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The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Good Sleep
It must be important to sleep; there is not an animal on the planet that doesn’t do it. A really great night’s rest is an investment in your anti-aging bank account. Insufficient sleep is associated with increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, depression and obesity.
Your brain is very much affected by the quality of your sleep. Research clearly confirms what you’ve probably already observed — your mood, cognition and memory are negatively affected by sleep deprivation. Notice the vast difference in what you are willing to do for yourself and for others when you’ve gotten a great night’s rest.
The Mechanics of Sleep
Early in the night, there is a greater amount of slow-wave deep sleep, which is the most restorative sleep. Growth hormone is produced during the initial onset of nightly sleep.
Go to bed early and you’ll not only become “healthy, wealthy and wise,” you’ll also look and feel younger. Smaller pulses of growth hormone are also released later in your sleep cycle, so if you only sleep for five hours, you won’t obtain enough of this rejuvenating hormone.
Rapid eye movement (REM) or “dream” sleep is active sleep — important for the development and health of your brain. REM increases later in the sleep cycle and just before you naturally awaken.
Melatonin, often called the most potent antioxidant in the human body, is critical to restorative sleep. A natural hormone secreted by the pineal gland in your brain, melatonin increases with darkness, causing drowsiness. It then decreases with the morning light, and you begin to wake up. Because the production of this important hormone is suppressed by light, working late into the night, especially on the computer, or watching late-night television might be cutting off years from your life.
Tips for Sleeping Long and Well
Most of us look for shortcuts when it comes to sleep. As with weekend-warrior exercise, we think we can “make up” weekday deficits by sleeping in on the weekend. But that’s not how it works. Here are a few suggestions for restorative sleep:
— Reset your circadian rhythm. Get up early and start to move. Try stretching with the ancient yoga posture called the Sun Salutation. A walk in the morning light will help you sleep better that night. In the spring, summer and fall, sunbathe midday for 20 to 30 minutes.
— Start to unwind as the evening begins. Take a Chinese herbal formula called Peaceful Spirit (available from www.jingherbs.com). The herbs open your heart, calm your spirit and relax your nervous system to prepare for the evening ahead. The main ingredient, reishi, is often called the “mushroom of immortality” and is also an excellent source of vitamin D. Called their “happy formula” by Jing Herbs, Peaceful Spirit is used as a treatment for sadness and anxiety because another ingredient, the polygala root, strengthens the connection between your heart (shen) and your adrenals (jing). The Chinese asparagus “puts a wing on your heart.”
— As bedtime approaches, begin to celebrate the ritual of sleep. Take a hot bath and create a “sleep sanctuary,” with soft organic bedding, candles, soothing incense or aromatherapy, gentle music and the like.
— You may need to take something to help you sleep. Noncaffeinated teas such as chamomile, tulsi, skullcap and valerian have a mildly sedating effect. In Chinese medicine, the “shen herbs” are calming.
• If you have issues with an overactive mind that won’t shut off and let you sleep, Bupleurum & Dragon Bone (also from Jing Herbs) can help. This classic formula has been used for more than 2,000 years with great success. It differs from Peaceful Spirit because it addresses an overactive liver energy that causes inner “chatter.” It also moves the energy out of your head and into your heart, where your “spirit resides during sleep,” giving you a sense of well-being and of feeling like you are at home in your own skin.
Because of the calming and grounding qualities, Bupleurum & Dragon Bone formula is used for insomnia; however, other modern-day applications are: anxiety; angina pectoris; and addictive behaviors such as smoking, drinking, drug use and overeating.
• If you can’t sleep because of hot flashes, night sweats, dryness and irritability, then Jing Herb’s Winter Yin Formula is a modified classic formula for clearing “heat” and for those who have depleted their reserves of energy.
• Melatonin supplements can be purchased at your local health-food store and can help regulate sleep.
When taken short-term, melatonin is safe and is especially useful when you travel and change time zones. Side effects may include morning grogginess, vivid dreams and a lower body temperature.
Melatonin also suppresses your desire for sex.
Supplements can be purchased in one- to five-milligram capsules. You will have to experiment to find the best dosage for you. Start with the lowest amount and increase if necessary. Taken 45 minutes before bedtime, and time-released versions may be a better choice if you awaken often during the night.
— Aim for eight hours of sleep a night. Some of us will require a little more, while others will function just fine on seven hours if it is quality sleep. Napping works for many, and you may feel the need to take rejuvenating catnaps during the day. What’s most important is that your sleep be restful and restorative, with three to five complete sleep cycles that take you from drowsiness, into light sleep, followed by deep and then deeper sleep and ending in REM.
— Your last meal of the day should have been a calming grain-like seed (quinoa, millet, buckwheat, or amaranth) that helps create more serotonin (which then turns into melatonin).
— Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time. This also helps set your biological clock. A good rule of thumb is to avoid anything that is too “stimulating” before bedtime. That includes alcohol, caffeine and sugar, which disturb circadian rhythms.
— Light also interferes with production of melatonin, so get rid of the night light in your bathroom or bedroom.
Several hours before bed, withdraw from visually stimulating activities like television, the Internet, take-home work and so on. Vigorous exercise can also be a bit too exciting to the body, leaving you energized rather than calm. Try more soothing kinds of exercise, like yoga or stretching or a leisurely walk, if you need to relieve tension.
Donna Gates’ mission is to change the way the world eats. Over the past 25 years, she has become one of the most beloved and respected authorities in the field of digestive health, diet and nutrition, enjoying a worldwide reputation as an expert in candida, adrenal fatigue, autism, autoimmune diseases, weight loss and anti-aging.
Reprinted with permission from The Baby Boomer Diet: Body Ecology’s Guide to Growing Younger by Donna Gates (Hay House, 2011).