal, listening to music – will help the mind to understand that it’s now sleeping time.
o Do not eat or drink too much around bedtime. Alcohol is not a sleep aid, don’t try to use it to get sleep.
o Engage in a relaxing, non-alerting activity at bedtime such as having a warm bath. Avoid activities that are mentally or physically stimulating.
o Talk to other people. Many people think their symptoms of sleeplessness are unique to them. If you talk to others, you will find that many share your problems. Learning how others have coped can be helpful.
o Seek professional help if you are unable to deal with the sleeplessness M.B.