Can't Sleep? Read This!
A good night’s sleep is a natural and powerful way to restore the mind and body. Everyone needs it. And if you’re ill or recovering from an illness or injury, you need it even more because sleep is when much of the body’s significant repair work happens.
Sleep, along with nutrition and exercise, is one of the three pillars of health. Unfortunately, many of us are sleep-deprived. In fact, more than 70 million Americans have trouble sleeping. If you’re one of them, don’t fret. For many of us, simple lifestyle changes can help us to improve the quantity and quality of our sleep.
Our bodies and minds function best with consistent routines and sleep is no exception. That’s why we advocate creating and adhering to a bedtime ritual whether you’re 2, 22, 42, 62 or 82. In sickness and in health, identifying something that signals your mind and body to transition from daytime to bedtime is often the secret to a good night’s sleep. Once you find the ritual that works for you, you’ll look forward to doing it each evening. You might even find yourself craving it.
Meditation can provide a lovely precursor to a formal bedtime ritual, especially if you integrate it into your life in the late afternoon or early evening hours when typical stress levels have accumulated. Taking time to check in with yourself before approaching the final chapter of the day can provide a layering effect and a welcome signal to the mind and body that you are honoring it.
Our favorite rituals, designed to settle your nervous system and release the stresses of the day approximately one hour before bedtime include a warm shower or bath with Dr. Bronner’s lavender soap, a deep foot massage, listening to soothing music (we’re partial to Bedtime Beats), aromatherapy, and simple stretches for the body such as those demonstrated in our Night Moves series featuring Exhale Spa’s founding member, Elisabeth Halfpapp. Each of these rituals taken separately or combined can provide therapeutic benefits for pain and sleep. It can take several days or even several weeks before experiencing the complete benefit of incorporating a bedtime ritual into your life so don’t be discouraged if the impact isn’t immediate.
If you’re ill or recovering, a bedtime ritual can offer you the consistency you need to maintain a sense of normalcy in your life. Unfortunately, according to Dr. Daniel Barone, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College, many chemotherapy drugs and other treatments often result in insomnia as a side effect. Sleep is also a key component of pain management. But the pain you may experience during an illness or from a surgical procedure or injury might also impair the quality and quantity of your sleep. Under these circumstances, Dr. Barone believes it is most important to treat the symptoms.
Similarly, a troubling medical diagnosis can often lead to increased levels of anxiety that may also trigger insomnia. We spoke with breast cancer survivor and humorist Eileen Kaplan, author of “Laughter is the Breast Medicine,” and asked her what her secret to sleep was following her cancer diagnosis. Echoing the words of Dr. Barone, Eileen said, “don’t be afraid to seek medical attention. Advocate for yourself and make friends with your doctor. You need HELP to get through the rough spots. When I was diagnosed, I called my oncologist. She increased my doses of Prozac and Ativan (lorazepam) allowing me to finally get some sleep. I was so much better it was unbelievable! Ever since then, I’ve been like Linus. I travel around the house with my pillow and my blanket and can fall asleep anywhere. Just about the only thing I don’t do is suck my thumb!”
When you’re ill, Dr. Barone believes sleep aids, such as Ambien or Lunesta, can be effective, especially if you were not taking these medications prior to the illness. He also believes alternative, holistic treatments, such as acupuncture, hypnotherapy and massage therapy, can be quite helpful in improving sleep. Dr. Barone advocates maintaining good sleep practices and sticking to a consistent sleep time and wake time during times of illness (to the extent possible) as well as times of health. This means reserving the bed primarily as a place for sleep or sex; not binge watching your favorite series (as tempting as that may be!) Of course, in some instances recovery may necessitate spending significantly more time in bed.
No matter what, if you are struggling with sleep issues, try to remember that there are many positive steps and or treatments to guide you out and away from the darkness of your insomnia. But perhaps more than anything else, remember this: you are not alone. Bedtime Network and the First Ladies of Sleep are here.
Cindy and Lisa
Cindy Bressler and Lisa Mercurio, a/k/a “The First Ladies of Sleep”, are the founders of Bedtime Network.